Tuesday, July 10, 2012

There is more to knowledge than a Wikipedia search

I had been living in New York quite a bit, and spending a lot of time with New Yorkers, and wherever I was I was hearing the same – the New York – answers to every question, and I realised that both the questions and answers that I was hearing were New York-based. And I realised that neither the questions nor the answers were the ones I was asking myself but I was surrounded by this language that had the questions and the answers knitted into it. And the only way out was to leave the city.
That is the poet Robert Lax explaining why he moved to the Greek island of Patmos in 1961. One of the reasons for my unfashionable dislike of social media in particular and contemporary media in general is that it speaks in a language that has the questions and answers knitted into it – a language geared to generating the approval of ‘followers’ and ‘friends’. It is very rarely that I agree with TV celebrities, but I can only echo Michael Palin’s recent plea that schools should place a renewed focus on traditional geography field trips to stop pupils being trapped behind classroom computer screens. Just as my first musical revelation came at an early age during a concert performance of Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Symphony by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, so my first cultural revelations came in 1960s school trips to Europe, and continue today in similar journeys.

Paths converge in my header photo which was taken recently at the monastery of Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux near Avignon. My love affair with the Midi started with a 1965 school trip to Avignon and Perpignan, and Robert Lax was a close friend of the Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton who was born near Perpignan. I have my back to the camera and facing it is composer Jeff Harrington, whose committed advocacy of new media is a refreshing counterbalance to my scepticism. With his artist wife Elsie Russell, Jeff decided that the only way was to leave the city of New York, first for Sanibel Island in Florida, and then Avignon. To the right is Father Edmond of the Benedictine community at Le Barroux. I have crossed swords with Father Edmond here before, but my frequent encounters with him are invaluable reminders that there is more to knowledge than a Wikipedia search. Which is why I found myself on the road last year with a Sufi saint.

Also on Facebook and Twitter. Header quote is from Peter France's highly recommended Hermits. Photo taken by my wife is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2012. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

5 comments:

jeff_harrington said...

Interesting that you write this now as just 2 weeks ago, Elsie decided to effectively leave FB (except for posting pictures of new paintings) and for exactly the reasons you suggest - closed knowledge spaces create their own dynamic between questions and the answers and constrain the dialog between artists and audiences and other artists.

Pliable said...

Jeff, I admire Elsie for taking that decision. Frankly I have agonised for some time over whether I want to be part of the self regarding social media community.

Like Elsie I try to limit my posts there to factual updates, but still wonder whether that is too much.

I have written previously about the new media hermits. Are we seeing the emergence of the Facebook-lites and Twitter-lites?

jeff_harrington said...

I had a weird experience back in 2007, right before I got laid off and we decided to risk living 'off-world' as Elsie calls it (she grew up in NYC and Rome). We were in the middle of a mangrove swamp on Sanibel, riding our bikes when I got a call on my cellphone. I was frankly, surprised there was reception, as I had seen no towers. It was a pianist, asking me questions about leaving out certain notes in my big piano piece, BlueStrider. I (and others) had been working 12 years to get it performed in NYC; it had already been played in Ann Arbor, Sydney, and a few other places. Finally Joseph Pehrson had gotten somebody interested and the pianist (Paul Hoffmann) was on the phone.

I knew the passage he was talking about and I got off my bike, standing in the sun, surrounded by nothing but semi-tropical mangrove swamp, alligators and roseated spoonbills and we went through it and discussed the different options. It suddenly dawned on me that all my NYC friends, all my social contacts, all the time I'd spent shmoozing, all the parties I'd gone to had all amounted to squat and it was only the Internet that was working for me.

So, I might as well live some place beautiful. ;)

jeff_harrington said...

I had a weird experience back in 2007, right before I got laid off and we decided to risk living 'off-world' as Elsie calls it (she grew up in NYC and Rome). We were in the middle of a mangrove swamp on Sanibel, riding our bikes when I got a call on my cellphone. I was frankly, surprised there was reception, as I had seen no towers. It was a pianist, asking me questions about leaving out certain notes in my big piano piece, BlueStrider. I (and others) had been working 12 years to get it performed in NYC; it had already been played in Ann Arbor, Sydney, and a few other places. Finally Joseph Pehrson had gotten somebody interested and the pianist (Paul Hoffmann) was on the phone.

I knew the passage he was talking about and I got off my bike, standing in the sun, surrounded by nothing but semi-tropical mangrove swamp, alligators and roseated spoonbills and we went through it and discussed the different options. It suddenly dawned on me that all my NYC friends, all my social contacts, all the time I'd spent shmoozing, all the parties I'd gone to had all amounted to squat and it was only the Internet that was working for me.

So, I might as well live some place beautiful. ;)

Pliable said...

A relevant news story - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-18813237