The Internet-Grotto: Dancing In The Waiting Room #2

All our dancing shadows
are there
flitting in the half light
of unreason
crowding together
in fevers of movement
never still, never one.

The ‘there’ is The Waiting: the waiting room at the hospital just before you’re called in for surgery; the waiting enclave outside your boss’s office where you sit before being possibly given marching orders; or maybe even just a morning tube train, filled with waiting commuters, carrying us into the centre of the city where something terrible or wonderful might happen.

But it is also a kind of cave, the inner-cave of the mind{{1}}, with a fire casting shadows on the walls. We see little of ourselves or others, but lots of shadow, “flitting in the half-light of unreason”. When someone else cries out in pain, we think it’s the shadow talking, not another human being. What becomes important to us (the Truth)  is perhaps also now “nothing other than the shadow of artificial things”.

And if we’re forced to drag ourselves away from the shadows, our screens, don’t we express withdrawal symptoms, even annoyance? For all we know are the dancing shadows, “crowding together in fevers of movement”, scattering our attention, scrambling our intentions, which are often wholesome (we want to be as whole as possible, don’t we?). And yet Macmillan perhaps suggests that these attempts at wholeness, this desire to square the myriad-selves into one, may be tilting at windmills:

…our myriad selves
anxious, hopeful, trembling,
wishful, fearful, impatient.
…crowding together
in fevers of movement
never still, never one.

Although written 2,500 years ago, I find in Plato’s description of our subterranean recesses the clearest and perhaps most troubling vision of our online existence:

They are in it from childhood with their legs and necks in bonds so that they are fixed, seeing only in front of them, unable because of the bond to turn their heads all the way around….Do you suppose such men see anything of themselves and one another other than shadows cast by the fire on the side of the cave facing them?

The irony of our Brave New Digital World is that we are all sitting in our waiting rooms in absolute thrall to our screens: writing to our screens, dancing with our screens,  crying through our screens, with the notion that other human beings are out there receiving these messages in some meaningful way.{{2}}

What I suspect is really happening, and one only has to look at the impossible amount of “content” on the internet, the unreadable amount of content, the unsiftable-through amount of content (which is why editors in some shape or form will always be needed{{3}}) is that we are seeing, truly seeing, less and less of each other and more and more of our own shadows cast on the walls or screens of the grotty grotto.

For this kind of content, this flickering shadow-play, there are paradoxically fewer and fewer actual readers{{4}}, but an ever-increasing, almost infinite number of writers.

Some of them, at some point, will rewrite Hamlet.

Which means we are predominantly writing to ourselves, for ourselves{{5}}.  At its best, this entails speaking in front of ourselves alive with all ours ears alive in order to find out what it is we want.

At its worst?

[[1]] Plato’s cave to be more precise, for it is his allegory. I’m a big fan of the Allan Bloom translation.[[1]]

[[2]]By this I mean: in a way that transcends clicking on a LIKE button [insert smiley].[[2]]

[[3]]Sadly these editors are now mainly Google Bots.[[3]]

[[4]]I have very little patience for long blog posts like this one, but I’ll happily read a chapter of a book. I suspect this may be the case for many other people too.[[4]]

[[5]]And always have?[[5]]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *