Great False God of Convenience

I was reading an article that discusses the lack of trust and intimacy in today’s world, in connection to the fact that neither of our presidential candidates is particularly trustworthy. Because we Americans brought these two (insert your insulting noun of choice here) to the forefront of national debate, that must reflect somehow on our own inability to trust or to be trusted in.

We live in an age of superficial, illusory contact through computers, social media, texting, and, yes, even blogs. The multiplicity and ubiquity of these interactions has tricked us into believing that we are putting ourselves out there and being open and vulnerable. Unfortunately, the reality is that we are only sealing ourselves up inside our own high fortresses, away from true kinship with others. These “quick and dirty” methods of communication are the product of a culture that has become obsessed with the great false god of convenience.

Much has been sacrificed to this great false god in order to make communication easier and quicker. You know the buzzwords: expediency, efficiency, facilitation… the list goes on. What has been sacrificed? Mostly face-to-face communication and the connections with others that it engenders. Having a real conversation with a person, developing intimacy and trust with her, and getting to know her on a level that goes beyond the superficial all take time, effort, and energy that we are loath to expend.

For the sake of that great false god of convenience, we are always trying to minimize our time spent doing time-consuming things without considering their real value. In an office setting, walking all the way across the building to stop in and ask a coworker a question eats away at our time, so we use Outlook, Skype, and the like. After a while, even phone calls become time consuming because we don’t want to listen to the other person’s verbal tics as they try to get their point across. We want concise emails, with bullet points if possible, so we can scan them (not actually read them! oh heavens, no!) and absorb the salient points as efficiently as possible.

All this businesslike efficiency has bled into our everyday interactions, or lack thereof. At supermarkets, we have self-checkout machines. At the bank, we speak to the teller through a computer screen. We emerge from our workplaces and our homes, put our sunglasses on, and turn our faces downward into the glow of our smartphones so we can avoid the eyes of others. We have so many other terribly important things to do than waste our time with small talk.

But how do connections with and trust in others begin? Very often, they begin through small talk. Very often, they begin slowly. The most worthwhile things in life often take a great deal of time to blossom and come to fruition—and most of us would consider our relationships with others among the most worthwhile things in life. Worshiping at the altar of the great false god of convenience has taught us to demand quick solutions where none are possible.

The Friday Four: 1,000

1. I’m in the midst of reading the weirdest book I have ever stumbled across: Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves. It’s postmodern (ergodic) literature, a story within a story, and the book has the strangest layout you’ve ever thought possible. The footnotes have footnotes, there are weird little windows of text, and some pages have only one word on them. The plot is kind of creepy and mysterious, which makes it fitting for Halloween.

2. This article may be old, but it’s a good read about how leaving out the little words (an, a, the) in newspaper headlines and the like really makes a big difference, especially where ambiguity is concerned.

3. This blog post was Freshly Pressed a few days ago and is one of the most accurate articles about relationships that I’ve read all year. The gist of the article: Don’t rush into marriage, don’t rush into a relationship. These things take time, and we often believe that relationships, like most other things in this technology-driven life, can progress faster with less effort. It ain’t true. The more you try to rush a relationship, the faster you drive it into the ground.

4. Somehow, my blog managed to attract 1,000 followers. Thank you all so much for loyally reading my nonsense and randomness! I appreciate it.

Happy Friday!

Night Film (Review)

I got a lot of enjoyment from reading Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, so I was excited to read her second novel, Night Film, which is supposed to be a “literary” murder mystery/thriller about an investigative journalist who’s searching for the full story of a mysterious film director whose 24-year-old daughter recently committed suicide. You could also call the book “postmodern” because the text was interspersed with pictures, news articles, and snippets of paper to give the events a more realistic feel. I didn’t have a strong opinion on these “extras”; it was nice to have some breaks in the text, but I think the book would have been just fine without them.

I admit, the only reason I read the book was because I enjoy and admire Pessl’s writing. She has an incredible way with words and an intelligent wit that I wouldn’t mind bringing into my writing. Normally, I don’t like the murder mystery/thriller genre, and I never sympathize with protagonists who are journalists. (Pessl’s protagonist was no exception; I found him somewhat bland and predictable.)

With that said, as good as Pessl’s writing is, she tends to sound pretentious at times, and you can tell she’s trying very hard to emphasize the “literary” aspect of her work as she peppers the text with tons of literary and cultural references (she does this a lot more in Special Topics). Another aspect of the writing that irritated me was that a lot of words were italicized for emphasis, and the technique was way overdone (several times on each page). I wish an editor would have taken those out. I didn’t like that the book took place in New York City; I understand that NYC is an inspiring place, but it is used often in fiction.

I did enjoy the supporting characters; all of them were described realistically and given interesting, believable backstories. The smaller settings within NYC (and elsewhere) were unique, and I could clearly picture them in my mind. The plot had a made-for-cinema feel, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book became a movie in the near future. Because the plot was similar to that of a movie, it was fast-paced, with sufficient “downtime” so you didn’t become exhausted by the pace.

By the end of the book, I was expecting a really good climax and ending, but the way Pessl wrapped everything up and “solved” the mystery was sort of a disappointment. I did love one of the “morals” of the story, which was something like “magic and fantasy always have a place in real life, even if you’re a skeptic.”

All in all, I wouldn’t recommend Night Film, unless you are a diehard fan of murder mysteries/thrillers and/or Pessl’s work. For such a good premise, the payoff isn’t worth it.