Life between the Cracks

The Analogue Counter-Revolution, Part 3 (Part 1, Part 2)

Your Facebook profile asks you to describe yourself: In a relationship? Yes or no. Likes, dislikes? This, not that. You type in a search in Google: The long fingers reach into the web and, based on terabytes of behavioral and data analyses, pluck out and deliver what it thinks you want. This quote, not that. This webpage, not that. And the line between what Google thinks you want and what Google wants you to think grows thinner and thinner...

Ambiguity -- and humanity -- are lost. Your favorite movie? Maybe it is...except for some flaws, even deep ones, in its structure. Perhaps one of the key performances contains an off-key note that takes you out of the illusion. Maybe you are vaguely aware of some plot hole that challenges your love of the film, which is, after all, a messy amalgam, as all films are, of competing artistic, economic, and social forces.

Are you in a relationship? Perhaps the answer is -- I don't know. Perhaps you love someone, but the physical component is in flux, moving from one state to another, perhaps forward, perhaps backwards. Maybe this person is physically attracted you, a feeling you do not reciprocate -- except when you do. After all, your relationship is, like all relationships, a messy amalgam of competing desires, values, and circumstances.

These are the type of complexities that used to be explored and expressed in letters and conversations, those messy and frustrating amalgams of thought, sentiment, and language which are now consigned to the dustbin of vanishing archaea along with LPs and typewriters, replaced by texts and twitters typed by texters and twits.

Perhaps we should be grateful -- after all, the computer gives us a list of options (the fewer, the better), and we need but select one. How easy for us! Are you a one or a zero? Simple, simple. What a deliverance from the old analogue way of things, with its shifting complications that challenged and mocked us and produced such trivialities as The Iliad, and The Divine Comedy, and King Lear.

Can you worship God, and yet rage against Him for the injustices which He could surely prevent? Can you cherish your beloved, though she lusts after another? Can you enjoy a movie, even one imperfectly wrought and acted?  

Yes, yes, and yes. Such ambiguity is the animating force of tragedy and comedy. It is life lived between the cracks, in the world of flesh and blood, of sweat and spit. It is a world in which the heart beats arhythmically until it beats no more, where synapses fire imperfectly when they fire at all.  

Take an old-fashioned wood and string violin. Have a hundred musicians come and play a G -- you will get a hundred different versions of the note. For there is no perfect, Platonic G to be found on the instrument -- only a continuum over which each musician will draw the bow ever so slightly differently, exerting varying degrees of pressure on the string with different-sized fingers, resulting in an endless multitude of tones and timbres.

Now have those same hundred musicians play a G on a digital instrument. You will get the same sound every time, because the computer has measured it out for you already, you see, and parceled it into easily digestible ones and zeros.  

What is produced will be a note. But not music. The music lives between those binary bits, between the keys, on an endless and everlasting continuum of cruelty and mercy, of beauty and deformity, of genius and imbecility, that is the human soul.

Does anyone else miss that music?

Matt Patterson is a National Review Institute Washington Fellow and the author of "Union of Hearts; The Abraham Lincoln & Ann Rutledge Story." His e-mail is mpatterson.column@gmail.com.
The Analogue Counter-Revolution, Part 3 (Part 1, Part 2)

Your Facebook profile asks you to describe yourself: In a relationship? Yes or no. Likes, dislikes? This, not that. You type in a search in Google: The long fingers reach into the web and, based on terabytes of behavioral and data analyses, pluck out and deliver what it thinks you want. This quote, not that. This webpage, not that. And the line between what Google thinks you want and what Google wants you to think grows thinner and thinner...

Ambiguity -- and humanity -- are lost. Your favorite movie? Maybe it is...except for some flaws, even deep ones, in its structure. Perhaps one of the key performances contains an off-key note that takes you out of the illusion. Maybe you are vaguely aware of some plot hole that challenges your love of the film, which is, after all, a messy amalgam, as all films are, of competing artistic, economic, and social forces.

Are you in a relationship? Perhaps the answer is -- I don't know. Perhaps you love someone, but the physical component is in flux, moving from one state to another, perhaps forward, perhaps backwards. Maybe this person is physically attracted you, a feeling you do not reciprocate -- except when you do. After all, your relationship is, like all relationships, a messy amalgam of competing desires, values, and circumstances.

These are the type of complexities that used to be explored and expressed in letters and conversations, those messy and frustrating amalgams of thought, sentiment, and language which are now consigned to the dustbin of vanishing archaea along with LPs and typewriters, replaced by texts and twitters typed by texters and twits.

Perhaps we should be grateful -- after all, the computer gives us a list of options (the fewer, the better), and we need but select one. How easy for us! Are you a one or a zero? Simple, simple. What a deliverance from the old analogue way of things, with its shifting complications that challenged and mocked us and produced such trivialities as The Iliad, and The Divine Comedy, and King Lear.

Can you worship God, and yet rage against Him for the injustices which He could surely prevent? Can you cherish your beloved, though she lusts after another? Can you enjoy a movie, even one imperfectly wrought and acted?  

Yes, yes, and yes. Such ambiguity is the animating force of tragedy and comedy. It is life lived between the cracks, in the world of flesh and blood, of sweat and spit. It is a world in which the heart beats arhythmically until it beats no more, where synapses fire imperfectly when they fire at all.  

Take an old-fashioned wood and string violin. Have a hundred musicians come and play a G -- you will get a hundred different versions of the note. For there is no perfect, Platonic G to be found on the instrument -- only a continuum over which each musician will draw the bow ever so slightly differently, exerting varying degrees of pressure on the string with different-sized fingers, resulting in an endless multitude of tones and timbres.

Now have those same hundred musicians play a G on a digital instrument. You will get the same sound every time, because the computer has measured it out for you already, you see, and parceled it into easily digestible ones and zeros.  

What is produced will be a note. But not music. The music lives between those binary bits, between the keys, on an endless and everlasting continuum of cruelty and mercy, of beauty and deformity, of genius and imbecility, that is the human soul.

Does anyone else miss that music?

Matt Patterson is a National Review Institute Washington Fellow and the author of "Union of Hearts; The Abraham Lincoln & Ann Rutledge Story." His e-mail is mpatterson.column@gmail.com.