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How do we cope with what we just can't know?


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March 13, 2006

How do we cope with what we just can't know?

Stephen Baker

The guy at breakfast had the phone clipped to his ear, its green light blinking every three or four seconds across the table to his wife. I looked at him and wondered if he was waiting for important news or just in love with the gadget.

This got me to thinking about how we used to cope with the lack of information, the absence of news that characterized human life until oh, about a decade ago (everything being relative). There were things that we just didn't know and couldn't find out. Soldiers went to war and months would pass between letters. When spaceships passed around the dark side of the moon, radio communication went dead, and an entire country just waited and prayed for them to come around the other side. Kids would take the family car and be gone, and parents would just sit at home waiting. No one to call.

So what did we do when the information just wasn't available? We used our imaginations. We build imaginary structures in our minds that sketched out a life for the soldier at war, a safe path for the teen out in the car. Oh sure, sometimes our imaginations got caught up in our fears. But basically, in the absence of information we relied on a certain type of faith. It was a faith that life proceeds without us, and that things usually turn out OK. It was a recognition that there are plenty of situations where we just don't know, when we're powerless.

Now we have machines that give us the illusion that the truth is available with the push of a button, that we can control things. Often, of course, we can't. This dependency makes us vulnerable. If the kid's out in the car and the cell phone goes dead, we can feel panicked. Why? Because we've lost the knack of waiting patiently in our ignorance, and trusting. It's a crucial component of the human repertoire, and I fear we're losing it.

05:37 PM

society

I think over stimulation has something to do with this. The need to fill a beat which might be longer then usual or silence over a few days is now extremely rare. It might also be accentuated by having no network, aka real social network vs virtual social network, between you and the people you love.

I think it goes back to few years ago when there was a fear of isolation which I though was created by a fear of the internet. Is it time for fear of mobile because of the gap they are bridging?

Posted by: Benoit at March 14, 2006 08:44 AM

I think like all innovations, it's but a tool and how it is used is rooted in human nature. A phone or CB in a car on a lonely highway is a good thing should things go awry. A phone in use in a movie theatre is fodder for capital punishment.

A phone in the hands of a teen gone awry does nothing for real communication - she/he may not choose to use it or answer it.

An interactive blog here, can be used professionally. An interactive blog at Slashdot is just scary.

I don't think it's the tools or innovations. It's the character of those using it. But shaping that character seems an even more complex riddle.

Posted by: dg at March 14, 2006 06:23 PM

Like everything in life there has to be a balance.

Our job is the be like a filter. Information comes

to us 24/7 via different formats. The better your filter the more success you enjoy.

Posted by: malc at March 14, 2006 09:21 PM

Nice piece. I hear you.

Posted by: Donny H at March 17, 2006 06:37 AM

Im afraid of things every day. I have grown up in a world where things are told to me, and those things are said to be defined. When the definitions became sketchy, and confusing, I decided to come out of my bubble of safety and see if the truth was the truth, but what I found was what you explained. An illusion. Did I understand then? No. I wish I did. I've spent the last few years of my life trying to find the truth, and defining everything myself, and because of it I think I've wasted a little bit of my life. Sorry to draw from your subject, and take some attention, but thank you. Now I can try and have faith again.

Posted by: Ben French at March 21, 2006 12:28 AM


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