Monthly Archives: May 2002

web world

i just read the travel diary of a friend of mine who is navigating his way through the medinas and mysteries of Morocco and other North African ports. he wrote it yesterday (depending on your frame of reference), and immediately i know of his cockrcoach encounters, his tense bus-mediated engagements with gun-toting militia, his simultaneous disorientation and wonder.

this is a thing the web does for us – it shrinks the world, it makes distant events more immediate and accessible. when tim berners-lee, or whoever it happened to be, coined the term World-Wide-Web, they probably had no idea just how perfect the term would be. we are now connected by internet cafes in tangiers and casablanca, cubes on our desktops, sleek web-enabled toys in our pockets – anything that offers us a keyboard to tap and a screen to be our window into a world of stories.

i remember a day when gasoline was $0.40/gallon and immediate tales of the world could only be found on the television, a dictator that arbitrated what was interesting and therefore consumable. the Web has changed the paradigm – we can consume what we want, when we want, and often without boundaries or media filters.
each of us has the power to communicate with all of the connected world – billions of people can visit virtual doorsteps we create. even though i’ve been living with the Web for years, somehow i always forget this simple, yet astounding, fact…

banging on stuff

last week i had the distinct pleasure of seeing the Stanford Taiko drumming team in action. for ninety minutes, elaine and i were both swept away as they danced, grunted, and beat their drums, both small and large. one might not necessarily think that drumming could remain captivating for that long, but it did. those beats tapped into a primal rhythm center, opened some neural floodgates, and started a pulsing mind-meld in the theater.

it got me to thinking about why i enjoyed this sort of thing, and maybe, more generally, why people do…

i am neither a musicologist nor a cultural anthropologist, but i suspect that the earliest form of instrumental music involved banging on stuff. it doesn’t take a terribly evolved brain to pick up a stick and bash it against the nearest tree or log. the resulting thwack reaffirms your presence to the rest of the world and connects you to it through the chain of mind, body, action, sound, and sensation.

a little experimentation would show that just about anything bashed against anything else would yield similar, but subtly different, results. a thick stick against a sturdy tree might summon the tribe, whereas a tiny twig tap-tap-tapped on your favorite rock would amuse only you. pretty soon, your buddies are picking stuff up and giving it a go themselves, and the next thing you know rhythm (or the most reasonable facsimile possible, given the state of smelly, hairy apes at the time) is born.

this is all pretty simple-minded reasoning, and totally ignores the other (survival-oriented) uses for objects cracked against things. i don’t want to go too far down this evolutionary tributary of inquiry, but what’s the point of banging on stuff? more precisely, why do we find the sounds produced pleasing, stimulating, or both? i mean, if we didn’t, the whole drum-n-bass genre really would have fallen flat, wouldn’t it?

nature has its own rhythms, but it seems that humans took it one step further by creating patterns and structure in beats – we created something not found in nature. it’s something that sets us apart, a distinct evolutionary advantage. survive and procreate – anything that makes this more possible is good.

speaking of sex, the whole rhythm thing seems to tie in with the sexual drum we often beat (so to speak). after all, it’s pretty easy to tie the old in-out-in-out to somebody outside beating sticks on drums around a fire…

maybe it isn’t so tough to understand after all. rhythm, syncopation, beats – they provide an easy way to share a non-verbal experience with others, to stimulate the body and senses in ways not possible via unadulterated mother nature. it brings us together, and not just because of the sexual resonance – because the sounds of ten drums are usually more interesting than the sounds of the lone drummer. unless, of course, you’re talking about mickey hart on the space drums – that’s toooootally different, man.

tyranny of choice

it’s not as if i’ve been doing anything momentous for the past three weeks. some work, some play, and absolutely no writing. i’ve been distracted.

as i was searching for sleep last night, gears grinding down for the day, i was thinking about distraction. more specifically, i was thinking about modern life and the treasure chest of choices with which we’re burdened and blessed. i was also thinking of at least three other totally inconsequential and unremarkable things at the same time, which reinforced the thread in my head about distraction. for example, i started to think about how many thoughts i could keep in my head at the same moment, running like trains on parallel tracks, and i found that as soon as i started thinking about it, i couldn’t do it any more – there was just the one train. speaking of that, have you ever read ‘the great train robbery’? i read it as a kid and really liked it, but i couldn’t tell you a thing about the story beyond the title and what i can infer from it (i.e., there is a crime in which a train is involved in some fashion). it’s often that way with me and books, even earth-shattering, recommend-them-to-everyone-you-know books. i just forget. but i digress.

the tyranny of choice any of us faces on a given day is staggering – which side of the street to walk on going to the store? which t-shirt to sport? what’s for breakfast? why choose to read instead of write, or pick my nose instead of change the world? most of the time, i don’t really think about it – i’m just a bag of bones, drifting like a large, hyper-evolved amoeba from stimulus to stimulus.

the smooth, comfortable paths i’ve worn often lead me down the same roads, and i forget that there are others. it’s a constant battle to remain aware of the decisions i make. they are conscious, yet unconscious. sometimes it’s just like surfing the web, jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink, a chain of events that make up the web of my life.

so tonight, after udon with shrimp dumplings and an enterprise fix, i decided to write about the beautiful tyranny of choice. do i lead it, or does it lead me? after you’ve read this, where will it lead you? i don’t have any answers.

right now it’s leading me to bed and a book. if only i could decide which of the seven on my nightstand to read…