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Repetition, Bricolage, and Blogging in the Information Age

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I’m old enough to remember the age before video recorders, let alone DVD.

Life was different then – programs and movies would be shown once on TV (or cinema), and you either saw them or you didn’t. Sometimes other people told you about shows you’d missed, and you’d come away with a fragmentary idea of it – your interpretation of their interpretation, usually delivered verbally.

So you’d keep your eyes open for repeat viewings, but they were pretty rare. The same applied to the shows that affected you as a child; you’d go through life with partial, evocative memories, but never expect to see them again. Now there’s a whole nostalgia TV industry.

Similar restrictions applied to other kinds of knowledge. If you wanted to know about, say, revolutionary or guerrilla movements, the only sources of information were scrappy bits of publications by leftists (cheap student magazines and agitprop newsheets mainly, printed in small numbers and which tended to fall apart quickly) and the library. The ‘occult’ was another area where information was sparse and poorly understood; I remember considering it a major achievement when I found a copy of Eliphas Levi’s History Of Magic.

The library offered its own challenges – you’d have to know what you wanted, trudge to the central library to find it, or more often, order it from another library – a process that usually took weeks or months. And since this was during the Cold War in ‘free’ New Zealand, the security services usually kept the most interesting books on constant withdrawal. I discovered this when I tried to get hold of a book by Cypriot resistance (EOKA) leader General George Grivas (Dighenis), which was popular at the time with wannabe urban guerrillas because the appendix had all sorts of ‘anarchist cookbook’ type tips.

So assembling a world view in this environment involved taking fragmentary, noisy and poorly understood information, and trying to create a coherent whole from it – bricolage, as Claude Lévi-Strauss described it.

But now things have changed. In the ‘information age’ we can see movies and TV shows whenever we want, not having to rely on fragmentary memories, and we can track down even quite obscure information with a few mouse clicks and a bit of effort.

And this has changed us. I realised this when I was talking to an old friend, for many years a bit of a hermit living in the wilds of the French countryside (although he finds his way into towns and cities, gigs and recording studios pretty regularly).

He has no computer, no Internet and a partially functioning phone. And still operates as if he lives in this older world, sending me little half-remembered or half-understood fragments of pop science, conspiracy theories, mysticism and cod philosophy that signify a deeper, mysterious reality. Now not all of this is flaky, although he has a tendency to make it so.

The problem is, unlike 30 years ago where contact with some of these ideas was rare, they’ve become common currency, and in moments I can explore them, read vast amounts of source material and encounter balanced, syncretic opinions to use as a basis for my own exploration.

So what’s the point?

Well, it made me think a little about blogging. In the old days, the presentation of a piece of this hidden, poorly known information would have been enough – “look at this, think about, the world is not what we thought.” And with little other input, fit it into a broader worldview created from such fragments.

But now the information is freely available, all that’s needed is a pointer to it and a little contextualisation (and perhaps some related information or interpretations).

And I guess that’s what I do on my blog. Assemble bits of information, and attempt to contextualise and leverage them to point to other information I consider relevant and useful in terms of understanding the world.

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About Chromatius

"You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent." Thomas Merton. The Unspeakable.
  • Aaman

    Well-written and insightful, thank you

  • Mark Saleski

    i agree. not a lot of thoughtful reflection out there about how the internet/technology has changed our lives.

  • Elvira Black

    Ah yes, I am old enough to relate–lol.

    Up until now, I generally considered this issue in a solipsistic way though–in terms of how much less of a pain in the ass it would have been not to spend half my time in the microfilm room at the university library, or poring through the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature to find some article hidden away on a shelf.

    But yes, I think the internet has revolutionized our breadth and depth of knowlege, and thus the way we look at and think about the world–the only limitation is that some take more advantage of this blessing than others.

    Great post!

  • Susan R-G

    Very good post. What was once a difficult search for information that we may, or may not, ever find – we now can usually locate with a few keystrokes and find a vast wealth of information on any given subject. I, too, remember hours in the library, and hours in front of a microfilm reader, searching for obscure information that was probably only of interest to me and one other person – who was long since dead and buried.

    Thanks for putting into such eloquent words what so many of us feel!