Sunday, October 18, 2009

Too Many Voices

"In the middle of our life's way
I found myself in a wood so dark
That I couldn't tell where the straight path lay."
- Dante [Inferno, Canto I]

Welcome to my blog. Perhaps it is a sign of my age (53), but it has become increasingly difficult for me to hold a idea, no matter how clear and simple, in my mind for more than a few hours. Occasionally something runs through my head that resonates with 'meaning,' but then I blink and the thought evaporates. In this blog I hope to record such musings, good or bad, before they escape my leaky memory.

In truth, the opening of Dante's Inferno overstates my own mid-life confusion. I am certainly not 'lost.' In fact, many, many aspects of my life are in sharp focus for the first time. Whenever I grow fearful or cynical or feel despair, I look around and recognize just how good my life really is. It has taken me this long to find solace in just being. However, there is something about the poet's honest longing for direction that appeals to me, now more than ever.

A century or two from now, when scholars look back on our time through the lens of history, their vision will be clouded by the clutter of words and images that inform (and pollute) our world today. It is entirely possible that too much information is like too much cholesterol; often tasty but also unhealthy. In my life the many inputs that assault the senses impair my own abilty to think critically. The more civilized (read 'people-filled') my surroundings, the less capable I am of thinking and acting rationally. It is a struggle to find a healthful balance when the scales of my daily routine are heaped up with aural and visual noise. This goes double for the special kind of sounds we call 'words.'

Do people really have that much to say? I do not think so. Is technology partly to blame. Maybe. Let me explore an analogy...

About twenty years ago, composers (I was one) wrote music by thinking about each note. We were precise, knowing that thoughtful combinations of pitch, rhythm, and timbre could transform a concert hall into a fantastic 'imaginary world' of sound. Even after the arduous process of writing the music, getting a new piece performed was difficult. It required copying parts, organizing musicians, finding a performance space, and (if you were lucky) rounding up an audience. The shear energy involved in making new music required that a work always represent a composer's best effort.

Then along came desktop computer generated composition; the marriage of computer automation with tone synthesizers. Overnight, anyone with a personal computer could cobble together sounds and call it a 'composition.' Many times the result was very, very pleasing, but superficial. The music sounded good, but it did not communicate anything 'meaningful.' The ease with which one could write hours of sonic pablum unleased a tidalwave of bad music. In a way, technological progress dulled society's appetite for meaningful music forever.

Now let me make the same assertion regarding language. Give everyone a mobile phone, with an unlimited calling/texting plan, and the importance of words will be washed away in the same flood that has robbed us of good new music. In general, people have traded the quality of speech, born out of the need to be economical with our personal interactions, with an emmense quantity of verbal noise.

OK. I admit there is irony in my having made such a claim in an internet blog. If you are bothered by this, I trust you will exercise your right to stop reading at any point.

At heart, I consider myself a careful thinker. Whenever my mind wanders or makes assumptions or skips around pointlessly, I experience a sense of failure, even shame. That is why I am beginning this series of essays; to see if writing about simple ideas will, somehow, replace the static of modern living with the peace that comes with having formed an idea well.

Therefore, this will not be a place for political rant; the antithesis of well-thought-out ideas. I do not pretend to offer up great philosophy, poety, or wit. This is not a memoire, although I will probably share many personal experiences and feelings. Please forgive me if the first-person pronoun 'I' is used too often; it is a voice more honest than literary.

It seems right to declare my intentions for publishing into the great-digital-abyss now rather than later, for no other reason than to give me something to look back on later and chuckle. My purpose will surely change along the way. Your reason for reading my also change. My best hope is that here you will discover something "Possibly Meaningful" in your own life.


  1. You are amazing. Congratulations on the new blog.

  2. Really enjoyed that, Mark...not surprising. Regarding the flood of often worthless words, I'm reminded of what it once meant to send a letter, in the mail. Paper itself was obviously hard(er) to come by, ink, and God knows everything else was less convenient, anyway. So I get the strong sense that sitting down and writing a personal (or professional) letter to someone had significantly more meaning. I'd imagine in those days one really seriously considered the strength, meaning, and economy of their words.

    The other thought that occurs to me is the overall essence of 'old school' letters and correspondences. There is something very powerful in, really, making someone read through an entire letter without interrupting or responding until it's been consumed in its entirety. Requires cohesive thought as writer (if you intend to engage someone), and focus as reader.

    Between text messages, emails, and things like Twitter and Facebook, the new norm is the antithesis of everything good about the old way.

    I often think that in a hundred years or so, people (assuming there are any left) will look back on perhaps the last twenty years up until who-knows-when as an extremely challenging social time, where technology changed all the rules, and the whole shooting match needed to somehow equalize and find some new center. The optimist in me looks forward to that new center, but the pessimist wonders if it will ever happen, short of technological singularity (don't get me started...but I'm serious about that).

    So in the meantime, I get a lot of peace of mind knowing that there are thoughtful people out there like yourself that are willing to take the time to say something meaningful. Cause yeah, conversation today is mostly a bunch of drivel. Pessimist...there I go again! Let's end on a high note: I'm proud to call you my friend.