Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

Constrained, or “What can I say?”

Posted by boakley59 on January 31, 2008

Where do I begin? I don’t mean that in the usual casual sense of “How shall I start?” I mean it in the existential sense of “What are the boundaries of me?”

The World Wide Web, we are told, has democratized information. Anyone with access to a computer can become a publisher on any topic. Copyright and libel laws impose some limits, but by and large all of us can now write about anything. It seems most of us, particularly in the blogosphere, write mostly about ourselves.

We all went to leave some mark, some trace of our presence. In another age, people kept diaries, but they kept them secret. We learned about people once they were gone. Today, our diaries are opened to a global audience. Many of us give everyone the chance to know us, and do so right at a given moment of truth.

I see great dangers in this, not just from the predators who will use your information to try to pose as you to take your possessions. That should be danger enough to push more of us to greater caution, but the real danger is in being absorbed into the sea of mediocrity.

Not only information but also personality is democratized. We are all droplets in the ocean of humanity, and the more of us who do a thing, the less difference can be seen in the doing and among the doers. In math, it’s the regression to the mean; in measurements, it’s signal-to-noise ratio.

If we all climb Everest, the marks we leave make us litterers, not conquerors.

A freer flow of information often seems like littering. Some things should not be written; all ideas are not equal. Manners should still play a role. Reason, hard and cold, should temper our passion to share. The free flow of information should not mean the free exercise of contempt.

In time, it seems the leveling effect should be a benefit. How can prejudice survive such a free flow? The ease of Web searching and hyper-linking allows us to connect globally with like-minded people exclusively if we wish, but the shear bulk of normalcy must eventually hit home. So many of us blogging about our dogs, our jobs, our children must eventually learn from each other that we are more alike than different.

I would like a world with less prejudice, but still I would rather we were all more like drops of rain flying free than ones lost in the ocean.

So, even as we find that we are more equal than not, let us keep a respectful distance from each other and even agree that it is good that we sometimes disagree. Some thoughts we should each keep to ourselves for a long time.

I’ll avoid more than a mention of my first marriage, because to write more would be unfair to my wife, Suzy.

I’ll keep my thoughts close about my atheism as the husband of a devout Christian, as one educated in Catholic schools, as one ashamed of the intelligent design movement for knowingly bearing false witness.

Perhaps the right time will come to speak out on many such topics, but to air more now would hurt good people more than it would help, and already I do not wish to invite a drowning flood of response.

I’ll constrain myself so as not to become locked in needless battle with you; I’ll constrain myself so as not to be absorbed into mindless sameness with you.

I’ll share splashes of myself, like gentle, refreshing raindrops, not the heave of a boundless sea swell.

I begin at the fragile edge of the raindrop, and I struggle to keep it together.

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