Can the Internet Alleviate Alienation That’s Been With Us Since We Became A Transient Society?
The virtual reunion that follows is an actual e-mail exchange where I served as go-between. The exchange was prompted by the publication of a story in the Winter 2010 issue of Mobius.
Frankly, I have mixed feelings about the Internet and digital communications technology. At the risk of sounding like an old fuddy-duddy as I close in on the big 5-0, I often wonder if teens and twenty-somethings are experiencing more harm than good with such a heavy reliance on digital communications.
I like my friends, but I don’t feel the need to be in constant contact with them. I appreciate the sound of silence. The fact that my cell phone doesn’t make some obnoxious noise every two minutes does not mean I am going to die of loneliness (though truth be told, if I hear my computer ping, all too often I’ll run over to check my e-mail).
I fear that people are becoming over-stimulated. They’re well past stimulus overload. That cannot be good for our general mental well-being.
I’ve often observed what seems like a hive-mentality among those highly dependent on digital communication. They seem like the Borg; individuality is nowhere near as important as remaining connected with the collective consciousness. I remember once seeing a teenaged girl leaving a restaurant with her parents. Her face betrayed considerable anxiety, but then she whipped out her cell phone, and suddenly, all was well.
I’ve discussed the issue of text messages with a few college students. It is practically a full-time job keeping up. If one is in class or a meeting where the cell absolutely, positively has to be turned off, it may take a good bit of time to catch up once it’s okay to turn the phone back on.
I also fear that we’re raising a generation that is emotionally underdeveloped because its members are so dependent on communication that lacks physical and verbal cues. Much of our communication is not what we say, but how we say it. This is lost in texting, IMing and e-mailing.
As for the Internet—well, it brings me a never-ending supply of sources to get bootleg Viagra. It’s a place where half-baked reporting becomes news. Where innuendo and lies become truth. It’s also a place where my computer is in constant danger of being hacked by someone looking for personal information.
But on the other hand, the Internet is a great tool for bringing people together. Our society is so transient. Most people don’t live on the same tract of land their whole lives. Maybe we spend childhood in the same town. Perhaps, we to college. Then we move someplace for a job. And then move to another place for another job. Who knows how many places one might live their adult life?
This means we spend a lifetime being separated from those who are important to us. The result is alienation.
Almost immediately, we took to the Internet, and we take to every new development that comes down the pike, be it Facebook, be it Twitter, be it whatever is the next big thing.
Does this mean we’re just a bunch of suckers? Are we this desperate?
Maybe, but I can’t help but wonder if this was all inevitable. We are social creatures. There’s no doubt about that. We’ve always been social creatures. It was that, along with our intelligence that has allowed us to survive as a species.
Perhaps it was inevitable that once the Internet came along, we would adopt it as part of our everyday lives because it satisfies a need that has been left unmet every since we started leaving the farms for the big city. Maybe we’ve been suffering from a profound and terminal sense of alienation for the better part of a century, and with the Internet, we finally have a way to catch up.
I know that over the years, great friendships have fallen by the wayside. This happens. People move away. You try to keep in touch, but it gets harder and harder.
Since joining Facebook, I’ve reconnected with so many old friends, and I’m talking about people I care deeply about, who I miss, and whom I can chat with almost like 15-20 years haven’t passed.
In fact, two very good friends who I haven’t seen in 15 or so years will be visiting me this summer. How cool is that?
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As I grow older, the world becomes more interesting.
I enjoyed your editorial about Cleveland—when people are vested in anything, whether a garden or a business or a government, they are going to be more willing to "do the work."
I found your website as I was looking for a former friend.
I found Paul K. Binford's story "Additives," and was taken back to 1950s and '60s Southern California, specifically the San Gabriel Valley and Arcadia, where my Dad had an office.
Paul's brother Bill was an "off-and-on" boyfriend of mine. He was too wild to be a "steady," but we enjoyed time together often.
I remember visiting Paul's house in Arcadia—hearing the peacocks!
His mother was so gracious; I wondered how she managed such a large (at that time) house and family. Interestingly, I later raised five children of my own. I thought often about Mrs. Binford and her offspring.
Paul once dated my younger sister—I remember they took a trip to Disneyland together. Such a cute couple, but it didn't pan out; my sister had her eye on another boy (they're still together after all these years!).
I wonder if you would be so kind as to forward this note to Paul, and tell him I've always wondered what happened to Bill (over the years I wondered if he made it to age 25—what with sky diving, skiing and overall recklessness).
The last time I saw Bill was on a date to see 2001: A Space Odyssey in Hollywood. We haven't spoken since. But through the years I've recalled Bill, "The boy with the Ipana smile," and his handsome younger brother Paul.
Thank you for providing a place for such wonderful stories and poetry.
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I really appreciate your forwarding the e-mail from a reader in Southern California, who came across my story "Additives" and remembered the events surrounding the story. I'm mentally composing my reply to Sandra.
This is one of the rewards, after the writing and revising and trying to find a home for a story, that it might lead to a connection with somebody from long ago. It's the second time that's happened to me, and it makes it all worthwhile.
I would like to repeat the last line of her letter—"Thank you for providing a place for such wonderful stories and poetry." Those places seem to be getting scarce, and despite all the obstacles you manage to keep Mobius going.
I think it's a great opening line as well. She writes: "As I grow older, the world becomes more interesting." That's a positive, uplifting message that, as we grow older, is worth remembering.
