What Information?

When I was in college, my sophomore year I lived in a house with five friends. We were all good students, as they say, as well as robust consumers of various psychic stimulants. And we had The New York Times delivered because, well, it needs no explanation. Right? Reading the Times is one of those things good, liberal, white, educated New Yorkers do. We imagine it as a kind of stability amidst the flux, punctuating our mornings and commutes and conversations.

Did you read that Op Ed piece on health care?  No, no I didn't. Nor am I going to.

So one night during said sophomore year of college — this is Philadelphia, 1988, a depressed and depressing urban wasteland — I'm out and about in the sad, post-apocalyptic streets, my mind twitching and oozing and expanding and contracting and spinning for some 12 hours or so during which time I'd experienced and known and unknown many worlds. I come home at dawn, plop down at the dining room table, and glance at The New York Times, my body and mind and self still vibrating, reverberating, resonating with revelations equally banal and profound.

And there, in the upper left hand corner, is the Times' motto: All the News That's Fit to Print. 

I never read the Times, or any other newspaper, ever again. There was not one piece of information that was remotely useful, remotely illuminating, to me. I had seen things, known things, experienced things and none of it — not one shred — was in the Times. What they considered information and what I considered information had near zero overlap.  Only the weather — except it had NY weather and I was in Philly. So zero overlap.

Now, I wasn't expecting the Times to report on me and my visions. That's absurd. No, what I wanted was not reportage of me but of the realms of information, the realms of experience, that mattered. And there was not one thing in that rag that was remotely relevant to life at hand. And yet it had the hubris to declare: All the news that's fit to print.

If only it had said, "All the predictable nonsense we learned at press conferences from government officials," I'd have been fine with it.  But the belief, so readily accepted by its readers, that this was in fact all the news that's fit to print, made the Times dangerous, an affront that distracts people from the wealth of information that abounds always and everywhere. 

Listen, the Times is fine. Sorta. What drives me crazy is that people read it — or whatever newspaper — and believe they are informed, meanwhile ignoring the abundant information — the news — that surrounds them every moment of every day. And then wonder why they're miserable, their stomachs and livers and lives bloated with noxious sludge.

There is so much information that most people ignore. And yet this is the information that informs who we are and how we go — and what is more important than that? What is more political than that?

As I wake up and ready myself for the day, I am inundated with such information. My stomach, my head, my thoughts, my actions, my appetite: they all are telling me things, positioning me within the world. Meanwhile, the world is doing its thing — winds blowing, moods undulating, traffic accumulating, stars and bombs and minds exploding.  Infinite events are happening all at once and each is inflecting everything else and on and on it goes.

Meanwhile, all those winds and minds and bombs and stars in the world are shaping my stomach and appetite and actions just as I am, in my small way, inflecting the world.  This is politics, too.

Where's the newspaper that reports on such things? Where, for that matter, is the schooling? The documentaries, films, TV programs? Where is anyone talking about the flux of life that carries us along each and every day?

At the risk of being crass, consider one obvious bit of information: the rhythm with which you shit. It is a trace of the previous evening — those dumplings, that gin, that jolt of anxiety or excitement — as well as harbinger of the day to come.  After all, much of who we are — how we feel, how we make sense, how we negotiate  — takes place through the stomach. Oh, yes, the stomach is a vital inflection point within the engine of selfhood which, in turn, informs how we think, how we interact with others. What is it Nietzsche says — all prejudice comes from the intestines?

And so we wake and shit or don't shit. And it's more complex than that as the shit itself is rank with data: it declares, in no uncertain terms, how you're making sense of the world. Things are moving too quickly through you or not fast enough. Or you're full of gas as you unleash a punctuated mayhem. This is information.

There is much data that comes from the senses, from the visible world: your face, your aches, your shit, your hunger or lack thereof.  But there is abundant invisible information, too. You wake to a mood — you feel the world pressing down upon you, its weight a burden. Or its weight is a comfort, a cosmic embrace slowing movement to a palatable pace.  Or you wake energetic, eager to be up and about, bounding out of bed, greeting the day with voracious gusto.

This is information. This is the world speaking to you. This is the world speaking through you.

You may check the weather — sunny, a little wind, 63 degrees (I'm in San Francisco — that's our weather, more or less, every day and yet there is infinite variation: the wind can be a swirling agitating eddy; the 63 degrees can feel like 45 or 75 depending on the wind, the fog, the sun, the shade, your mood; and so on). Yes, there is plenty of data on the weather and it is welcome and interesting and important.

Some people check pollen reports. Much pollen can be an assault for some. And in San Francisco, where there is something always in bloom, pollen douses its citizens freely.

But there is no report for the mood.  Can you imagine it? Yahoo headline reads: "Odd Freakin' Mood on SF Streets This Morning."

One morning many months ago, I was driving to a work gig and, yes, shit was weird — cars were doing strange things like driving in wrong lanes, stopping suddenly, pulling into traffic against lights. My son was in the car and we both noted it. When I got to where I was going, my phone rang: it was my mother asking me if everything was ok — there had been an earthquake in Japan and there was news of a possible tsunami hitting San Francisco.

Now, I don't read the news because it doesn't give me the information I think is vital to heed the day. And I know that my mother's angst will let me know when there are things I need to know. So I find myself wondering: Is all this weird behavior due to the Tsunami?

The next day, my boy and I headed to the park where there was an amateur baseball game. We sat down to watch near one team's bench. I look at their shirts. And there, emblazoned across the front, was the team's name: Tsunami.

And what I learned was this: there was a tsunami in San Francisco. No, there were no real waves — of water, that is. But we were hit with waves that made people behave in all sorts of wacky ways. And yet there was no reporting, no discussion, no measurement or assessment of the situation. Why? Not because we lack the information but because we lack the way to discuss, articulate, and make sense of this information.

What information? The relentless ebb and tide of cosmic affective forces, the winds of mood and digestion and appetite that flow through us, in and around us, all the time.  All this data is right there in front of us. And yet we ignore it because, well, we're reading all the news that fits to print.

No comments:

The Posture of Things

You're shopping for a chair. As you browse the aisles, you note the variety — from backless computer chairs to high bar stools to plush ...