Swimming in the Infinite Pool of Ignorance, Speculation and Misunderstanding

January 6th, 2017 by elaine

I had a topic all lined up for this week’s post, was running it through my mind for days, and then on writing day I found myself thinking of other things to do first, like, you know, just put a load of wash in the machine, just straighten up a bit, just – oh well, might as well have lunch first.  I’ll make a bit of soup!  Yes!!

Being home alone I filled my bowl and sat down with the New York Times’ Sunday Review, and there I found the very thing I planned to write about brilliantly exposed while I had been telling myself nobody would want to read about “that”.  As  I made my way through it, I realized I had been  procrastinating because I did not wish to expose myself (again!!!) as a neurotic insecure mess when, in fact, it is not just me – modern times has done it to all of us.

The article is by Pico Iyer and it is called What Do We Know? It’s about too much information.  Too much email, very long or very short ones, gives us too much to misinterpret, too much to keep us awake at 3 a.m. wondering what she meant by that “and” and why she never mentioned…….Or why she never wrote back at all.

We have of course, been aware of  this danger [too much information] since the beginning of time….yet we’ve never been so tempted…..to forget that the  pool of knowledge is limited; it’s the pool of ignorance, speculation and misunderstanding that is infinite.

Mr. Iyer then goes on to give an example of a character flaw that led him down a nasty path.  So I, to be fair, must reveal my own.

I had a dedicated follower of my weekly posts who invariably commented by email, and her comments revealed a commonality to our lives that I had never guessed at before.  I knew her from a context I was no longer part of; we never ran into each other nor had an occasion to get together.  But our online contact was regular and rich, warm and dear to me.

During the summer of the great move from the long established home I share with my husband to a smaller one, I took a break from my website to pack and dispose of what would not go with us.  Books were heavy on the list.  Even though I have always been a faithful library lover, when I had to have a book, I bought it.  Years and years of books were in my possession; I gave tons to charity, and tons to family, some of whom were young enough to not have a place to put them but would not let them go by.  And some of them I put aside for the annual University book sale.  Those were still in their boxes by the door when the final moment for goodbyes was upon us.   My dedicated friend was also dedicated to that particular sale.  I emailed her to tell her I couldn’t possibly deliver the books myself and had not found anyone else to do it.  Did she perhaps know of some students who might be able to come and get them and deliver them?  She emailed back to say there was a rule against picking up books, sorry.

Her response was one I would ponder at 3 a.m. for many months to come.  When I got back to posting my column regularly, I never heard from her again.  Was she offended that I had presumed to ask such a question?  Was she disgusted that I could not manage my life?  (This person is so dynamic, so energetic, so socially generous, well, I cannot find words to describe her daily activities – and she is older than I am!)

Eventually I began to worry about her health, then wonder if indeed she was still living. I sent her an email saying only that I was concerned about her, and had no response. And then I began to explore how I could possibly find out.  I knew no one who I could ask.  I knew she had a daughter in the same city but had no idea what her name was or where she lived.  I felt the full force of the abstract thing called the internet. – how, rather than bringing people together, it isolates us in a new way.  And when it finally dawned on me to see if I could find a telephone number for her and I did, then another aspect of modern life foiled me again: what if I did call her and her phone announced my phone number and she didn’t want to speak to me, and even if the screen had only the number, not my name, what if she didn’t answer phone calls from a number she didn’t recognize?  That kind of thinking you will agree, is really sick!  Pathetic!

Patty Smith, my last post, brought her back.  She wrote as though no time at all had passed since our last exchange, nothing had happened.  I wrote her back immediately, boldly confessing my concerns, not even disguising my fragile state of mind.

Her response came back with a brief subject line: No computer. And then the story, the broken water pipe from the street, the flood, the damage, the never-ending repairs, still, in December, still not back to normal.

Pico Iyer, who is a distinguished presidential fellow at Chapman University and an author, reminds us that when knowledge becomes an end in itself, we gobble it down …. without stopping to consider its source (especially on the internet , I would add),  and that wisdom sometimes depends on seeing how much knowledge doesn’t know and how much every day is shaped by unexpectedness.

Swimming?  Are we perhaps drowning?

©Elaine A. Zimbel 2017

Posted in Cabinet Privé, Eighty and then some..., Uncategorized


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