Thanks again, Paul Binford
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Thanks for your offer. I also think it's very cool that a voice from the misty memories of a long ago decade managed to find its way to where I am now. It's fine with me if you want to publish our letters. I wrote a response to Sandra and brought her up to date on the people she mentioned in her letter. I haven't gotten a reply from her, so I'm not sure if she would go along with this plan. If it's okay with her, I'd be glad to send you my response to her letter. I think both letters make pretty good stories as they are.
Best regards, Paul
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. . . Here is the letter I sent to her after your mail dated April 21. . . .
Best regards, Paul
Fred Schepartz, the editor of Mobius, was kind enough to send me your e-mail that began, "As I grow older, the world becomes more interesting". It was really exciting to be contacted by someone from that long-ago time in the San Gabriel Valley. I appreciate your taking the time to write.
You mentioned "I've always wondered what happened to Bill . . .". I can fill you in, as well as the other two people you mentioned, Annabel and myself.
Annabel was indeed gracious, she even endeared herself to the peacocks. Years later, I found out that she was the only person in the neighborhood who fed them. The neighbors didn't like the peacocks because they ate the flowers and pooped on the lawns. Annabel fell to a series of strokes, (4 of them, and she still wouldn't go down), but finally her functions quit one after the other and she passed away in 2002.
When you saw 2001: A Space Odyssey with Bill, I believe that was around the time when he was taking classes at Glendora City College. I saw that movie in the theater then, and I remember Bill was living in a loft in Glendora and complained that he seldom had "two quarters to rub together". An accomplice of his asked him to hike across the Mexican border (as you say, he was reckless and wild) with a couple of kilos of pot. You can guess what happened next: he quit school and went into smuggling full time.
He was pretty good at it, made lots of money, hired a crew. I joined him one time on one of his runs to Mexico and back. Eventually he got caught, went to Lompoc Federal for a couple of years, got paroled, violated his parole, they sent him to Chino State. A miracle happened there: he was selected to be part of a program to teach inmates underwater welding. He became a certified diver; saturation diving, where they put on those big helmets and go deep underwater, connected to an air hose.
Upon "graduating", he went off to Saudi Arabia, then Texas; finally he returned to Southern California. He spent a couple years in Big Bear, where our family had a cabin. I remember taking him to the passport office in 1991, where he got his passport renewed so he could go to Singapore. He ended up staying there; it's a locus for the type of work Bill wanted to do. He got too old for the underwater part, it's a young man's job, but was hired to supervise crews on the decks of maintenance barges.
He married twice, both to Chinese women. The first ended in divorce, the second wife is now his widow. Yes, widow. Bill had a 1200 c.c. Harley and one evening in 2006, he smacked into a light pole. Tequila had something to do with it. The police report concluded that he died instantly. He was 58.
I was in Japan, a six-hour flight away. I flew to Singapore and attended his memorial service and brought back his cremated remains. An interesting footnote—he was a member of HOGS, Harley Owners Group. Those guys showed up at the place where, in a Chinese funeral, the embalmed remains are open for viewing for a week. 50 bikers in full regalia on their choppers escorted the hearse to the crematorium. No doubt Bill would have appreciated that.
That was January, the following summer our family had a memorial weekend for Bill in Big Bear. I brought his ashes from Japan; as per his spoken wishes, we put him in the ground near the cabin.
Myself? Kubrick's movie is a good milepost on the timeline. I went to a college in the bay area, near Palo Alto, and became involved in the anti-war protests. Those were crazy times. I was mixed up with feminists, wannabe communists, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, my group fancied themselves to be yippies. All that came to a close in 1972, and I migrated to Canada, along with a few other guys I'd been involved with. We went to Alaska, Hawaii, various parts of the lower 48, and all things must pass.
I went back to college, earned a Bachelor's, a teaching credential, a Master's, all at CSU. I worked for three years at a junior high school in L.A., then had an opportunity to go to Japan to teach at a high school with an English major program. That was a two-year contract. I met my wife, and stayed. I've been working since, at various colleges and universities, teaching EFL. I'm now a full time professor on a five-year contract at Nagoya City University.
When I came here, the combination of distance and social vacuum allowed me to see my past life as though it were a newsreel in an old movie theater, and I started writing stories. I've written quite a few, some of them have been published in the local literary magazine sponsored by PAWS (Poets and Writers Society). "Additives" is the first story I've had published in the U.S.
From looking at your e-mail address, I guess we're in the same line of work. It looks like you're in the education department at CSU Fullerton. When I started teaching at universities here, I met a lot of students who'd spent a year at CSUF. Apparently your school had a lot to offer foreign students in the way of support and classes. I don't hear that anymore. Sadly, over the years Japanese kids have been losing interest in studying overseas.
Oh, you wrote "his handsome younger brother Paul". I remember being a skinny kid, who wasn't good at sports. I wore glasses, I certainly didn't think of myself as handsome. If I'd known, perhaps I would have turned out differently.
Thanks so much for making contact. The steps it takes to get a story accepted in a journal like Mobius are mind-boggling, and I sometimes wonder why I do it. When all the effort leads to someone like you, it makes it all worthwhile. This is the second time someone from long ago has gotten in touch by way of a story.
Best regards, Paul
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Thank you so much for being the "go-between." I received that wonderful note from Paul. Lots of news—much to think about. Let me know if you want me to send my reply to his letter, please.
Yes, the Internet is a fascinating tool when used properly and for good.
I believe so much advocacy can take place online—lots can be accomplished and shared.
Please stay in touch.