'Radio Icebox'

A warm story about a cold place

Fridays at the Mic: Scribblin' in a Digital Age

Scribblin' in a digital age. What a nonsensical, bullshit title. But I stand by it not because it makes sense or because it attracts attention by being funny and cute (it doesn't) but because the idea of mashing a colloquialism like 'Scribblin' with an over-used phrase like 'The Digital Age' perfectly captures the whole dichotomy of trying to entertain people in 2016. We are living in the digital age but to really see what that means is to stare into the void and court madness. It is to realize that writing should be obsolete by now, but is actually more important than ever.

Human communication has always been more about barriers than connections. Languages keep us from understanding each other. Technology limits understanding by controlling perception. And even when two people do understand the same language and are in a position to communicate unfiltered by technology, they misunderstand anyway because of any number of little mental tricks we play on ourselves just to get the through the day. Two people meet on the street. Both are obsessing over some small, petty injustice they suffered, and they know they are obsessing so they slap on a happy face to avoid talking about it. And because they are obsessing, they tell themselves they don't have time to listen to the other guy's problems. So, they don't and their 'conversation' (sarcastic quotation marks) is reduced to a series of banal, pre-scripted speech McNuggets filling the appropriate amount of conversation time with words but meaning nothing.

In short, people are self-centered. Not selfish, you understand. Most people don't consider themselves above everyone else. They just lack the ability to perceive objectively, to see (and by extension, describe) things in a such a way as to to convey that image with written words. The poet sees a sunset and struggles to put it into words because she knows that it is really impossible to use this limited, improvised and obtuse system to create emotion in another human being. But that's still the goal. I see and feel. I want to make people feel the same thing. And I want them to feel it no matter where they are or when they are. I want to be a time traveler and a mad scientist creating something in others through this mystical system called words.

Isn't it strange that we're still using written language? We can record our voices and we can record moving pictures of our faces creating those voices, and yet we still use this system of symbols that are tied to sounds. And it seems the more difficult and complex a language is to use (Chinese and English) the more common its usage. Maybe we are tied to this old system by habit, but maybe we are tied by something more. As I talk with people in my town and write back and forth with people on the internet, I'm struck with how often people utter something stupid, racist, elitist or all three, then claim that their meaning was obscured by language. “Oh, you know what I mean. I'm just not saying it right.” Maybe we want language to be the problem because otherwise the problem is ourselves.

Here's a simple conclusion, and something to think about. The telephone changed the world in that it changed us into a spoken word society. Before the telephone, the only form of long-distance communication was the written word and we had beautiful written words. Letters from the 19th century were clear, often poetic, and don't get me started on the penmanship. But that all changed when we could talk to each other. And make no mistake, speaking is different than writing. Here's my idea of where the problem comes in: when a present-day person sits down to write, they don't actually write. They transcribe. They mentally create a conversation then write down what their imaginations 'heard'. Emails and blogs lack clarity because they are written transcriptions of 'conversations' that needed body language and inflection to be complete. Real written communication feels stilted and stiff by comparison, but it's a damn site clearer and more 'true'.

Next week, I think I'll talk about all this in the context of a radio script: the blueprint for heard art.