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Note to self, read LeGuin
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I can heartily recommend ‘The Dispossessed’. It’s a great read and helped shape my political outlook. I’ve been meaning to re-read it (again) for ages.
That’s one I’ve looked at, along with The Left Hand of Darkness. 🙂
She’s a very interesting writer with a really unique way of looking at things. She certainly expanded my universe more than once when I was reading her in my 20’s onwards.
Yes! I bought a beautiful volume of her Earthseas books last year and it’s still sitting here. I love what she said above, and what is true is that it’s weird and an absurd way to live. Thanks for sharing.
I really get what she’s saying but… as someone who has spent a great deal of time in the present with “the people around me,” I’ve reached a point I find isolation IRL is worse than the long-distance community she’s describing. Probably there is a balance between the two extremes that is to be aimed for. But there is a reason even people in the past were known for their lengthy (both geographically and verbally) correspondence and letter-writing took up a great portion of their days.
Very good point. Past generations were often very great letter writers – both in volume/numbers of letters, number of people being written to and individual length of the letters themselves. Plus, of course, they often carried on their various correspondence for years/whole lifetimes.
Your comments almost always make me think, Marian! I’m guessing but I would suspect people wrote letters to be more connected or remain connected, not to avoid isolation or because they were lonely. There’s a distinction. I’m reading C.S. Lewis’ letters now and he is definitely writing his father and even his friend from pleasure but also from a duty because he writes letters at the same time each week and apologizes if he’s late even a few days.
I only felt LeGuin was talking about community in the third paragraph in that she emphasized that, with modern technology, we can reach “community” in a long distance way, but in a way that can make us ignore possible community right in front of us, which can be more valuable. Does that make sense?
Unless I’m misunderstanding you …. or her …… which is entirely possible …. 😉
I’ll counter the Lewis example with a Kafka example… 😉 He started writing to this woman in Germany whom he had only met once and kept up an extended correspondence with her over several years… sometimes writing her more than once before she had responded. It can (and ought to) be argued that his writing habits were unhealthy and obsessive, but I doubt they were all that rare amongst people of such loneliness. Another example would be 24, Charing Cross by Helene Hanff.
“we can reach “community” in a long distance way, but in a way that can make us ignore possible community right in front of us, which can be more valuable”
I think yes, this can happen, but it’s a great assumption that the person with the cell phone on the beach hasn’t already tried to connect with their immediate community. They may carry some minority trait (religion, values, personality) that makes them the odd one out.
I don’t think letter-writing and online communication fall into the same category, though, except in the very loose ‘remote connection’ sense. The latter is instantaneous, and people often expected (and are disappointed/annoyed/hurt by) the lack of an immediate response — so, going back to LeGuin’s point. There’s also a high degree of thoughtlessness involved in online communicaton, because the barriers to transmission/reception are nonexistant. In contrast, letter writing is both a deliberate affair — one must find the materials, the space, the time — and one that exists IN time, because both sending & receiving missives were prolonged affairs, especially over larger spaces like the Atlantic Ocean.
But to your other point, isolation can definitely exist IRL, even among intimates.
Great points. LeGuin was talking about time and how it is perceived and how it can affect us …. or at least, how its perception can affect us. And definitely, I think the disease of our culture is that people can be around tons of other people and still be alone. I’ve been surprised while reading Lewis’ letters that he doesn’t see his father or friend for a number of months and then only for a few days or weeks, yet there is still a deep connection formed. And actually, he doesn’t see or even hear from his brother often, however, there is still a deep connection there as well. What have we lost? It’s certainly not proximity or ability to connect. It bears thinking about ….
Also, don’t forget that much of online ‘communication’ is between strangers who have never met and will never meet whilst most letter writing was/is between people who know each other and have often known each other for a long time. There is a great deal of difference between a long letter to a friend or lover and a Facebook or Twitter post trying to correct a perceived idiot that can be read by hundreds or thousands of people who are also strangers.
“There’s also a high degree of thoughtlessness involved in online communicaton, because the barriers to transmission/reception are nonexistant.”
Good point! There are technologies that can help with this… good ol’ fashioned email, or simply apps that impose delays. Someone once told me about this app called Pony Messenger, which lets you schedule when your “mail” is delivered. I love that sort of idea. We also talked about the possibility of better ways of forming connections, e.g. a reputation system or something that reduces the likelihood of “randos” wreaking havoc. (Although given the way many politicians tweet, randos may be the least of our worries!)
It would be fantastic if Twitter, Facebook, etc baked-in healthy habits and made digital “vomit” impossible, but I suspect advertisers and consumers would push back against delays/barriers becoming mainstream. People (unsurprisingly) desire things that are unhealthy for them…
Twitter and facebook do this to a minor degree — if one uses profanity in a tweet, for instance, Twitter will interrupt the sending with a little message saying that ‘Most users do not send responses like this. Are you sure?’. At least, this happens if you reply to a politician and try to call them a (dumbledores-army). Th problem is that when facebook starts policing language, articles, etc it comes off not as a neutral party, but as a partisan umpire muffling one side and promoting another. If big tech could police ALL sides equally, it would work, but as we’ve seen from twitter, tech is hyperpartisan and eager to work hand in glove with the state to squelch dissenting views, whether they be the real (non-woke) left or the right. Personally, I’ve just been withdrawing more and more from social media because of the sheer noise of it all, and how easy it is even for a critic like myself to be sucked in.
Companies are stuck between the rock of “everything goes” and the hard place of policing as they see fit (which is certain to hurt some users), always with an eye towards protecting themselves from lawsuits from all sides. Of course… once you reach a certain size, there is additional motivation to use it for political power or influence, as you described. It’s shameful, but the system does allow for it.
There is some hope in decentralized technologies, where nobody owns the platform and data hosting is widely distributed or even peer-to-peer. This seems to me the best option for public discourse/utility… unfortunately, it’s still quite a ways from becoming mainstream.
Speaking as a generational letter writer, I can support that there is something personal about letter writing that is completely missed through email or social media. What “that” is, is less easy to explain. I wrote to 60 pen pals all over the world when I was younger for a very long time; and now I email a number of friends (both met personally and met online) to keep up. Nothing trumps the “personalness” of a letter. However, I guess you could argue that people were simply generally more connected a half a century ago+ however, I still think there’s some special about writing a letter.
“I think yes, this can happen, but it’s a great assumption that the person with the cell phone on the beach hasn’t already tried to connect with their immediate community. They may carry some minority trait (religion, values, personality) that makes them the odd one out.”
Yes, absolutely that could be true but it wasn’t Le Guin’s point. And she’s a pretty sharp cookie, or perhaps I should say, was. She observing something within society that she hasn’t just seen once. She’s probably seen it numerous times and traced the cause and effect. I highly doubt it would be an assumption.