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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Baby in the well

It's 1959, and you hear on the 10pm news that a baby has fallen into a well. You won't know any more about the baby's predicament until the next morning, when you read about it in the paper or hear about it in the morning news on TV. In the meantime, you had a life to live, away from stories about babies or just about anything else happening in the world. Nonetheless, you knew what you needed to know, as the facts could wait.

It's 2009, and you hear on the 10pm news that a baby has fallen into a well. For the next 24 hours, you follow from minute to minute the epic saga of the baby's rescue through the web, the all news channel, and a cascade of tweets. In addition you know what everybody else if thinking about the whole affair, from your friends on Facebook to commentators across the world. In the meantime, you no longer have a life to live, since you cannot break away from the continuous narrative about babies and plane crashes and all the news of the world.

A Lethal Combination

Oddly, although the facts can wait, the narrative cannot, and facts become narratives when we attend to and anticipate their every change. But narratives add little to our knowledge, only to the continuous surprises that occur along their winding way. And that's the problem, because we are attending to all of this information not because of the information but because of how the information turns. In other words, story telling replaces knowledge. So this is where the internet or 'cloud' has brought us: a continuing narrative that deludes us into thinking it's making us wiser when it it is only making us entertained.

In our workaday affairs, we want to get to the point, as there is no pleasure in the narrative of doing accounting, preparing reports, or writing correspondence. However, work becomes a narrative when we check our email, finances, phone calls and breaking news every minute. We could wait to do these things only at certain times in the day, but that would interrupt the narrative, and the narrative cannot wait. So if you're going to rationalize the need to have any time anywhere knowledge brokered by your i-phone or i-anything, know that it's not because of needing the facts, because the facts can almost always wait. After all, the baby ain't going nowhere.

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