Alphabetically Searched & Engineered Optimization

googling alphabet

H. bared herself for all she had been, the way a vampire bares his fangs before an open throat thrust back, the eyes horrified, the day she signed off with just a capital letter at the end of her tweet over the young man’s untimely death. This public little capital left at the end of the string of characters, like an initial scribbled on a napkin on a kitchen table, or at the end of a little note left behind for a colleague missed who’s already gone out to lunch, that sort of thing, where the truly genuine is present, the daily forgettables of intimacy, this little calculated gesture of authenticity at digital inauthenticity’s most uncalculated worst, now this shall have been the moment when all the chickens came home to roost.

The idea of using backdoor analytics is anathema if not altogether repugnant. It is to devise digital corridors, sluices, to fill the seats of a stadium that has not been built to be filled with fans who are not there to watch a game that has not existed. It is the difference between even those magnificent ones who begin by almost drowning, who become our precious Dutch uncles, and then sadly they lose us altogether—and complete despair. In the first, picture a writer who is seeking his voice, who in the next picture he altogether has it; and in the third one he pretends for the so-called sake of his listeners, to have had one. This is similar to the breakdown in the famous triad of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle. We could also call this the private, the public, and the political (or poof!).

Imagine a snout rooting in your backyard. Picture the animal turning up grass, dandelions, and violets. See for yourself how everything now that you think has been carefully optimized. You want to catch this. You want to catch that. You put things you never thought of before in quotation marks before you put them down in what becomes print (of one kind or another). You are already quoting yourself before you have begun. And you force yourself to avoid the plus-que parfait, even though everything is basically jettisoned there anyway. Time is staked behind you. You know that. But you smile ahead, pretending that you are walking naturally, wondering to yourself how a friend is getting on. In fact you will use anything: ‘literature’, ‘Kafka’, words to get what you want. You became the Little Engine That Could, not in the sense of the conditional, which you had always understood that to be until now, but in the past tense conjugation, as in the past tense of what: I can, You can, She can do, or, did.

Holding Onto Friendship

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For most, long gone are the days when people met like characters in a Henry James novel (and bygone are the ones for most that people read them). In that almost paralyzed world of fiction, young women when traveling met eligible young men with letters of introduction. Everything was set so that everything was just right. And in this world, even on the United States’ side of Atlantic, it is to be believed that persons of one family, at one point in time, were known or were made known to other families of suitable presence and stature. Even as late as the 1980’s, which is beginning to seem like a true period of American history already, class separations were distinct, and even if one met a partner in a bar, it could most likely be assumed that that other person in that particular bar belonged to the same or similar family class background as one’s own—in loose but direct enough accordance to whichever or whatever stratum one seemingly belonged. This means that the sleaziness of ‘hook-ups’ in bars then was often not as unwarranted or as low-down and as truly base as they were afterwards made out (or negatively romanticized) to be, even if they remained promiscuous.

Still, even the most deeply held feelings—even love—that one may have had and experienced in today’s world of digital-dating (the closest contemporary analog to the old world’s ‘bar scene’) simply vanish the way one awaits a car’s electric window to go up or to go down while pushing forward or pulling backwards a small plastic lever, or pressing a button, with one’s index finger: there is a little lag while the window is going back up or going back down (whichever of the two becomes the new default position—as either “0” (aught) or “1” (strike). But neither is anything like the old-fashioned, roundabout hand-cranking handles that one actually turned with one’s hand and felt all the way up through one’s elbow and into one’s arm. There, there was a feeling one felt remembered each time a window was rolled up or down. For even this minor gesture, there was a little thought put into it, and one’s movements, however seemingly mechanical, were deliberate. Now they are not. They are perhaps idle or perfunctory, as if one were oneself really just a part of the car’s overall machinery, getting and spending time, people, or whatever . . . rather than the yearning and sometimes fearful human being who wanted to feel the wind blowing through her hair, or the other one wishing to feel her hand reaching behind his head and tussling his just above the nape, just as, one imagined, any two lovers speeding down the highway would want to do.

Giving Up On Your Favorite Color

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Having almost completely displaced the world now, we can look at it, almost like a discarded object at a yard sale for others perhaps to buy. It is like, as a past lover had sealed within an envelope for me to open later in Berlin, enfolded about a piece of her own dental floss, a handwritten note that read, “Like me, a little bit used, though still good!” She had wished me safe return. But the willingness we have to spill the most intimate, the most personal details of ourselves, like a solitary sailor, who spends the facts of his life like small change on strangers, his coins scattered on a bartop, is nevertheless alarming, or, at any rate, to note. For who can remember anymore stubbing her toe on the raised, wooden planks of Fire Island? And who can recall the sweetness of seeing the purple majesty of the Rocky Mountains jutting up immensely and suddenly on that flat road? Before even having felt really a thing at all, before having tasted salty or sour on one’s tongue, before having divided the difference between what is bitter and what is acrid, the possibility of these human moments is automatically transferred elsewhere. Really, little more than the joyful tap of ‘the ability to send this’ is experienced right now.

