While I am in Ohio I am doing most of my internet stuff from the Greene County Library in beautiful downtown Xenia. It is not only a place where one can get free wi-fi ( we have no service at the Ohio house, lacking even a land line telephone) without calories. The only other places are those like McDonald’s and even with the best of intentions something will call one’s name and invite you into culinary areas it would be better to eschew. But I digress.
The library is not only a great place to cop free internet connection, it is also a great place to do some casual ethnographic studies. Unlike the library of my youth it is not particularly quiet, conversations are carried on everywhere, and not in whispers. Also there is great activity around the computers that are available for public use. This feature, while no doubt a great public service, makes me sad. The people clustered around the computers are almost all either very young or relatively seedy. Considering the way that computers have become a staple requirement for communication in our society the idea that some people do not have one is sobering.
I am certainly old enough to remember when having a computer at home put you in an elite category, if not an exclusive category, but now when every ad on television and every government agency information post includes a url, how isolated and deprived must one feel if you have to trek to the library, sometimes having to get in line to wait for access to a computer? Not to mention the library hours are now much truncated, sometimes they do not open until noon. When does access to the internet become a basic need? I think back to telephones. My family always had one, and we never had a party line that I can remember but I had friends as a child who did not have a phone. Now it is de rigeur to have a cell phone. Wonder how long it will be before having a computer is considered as vital to normalcy?
I have a Blackberry phone, so even when I am not at the library or McDonald’s I am in contact with the internet. I am going to admit to being an internet junkie. I even take mine to the beach with me when we are on vacation. I need to know what is going on out there!
The second thing that struck me at the library was the number of people who want to talk to someone, to carry on an intelligent conversation, to share what they are thinking, to be heard. It seems that a lot of people who frequent the library in the day time are either folks who live alone or folks who feel that they do not have anyone who wants to listen to them. True, some of them are a bit odd, no question about that, but a lot of them seem to be very thoughtful people who do not have an opportunity to engage in intellectual discussions often enough. The poor library workers are the prime targets of these folks since they are captive audiences behind their desks or counters, but if you are there for more than a few minutes and do not seem to be otherwise engaged you too will be enlisted to listen.
This makes me wonder– having spent most of my life in education, either in public schools or colleges and universities–where do people not in education find intelligent conversation, interactive discourse with logical, reasonable people?
I think almost all human beings know things that they want to share with others. Sometimes those things might not seem important to other folks. I mean when I am trying to explain the joys of education to colleagues and give as an example that one of my doctoral classes once spent two hours debating whether the universe is clock-like ( organized, logical, sequential) or cloud-like ( always re-forming, mercurial, subject to chance) a lot of them do not seem to find that appealing. Nevertheless, if I wanted to have such a discussion and was burning to give my opinion ( I am a chaos theorist so obviously I came down on the cloud-like side) where else could I do that?
I doubt if I announced that I was having a symposium on the topic of ‘The Universe: Cloud versus Clock’ and the Universe at the Greene County Library that folks would be beating down the door.
But the topic that one feels required to expound on might not be anything nearly that esoteric. Suppose you wanted to discuss politics, or education or cooking or the virtues of having a real Christmas tree versus an artificial one, or why, if we have global warming it is so damn cold, where would you go? Who would you talk to? If you were not fortunate enough to have family or friends who loved to dip and dive amongst the vagaries of your intellect what could you do?
I guess you would go to the library and lay in wait of prey to engage. Or, you would write a blog.