Saturday, February 20, 2010

"On the seashores of endless worlds..."

I did not grow up with seat belts. Cell phones. Bicycle helmets. Go ahead, touch my skull. Security cameras. Carbon monoxide detectors. Child-proof screw-caps. Never stopped me from taking drugs if I wanted. Barbed wire fences around empty lots. Crosswalk tweets. Motion detectors. Bike lanes. Air bags. Grandma was a stinky air-bag. Portable GPS systems. Swine flu vaccines. Vitamin D milk. Outlet plugs. Bottled water. Personal computers. Lasik surgery. They used to call me four-eyes. Metal halide lamps. Mace. But I survived, somehow. How about you, poot? Did you survive and finally grow up? Or are you still mired in your childhood, sucking your thumb, diddling your piddler, relying on Mommy and Daddy -- or their surrogates -- to provide, provide? Like most Americans, swaddled in self-love, your little pudgy fingers grabbing after cookies or turds with equal avidity. There is no such thing as life insurance.

Some of the most interesting and provocative assertions made by Jaron Lanier in his manifesto
You Are Not A Gadget have to do with neoteny, our greatly distended human childhoods and the rentention of juvenile traits into so-called adulthood. Even though I don't see many adults around me, so it's hard to tell if neoteny really is becoming a more pronounced characteristic in humans -- there's so much more to learn these days! -- or whether Lanier is extrapolating too much from his own experience and from those around him, eggheads, nerds, geeks, and freaks. If there were a single word for every single thing, our childhoods would last till death, dontcha think, poot?

But there is no single word for every single thing, yet. And, as the poet said, things are not important anyway, it's the relationship between things. Ah, yes, pointing out analogies, that quintessential human activity:
this little mudpile is like that burial mound, these ants are like those tourists, this heartbreak is like that abandoned home. Somehow I survived and finally grew up, thinking to myself, there's got to be more to life than staying alive. Just don't utter those words down in Florida, where staying alive is the only thing. Here I am, with all of these unread books surrounding me, relics of my ambition to know it all, or at least as much of it as I could, books that I will never read, and now I'm faced with the coming of the big library in the cloud, tagged, connected, sliced, diced, filtered, curated, always available, fully searchable and manifestly mashable. The known world -- still only a tiny portion of Everything That Is -- coming at me, expanding exponentially. The tsunami in the sandbox.

Yes, here I am, in my dirty diapers, wailing, infantilized again. Too much information. I need a glue-pot and tape, blunt-tip scissors and a box of crayons, and someone to ring the bell when recess is over. I need soft food and booties when it's wet. I need a training seat. I need a bib. I need a rattle. I need something I'm not getting. Is there anyone who knows what it is and where to get it? Surely somebody must know.


  1. Lanier and others who bemoan our accelerating juvenilization are missing the boat. We should be embracing the freedom to remain juvenile. Abandoning the specializations of adulthood is a proven evolutionary strategy in fast-changing environments. We have to suppose that industrialized society qualifies.

    so much more to say on this. Check out extended development of this and related ideas at

  2. Heresiarch: Would like to see the extended development of this idea you refer to, but need another link - the one above is kaput. PK