Tuesday, March 11, 2003

It occurs to me that I do some rather odd things, sometimes. I wonder if I'm the only one, or whether they're really very normal for a human being.

This first occurred to me the other night when I was reading Stephen Jay Gould's Eight Little Piggies. I got to the end of one particularly lyrical and elegantly logical essay, and mourned his death anew. There I am, a middle-aged, highly educated woman alone in bed, hugging a *book*. "Whot?!" I thought, "Whyever am I hugging this inanimate object? What possible good does it do me? Isn't this strange?" And I think I thought a few more miscellaneous things about the way a middle-aged woman's mind starts working. And I turned over and went to sleep.

Then I was cleaning out my Yahoo email box, and I found several really old, outdated messages from someone I only hear from occasionally, but whom I really really like in a cyber-pals sort of way. They were months old. "Why on earth did I keep these?" I asked myself. (Yes, I talk to myself a lot, but that's not middle-age, I've always done that.)

The contents of the messages were trivial. Then it came to me: they're mementos. I like the person very much, and kept the emails because she sent them. I also keep greeting cards, but eventually they are tossed, in my periodic fits of cleaning ruthlessness. These emails are the electronic equivalent of treasured greeting cards. But they're not cards, not even e-cards. They're really just a certain assemblage of electronic nits residing on a hard drive on the Yahoo server somewhere in cyber-land. They're not even in my *house*! But the person who caused them to be organized in that precise order, and uploaded to that server, is special to me, so I don't erase these equally-electronic nits giving me access to them through my e-mailbox, and they cause that particular pattern of light-and-dark to beam out of my computer monitor to be seen by my eyes and perceived and interpreted by my brain as a message from her. Could anything be less warm and fuzzy? Good grief! I think this is downright WEIRD.

But I bet I'm not the only one. So what's being co-opted here? Are we being trained to think like computers? Or are we appropriating the detritus of Cyberville and -- loaves-and-fishes-like -- turning them into paper letters and greeting cards in our minds? To comfort ourselves in the absence or loss of our friends and loved ones.

At least Eight Little Piggies is a *physical* object. And it's a hell of a lot cuddlier than an electron.

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