Perhaps an old, leftover expression itself such as ‘like a hot potato’—which stands for ‘the thing’ to be gotten rid of—does remain. But the chairs, the music, the people? All that delicious randomness, fun, and chaos? Everything that goes with, that went with, the hot potato . . . Gone. They are gone. Fled, like the gods fled to the woods, long ago, according to some. To dwell ever alone in grief? Gone. To live even a lost cotton candy moment by oneself in carnival bliss? Gone. To immerse oneself and to be burned alive in a Blakean fiery pit of anger? To feel these all too human things, things that are ours. They have very nearly, like a mathematical formula underlying it all, become objectified—either in the digitally silenced words we transmit on the fly, or the 2.4 MB pictographic scans of our next or more recent flat tire by the roadside, that tiny deflated cry that does not say, “Help me!” even, but: “Look at me in this position of distress!” Even the exclamation point itself has become just another way to announce the multitude of our many assertions, rather than as a human marker marking our plaintive, lonely cry for succor and much needed assistance, when truly or sorely needed.

Along with our distresses, our glories we have tossed into convenient, easy-to-predict categories to be ‘consumed’ by those we do not know, (and those we do!) We have created, too, the illusion of stumbled-upon, scattered breadcrumbs—digital clues—whose organization is actually very carefully organized and thought out. What had been important once—to feel the bee sting—that is become obsolete, if not soon to be unknown altogether. That unknown moment of terror, that moment of pain, that frightening lasting instance of running into the kitchen to have one’s mother pat down the stinger’s reddening inflamed spot with a poultice of her own homemade wet baking soda, and thus to feel soon better, and thus to be relieved, saved by her, this belonged to another world. I am not arguing that this is a ‘bad’ thing. I am only observing that the ‘human element’ has become nearly irrelevant, and that we have become the almost perfect, inhuman observers of the skies, heavens, and ourselves on this little blue marble, like players at a casino who play the exquisite game well, even perfectly, without caring about winning or losing.

The American Landscape

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There is something to say about a photograph that can be lost. For if it can be lost, it can also be found. And those who know about negatives, know, too, that these negatives are generally scattered here and there. These are about as good as gone, though, as a last resort—a very last resort, they were sometimes resorted to. One would hope, shifting packets, sifting through the pile of debris, to find reddish-tinted strips of plastic, or the gray-and-black and clear-to-clearish ones, to find the missing picture—or, rather, the negative from which the picture was special ordered-up, or just peered at in its tiny rectangle and, through the light it was held up to, remembered. But today, with today’s “cameras,” which are really not cameras at all (they are merely scanning machines), there is never any real sense of finding and losing anything. Yes, there can be locating (and re-locating), as well as mis-filing a ‘picture’, but without anything to be held in the hands, there is really nothing to behold. And so, too, does it go with the passing loves of our lives that have passed by the “lens” of our DSLR-cameras. At best they reside in some skeuomorphic folder on our skeuomorphic desktop; at worst, they are deleted. Nothing. But a picture, a paper picture! One that was taken with a 35mm camera! One does not have to have the face or the body or the smile or the smell or the garnet necklace given to our loves in these real pictures to feel them body & soul, to feel a lifetime later the loves that we have all forsaken and blown and destroyed. All of them. In piles and stacks in shoeboxes in cartons in plastic bins we keep them. We keep them all. And some, though they are there (they must be!) we can never find again. In the multitudinous past, they elude us all of our lives. Still: there is something gorgeous about these post-card romances even if immediately afterwards, in the break-up, one had had an unaffected scorn for them all.

Forever Falling Short

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Not long after he was conceived, who became his son’s mid-wife said: may he fulfill his genetic potential. This scientific salutation to the world, might—who became his father, the latter thought over for some months, almost three decades later—just as well be, or have been, a curse. There are electronic devices, machines, for instance whose function is exactly to play music. And there are others, such as computers, whose function is exactly to record data, nothing more, in addition to processing of course this data. There are others as well, such as an elongated butane lighter whose exact function and purpose is to ignite charcoal briquettes that have been pre-soaked in lighter fuel to make possible a joyful outdoor gathering of folk together over a holiday barbecue. In all of these, the final measure of a thing, some thing of some human invention, is the degree to which the mapping of its purpose to its function fits perfectly. Things, such as a sword, or a well-weighted spoon used for eating cereal even, which have reached a point or a pitch of perfection so perfect such that further betterment cannot be imagined, these have reached their fullest potential. As for human beings, the father had been thinking, while his sleeping now grown son was visiting him, these are best defined by never reaching their potential at all; they are always falling short; they are always full of shortcomings. Unlike the things which humans make, socks that get holes in the heel, pull-cords on lawnmowers that break, rocket ships that blow up—what makes humans are not their perfections at all. While they themselves may make things that are, in fact, absolutely perfect, their blessing is that they may be curious, full of wonder, and playful, which the things they make may in their creation and in their being created resemble, seem to be, and even be a substitute for, but, inshallah, will never become.

