I’m finding that the internet is having a strange, although
enjoyable, effect upon me. Maybe I can
call it “e-convergence.” What happens is that I spend an hour or so each
morning wading through email messages, Facebook postings, the latest figures on
how many people read yesterday’s blog and how many others bought one of my
books, the online version of the New York Times, and a few of my favorite
bloggers. And more and more often, the ideas from one item leap across the
screen to make some sort of connection with another that is totally unrelated,
or so it would seem.
For example, we have a cat calendar hanging in the bathroom,
and the first thing I noticed this morning was that I had missed “Burns Night,”
a Scottish holiday, celebrated, according to my calendar on January 25,
the birthday of poet Robert Burns. That brought a fleeting smile, a quick
memory of his poem to a mouse, and then I moved on.
A Facebook post led me to an article about the damage the
internet has done to our ability to concentrate. It argued that we are all learning to think
and write in short spurts – a pithy and obscure status post, a 140-word tweet,
a link to an article rather than a reasoned response. Yeah, I thought. That might be so, but I had too many other
posts to check. Moving along.
On a blog, I ran across an article about whether or not a
scholar attending an academic conference should, or should not, skip some
scheduled talks to explore the city in which the meeting is being held. Briefly
I thought about the number of such conferences I have attended without seeing
anything except the inside of the hotel where the sessions are happening. Too many, I’m afraid. So I came down firmly on the side of the
argument for getting out more, if only for a non-conference local meal. Then I moved on.
In the New York Times, I paused to read an article about
plans to remodel the iconic New York Public Library, and suddenly that
e-convergence happened. I was back in
New York City 10 or 12 years ago, supposedly attending the annual meeting of
the Medieval Academy of America. By that time I was close enough to retirement
that I had quit worrying about making the “right contacts” or pitching a new
book proposal to some bored publishing rep.
It was a beautiful day, and I couldn’t stand listening to one more
graduate student stumbling through a presentation only to be savaged by the old
salts in the back of the room. I literally moved on.
Outside I went and started walking. Within a few blocks I
realized I was standing in front of that New York Public Library. What a
wonderful morning I had! I climbed those steps eagerly, gaped in wonder at the
Reading Room, plundered a few open shelves for strange books that had nothing
to do with my career, and shivered with pride when I discovered my own book in
the card catalog. Then again I moved on, feeling guilty and intending to return
to the hotel in time for the scheduled chicken luncheon.
But outside on those same steps, I ran full tilt into a man
dressed in a complete Scottish tartan. He laughed as he caught my elbow to keep
me from falling, and acknowledged that it was hard to take one’s eyes off that
old building. So I looked down and couldn’t see anything but his bare knees
below his kilt. Again he chuckled and asked me if I was coming to the parade.
parade? Yes, it turned out to be a Scottish holiday, and he was eager to tell
me about his bagpipe band. “You must see
our parade,” he said. “We even have Sean
Connery leading the way as our Grand Marshall.” That did it! I learned their route,
and the starting time of the parade, and set off – in the opposite direction
from the conference hotel – to find a good viewing spot. I even bought a street cart hot dog that made
a better lunch than that promised rubber chicken. It was a day I thought I
would never forget, even if Sean Connery’s knees did turn out to be as knobby
as the others I had seen.
But I did move on afterward.
I hadn’t thought of that day until this morning, when casual but
completely unrelated internet blurbs – those short spurts of ideas -- caused that e-convergence that brought all
the memories together one more time.
Such is one value of our current fascination with the internet. It has the power to give us links to other
times, other places, other people – all coming together as one interconnected