I think I’ve known it for some weeks now. Known it in the way that my fingertips absently type f-a-c-e-b-o-o-k-.-.c-o-m-/-h-u-m-a-n-s-o-f-n-e-w-y-o-r-k or some abbreviation of that, as whatever souless web browser that I’m viewing this page on recognizes what I’m up to and attempts to read my mental state, or at least engage the patterns of my fingertips. And then, pressing the enter key, landing on the page, and clicking on this picture of Rosy-Cheeked Toddler Clutching Big Brother’s Hand and Fashion Designer on the Block and Jeeze, that New Mother Was So Profound and Hony, You Know That That Answer You Elicited Right There Really Touched Me. I Mean, If I Could Have, I Would Liked It, Like 14,555 Other People Already Have.
(All of this. All happening. In My Town.)
Click. Next Photo. Read Words. Let out “Hmmm.” Maybe a “Delightful.” Or “Wow.” Skim Comments. Repeat.
The Masses Roar: “I love the Hony Community. Everyone else on the Internet exchanges barbs like they’re swapping presents on Christmas Day. But this little corner of the blogosphere’s different.”
“Whoa, so this Guy in a Suit that is marching down Main Street like he owns the world—his sister suffered from leukemia. It just goes to show you that you really don’t know anyone.”
In response to Profound Words of a Stranger, “HONY, how do you do it all the time?”
Meanwhile, I feel equal parts glowing and connected–all ephemeral. This is my city and here are its people and I do everyday life with them. But life imitates art. My vision narrowly concentrates its resources to a screen, oblivious to the reality that endures outside of its confines. Within that peripheral space, stands the point that I can only make out once I knock the screen from my eye level.
I live in New York City. The people that he photographs, I ignore on the train. The people he photographs, our shoulders slam on sidewalks. The people he photographs, I don’t visit their neighborhoods. The people he photographs, I see them only as hurdles to maneuver around on my Citi Bike. The people he photographs, I refuse to engage with as alive.
(Sometimes I viscerally hate technology. Today is one of those days.)
But click through these photographs as I allegedly write cover letters in this northeast reading chamber at the Steven L. Schwartzman Building. I mean, I can do that, and do that I will.
Faces. Attire. Quotes. Consume. Chew. Next Bite. Scrape the edges of bowl.
If you’re giving me a page view, first thanks. Second, you’re probably shaking your head slowly because maybe you were my accomplice in begging straphangers and sidewalk sitters and the sea of pedestrians to feast on pastries or salad or snickers or blankets and please, won’t you partake in our excess. Maybe, you think you’ve heard those stories of how I made my first friend because of a pervert in Astoria Park, another friend who was shrieking to her ex-boyfriend on the Rockaway bus ride home, another friend on the 11:30pm F train last Saturday, and another at a lecture I spontaneously attended. Maybe, you believe that I don’t feast on people for my Internet Prix Fixe. Maybe you don’t know me.
If I’m weepy this indecisive Tuesday, I’m shoving the blame on Jonathan Safran Foer who offered his thesis of technology’s harmartia after refusing to comfort a sobbing teenager whom he only knew because she was sobbing on a bench and her cries forced him to confront the reality outside the screen.
He’s referring to technology as this “diminished substitute” for incarnate interaction.
Each step “forward” has made it easier, just a little, to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.
THE problem with accepting — with preferring — diminished substitutes is that over time, we, too, become diminished substitutes. People who become used to saying little become used to feeling little.
Point taken Mr. Foer. I don’t even so much as comment on Hony. I haven’t logged in to Facebook since practically a year ago.
I don’t remember the last time I built emotional rapport with strangers so swiftly as to figuratively wipe tears away. And what a pitiful life this will be if my nasty, brutish and short never tries to ameliorate those traits in someone else’s. But instead, it’s the 21st Century! I can choose to vicariously live this bravery out through Brandon Stanton.
Let me bring in Mr. Foer again, who can gracefully cut my heart again.
Most of the time, most people are not crying in public, but everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs. There are as many ways to do this as there are kinds of loneliness, but all of them require attentiveness, all of them require the hard work of emotional computation and corporeal compassion. All of them require the human processing of the only animal who risks “getting it wrong” and whose dreams provide shelters and vaccines and words to crying strangers.
We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.
That is it. It is all ending, even now while it is beginning and I am typing this blog, a farcical way to think that I might be contributing to healing but no it is not, because potentially these words I wrote were poignant and tender and what I want to do in the world will take more chutzpah than scribbling disappointed and jaded thoughts on a fickle Tuesday morning.
I’m going to die. I’m already dying. In what ways today will I serve or undermine the legacy that I wish to leave?