Written On Water

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His friend had once declared that he had had the fantasy to remove by his death any evidence that he had ever existed. Imagine, the friend had once said, how in the past people strove for immortality. Now, he insisted, everybody—from the day people are born—they are followed by and create strings of numbers, identifications, and identities by which they will be known down through the ages. Poets, politicians, philosophers, the people who live next door, everybody who’s moved away! The whole world! Everybody’s immortal! What everybody used to strive for today is unavoidable. And the friend’s laughing friend would say to whomever he had managed to collar when the two friends bumped into each other in public: My friend here wants to erase every trace of his existence! Then, he would kiss his embarrassed friend on the cheek, and wander off, still laughing.

Helpless, helpless

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There is a place called Ontario. I had been there, long, long ago. In it was a lake and an island. On the island was a cabin. There was no running water, and there was no electricity. This was long ago. For water, visitors to the island walked down the pine needle-covered winding path to the lake with galvanized buckets, and carried them full of water back up to the top. To call this a memory is improper. To call this the ‘past’, too, is improper. Neither the past, as it once was, or—might have been—known, nor memory itself, exists anymore. They have all been smashed on the head of a pin, which formerly stood—the pin, or the head of the pin, in particular—as the image or the metaphor for the opposite or counter-reason for time being stretched out. Which is to say that if it were not ‘stretched out’ then everything that was shall already have been. That was the argument. However the instantaneity, the technological ubiquity of everything all at once, the operational ease with and by which any object or factum or ‘thing’ in the known universe can be summoned digitally by the wizard wands which persons today so commonly wield & possess, this has made the dimensions of time itself as we humans (when we were such) altogether, and if not that, then altogether quite, vanished from the planet. What were once imprecise and fallible and even unreliable memories become data points, scattered across a Cartesian coordinate system, perfectly locatable wherever they be, having no more nor any less value or meaning than any other dot or datum, virtually anywhere in this vast nebula qua network. In sum, the eternity of everything has made our own human living somewhere in the galaxy, this ‘Milky Way’, now pointless, useless, and any remaining nostalgia for the rag and bone complex of life itself is become its own remnant that in its hum-drum biology is only a superfluage which so far can’t be gotten rid of, like other things that once were discarded by hands as ‘excessive’, or ‘obsolete’, or ‘gone past’, or ‘let go’.

Beyond Moore’s Law

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Picture an Operating System called Extinction. When this system is installed successfully, and enabled (or activated), the user becomes extinct. In the ever-increasing acceleration of the march of time, this is not so far-fetched. The speed with which the acculturation of technology spreads around the globe speaks to this. Slogans that are rooted in an overall system that to give a laptop to a child in the third world can change that human being’s life, presume much more than literacy and democratic opportunities. That child will become an operator of that computer or technological system on par with a child in North America or Central Europe or any other spot on earth where, like brushfire, technological advancements are occurring at their own pace, a rapidity behind which, like the ruts of a wagon’s wheels once left in the prairie grasses of Nevada, the past as biology is left far behind forever. My own written notes and scraps [a child’s]—stories, reports of family trips, poems—left in a three-ring binder and a scientific record book whose maroon plastic cover guarded the inscribed contents against chemical accidents and laboratory spills, will be, if they are not destroyed soon, readable by a human being in a thousand years, just as Catullus’ poems uncorked from a merchant’s wine bottle breathed new life into the world of love a millennium later. But, already, writing that I committed to a computer’s operating system even twenty-five years ago is not just obsolete: it is gone. It cannot be read. Either the machine on which it was recorded or the program by which it was saved, these devices in the service of keeping memory, that is to say, in the service of passing on human memory beyond the existence of that human’s biological existence, are already gone, or as good as gone, before I myself have died, within barely just half of my mortal lifetime thus far. Thus we live, or we are about to live, in an age where there is and the can be no difference between Gabriel’s horn being blown and the blowing of Gabriel’s horn, between one moment and the next moment, but during which we are all in and a part of the process of recording it, the motions and sounds of erstwhile human life, become now a giant God-less movie in a giant outdoor (and indoor, too!) theme park for nobody watching.