Wednesday, November 12, 2008

All these moments will pass

Rutger Hauer's tremendous soliloquy from the close of Blade Runner:

One of my favorite moments from one of my favorite movies. I think Roy Batty's observation here sums up the problem of mortality (what I still basically believe to be the essential problem of all of human existence, despite the various reasons I know not to) in an elegant and memorable way.

I drop this here because I was thinking of this scene today, and when I found the clip embedded in a BoingBoing story this evening I decided the random nature of the universe had dictated I say something about it.

I had been having a bit of a moment of my own, but unlike the ones Batty wants to reflect on, this moment was totally ordinary. I had gone to Staples to make some photocopies for my job applications, and realized I had forgotten some papers I needed to Xerox in my office. I had to drive back to campus to get them. It was, strictly speaking, a waste of time - but I found (as I so often find) a great deal of pleasure in this moment. The sky was low and slate colored, a perfect November overcast. The air was still warm enough to leave the window rolled open but had begun to taste of Winter. A DJ at the college radio station was playing hip-hop, small label but hardly underground. Driving slowly back to campus, I was stuck behind one of the University's buses. The distinct note of school-bus diesel exhaust and the low, gray light called to mind all the falls of my childhood, the hope and energy of each beginning school year. The anticipation of holidays. Best of all, my mistake had made for me the perfect alibi for my reverie. I could do nothing else but spend my time in this moment. I had not choice but to make this drive. The papers were in my office. Nothing could be done until I retrieved them.

These moments pass perhaps even faster than those remarkable moments that Batty eulogizes in his speech. It seems ludicrous to even try to record them. Who wants to know about my joyful encounter with overcast and bus exhaust? But, for me, these useless and mundane moments are a tremendous source of life's joy and even its meaning.

Which of course, makes me think critically, and perhaps a bit apprehensively, about the project I am involved in as a New Media scholar. In a conversation the other day, a colleague paraphrased Clay Shirky's hope for the possibility of the Internet connected masses. If we contribute to Wikipedia or Free Software, he said, we are no longer wasting time like we would watching television. Instead, our idle moments can be harnessed, can be made "socially useful." All these moments will be used - like processor cycles in the SETI@home cluster.

I am being a bit unfair to this argument here - TV time is not usually a source of reverie and joy, more often a source of consumer-zombie stupor. I've been an advocate for FOSS and Wiki for years now, I'm not condemning them. Still, I wonder. Do we leave the door to the Social Factory, to the Taylorization of Everything open if we implement our Participatory Culture in the wrong way? Does there need to be a voice to defend the idle, the useless, and the wasted moments - in a culture that seems ever more interested in making every moment count, every moment produce, every moment matter?

1 comment:

Gavin said...

Cogently put, though I am not as big a fan of wasted trips as you (though last night I went out of my way to drop off some people I didn't know very well -- I enjoyed the trip itself more than the people)... Highlights a lot of problems I have with "participatory culture" (as if all culture isn't participatory)... Anyone who's engaged in anything seriously -- blog, podcast, YouTube channel, etc. -- knows how purely social pressures compel you to alter your output along Standard Operating Procedures, to conform to established conventions. Everything feels a lot less open and free than it did 3, 5, 7 years ago even though it's ostensibly easier to have a net presence. I keep my blog design shoddy and my posting sporadic in partial protest to this idea. And not to mention that participatory often enough means unpaid labor, and all the profit sharing schemes that I've seen are crap, not to mention beside the point. I would rather read what people want to write instead of what people think will sell and appeal to their supposed niche audience (have you seen paid blogging positions? it's the adjunct hell of writing gigs). Writing without pity, without taking prisoners, one of the last outlets of true freedom we have -- as long as your employer doesn't google your name!