Rather than bemoan the distractions, permutations, endless ambiguity, even the thinly veiled malaise that can creep over one invested deeply in their own manifestation of digital culture, I come to you tonight with a return to digital culture as I know it. An opportunity for connections when none exist in the physical realm. To do this, however, I am left with the narrative of the modern world, endless motion. This endless motion comes in the form of business travel, a facet of my existence that ebbs and flows with the seasons, the capitalist cycles that we are all a part of to some degree.
My narrative is Paris and its semi-states of detachedness and attachedness, of anxiety (of travel in general) and the rejuvenation that only foreign travel can bring. It is like being an infant and taking endless delight in the simplest of things, like taking the metro, ordering a beer in a cafe, whiling away the time in the park. The digital equivalent of foreignness has been documented well before, but often with a tinge of dystopian melancholy. It is threatening because it is different, foreign. But let us embrace the digital equivalent of l’estranger, or viewing foreignness as a sublime experience. We wander through social worlds, drift through a myriad of connections, messages, a behemoth bulletin board that endlessly streams information that we must discern, to make the conscious decision to invest in to convert it to energy or information. We are awash in it, this stock ticker of our digital lives.
I would be lost without it. Literally.
In this four days in Paris, I have lived in at least four worlds. One, the conference itself. Botanists, biodiversity types, bioinfomatics types, taxonomists, the whole information substructure. I am engulfed in it and letting it inform the future of my projects. That is explicitly what I am here for. However, I have met several people with whom I have only had online relationships with for years. The digital and the corporeal collide. I feel connected.
The second community is work in New York, Princeton. Never ceasing, never stopping, endlessly slouching forward. It demands my attention in the off hours the conference doesn’t consume. I am beholden to it. I have a Skype call with work, I conduct a webinar, I do it all from my hotel bed. I feel connected (not necessarily a great thing in this instance).
The third is Edinburgh. I willingly connected, read, reread, embrace ideas, juggle with disintermediation, challenge a thousand channels to resonate under one voice. My fellow students are all over, but we are bound by a code of intellectual pursuits, of a collaborative spirit. I feel connected.
The fourth, my social online self. I still bounce between Twitter, Facebook, my personal blog, Google Reader, Buzz. I maintain these connections because they maintain me. I feel connected here as well.
Physically, I am in Paris, disconnected (in a good way). France has just gone on strike, I am here at least another day, alone. L’estranger, but not a stranger. Not with Skype to talk to my wife, Facebook to commiserate with friends, Edinburgh to pursue my education, and work to pay the bills. This is a digital culture to me, one that bleeds endlessly into this hectic, mobile, entirely decentralized corporeal existence. I feel grounded online; out here, it is a free for all!