Thursday, July 04, 2013

Women of Mystery and Unknowability in the Age of Google

Professor Stephen Hawking, the excellent quantum physicist whose job it is to uncover the secrets of the universe, recently told the New Scientist magazine that women are a complete mystery to him.

"In an interview with the New Scientist magazine to mark his 70th birthday on Sunday, January 8, he was asked: 'What do you think most about during the day?' to which he replied: 'Women. They are a complete mystery,'" The Telegraph reported back in 2012.

This is as it should be. I've been thinking lately about unknowability in the age of Google. Now that everything in the universe seems to be knowable these days, I believe that we should all seek out complete mysteries just so we can contemplate them. The goal is to retain a sense of incomprehension and wonder in the face of the unknowable. I think this is how some people, me included, might describe the God experience.

Currently, I'm reading two novels that have sat on my bookshelves for years, knowing nothing about the authors and their historical context. I am actively resisting googling them or asking my friends on social media whether they've heard of the novels and what they think about them and their authors.

I hesitate to even name them here on my blog. Oh, OK, I will, you've twisted my arm. They are The Secret History by a woman named Donna Tartt and Que ma joie demeure by I think a French, or maybe Italian, author named Jean Giono. (Not to be pretentious, but I was a French major in college and every now and then I like to read in French to keep my French up. Same way I like to listen to French radio and watch French movies.) But I'm not going to provide links to Amazon or anything. If you really want to learn more, you can look them up yourself. It's quite easy, as you well understand. All you have to do is copy, paste and google, and go down the rabbit hole of knowing.

Every page of an unknown book is a slow revelation. And it feels so personal to me, unconnected to the rest of the world, as I read each word and line on the page as they reveal themselves and I find a way to attach meaning to them.

The fact is, I am a web editor. It's my full-time job. Throughout the work week, I scour the internet for story ideas, I publish my content in our CMS, I create weblinks, I run our site's Twitter feed, I make new friends and followers on FaceBook and LinkedIn, and I post my photos on Instagram just for fun. My company pays for my online subscriptions to The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Oh, and I've been blogging here at Bad Girl Blog since 2006.

Basically, I am a paid online knowability expert, which must explain why, in my information-exhausted downtime, I  fantasize about unplugging and romanticize the mystery of the unknown. Just the other day, I read this guy about how he left the internet for 25 days, and I thought he sounded like kind of a jerk, but then I realized that I'm kind of a hyper-connected jerk myself.

Which is why I try sometimes to engage in experiments where I don't understand what the hell is going on -- maybe I'll drink a couple of martinis, or I'll go to a night of Sleep No More at the McKittrick Hotel, or I'll take a walk in the dark, or I'll have a digital-free day or weekend or vacation. I guess I'm trying to get back in touch with my younger, pre-internet, pre-cell phone self, when I went traveling through Europe for a year with a pack on my back and no easy way to get in touch with anybody back home. (I'll always cherish my memory of calling home from a booth in the main post office in Paris, and bursting into tears when my stepmom answered the phone.)

When I was even younger than that, a kid in the single-digit age group, I used to love this band called The Association, and they were a happy pop group who recorded magical tunes that were played in heavy rotation on AM radio. One of my favorite Association songs was called "Windy," and I would be thrilled when it came on the radio, and I'd conjure up all kinds of half-baked ideas about the glamorous grownup boys who were singing and the mysterious girl they were singing about.

Recently, I made the mistake of searching for The Association videos on YouTube. Spoiler Alert: Here's what I got -- which is all the reason I need to keep on actively resisting knowing too much about the world, especially when it comes to pop culture.


Subversive Runner said...

Just discovered your blog after googling 'Empress Theodora.' Donna Tartt's 'Secret History' is on my bookshelf too, one of my favourite novels. I'm about to embark on a train journey from London to Scotland and now have some interesting reading in your blog. Thank you.

Joyce Hanson said...

Thank you, Subversive Runner. Happy travels to you, and I hope you enjoy my blog. Cheers, Joyce