Sunday, May 16, 2010

We haven't changed much.

So the banality we find on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook isn't simply the product of a culturally overfed, yet intellectually undernourished generation. Sometimes I wonder whether our excess of stimulation, of TV, internet, print media, etc., just forces us to excrete overly simplistic world views, OMG!, via microblog and email. We truly have nothing in history to compare with our lives. Almost no record of day to day life exists from which we can learn just how our earthly predecessors thought.

Yes, of course that's bullshit. These records exist, but like you, I won't spend the time to research them. But thankfully, some people in England are making some of the research easier for the rest of us.

Check this out: the University of Cambridge Scriptorium Project is scanning and transcribing personal documents, hundreds of years old, and offering us a glimpse into the private lives of people who had probably no free time and minimal education, and they have discovered that those people from the Fifteenth Century are exactly like us.

One household record (according to the MSNBC story) lists what the recorder served for lunch: "gruel, boiled meat for my lord or lady, puddings, or a calf head." Yum. Do you get the whole head with that order? Because after the lips and an ear, I'm stuffed.

How about "oystyrs in gravy" and a Diet Coke. And then there's something about "dayes after gyff her sporge & ├żat shall open her bowels" which usually happens to me when I eat oystyrs; the opening of the bowels is a revered tradition around our household.

So people jotted down what they ate and passed this information down through the family, from parent to child. They wrote down jokes and quotes and sonnets and cures for ailments, and all this, at a time when paper was rare and expensive.

I knock Twitter for giving us a window into the shallowest of our souls, but it seems that modern humans have always enjoyed telling others about their day so far. It's important to report to the world that I exist. I think, therefore I am. I think we just want tell people what we're thinking because we can.

It's like that Steven Wright joke:
Two babies were born on the same day at the same hospital. They lay there and looked at each other. Their families came and took them away. Eighty years later, by a bizarre coincidence, they lay in the same hospital, on their deathbeds, next to each other. One of them looked at the other and said, "So. What did you think?"
Sometimes when I read what people have to say about their lives, those trite exchanges that seem like a promise wasted, like our species has plateaued and we will never reach our true potential, I now understand that our sucking isn't really sucking at all, it's just being human.

We have no potential to be something greater in the sense that we might one day travel to distant worlds or construct delicious tacos with our mind power. We are what we are, a creature with severe physical limitations but also with vast untapped capacity for emotional change and caring.

Which is just more proof that knuckle-bumping, air-kissing, annoying, gossiping space aliens crashed onto our planet 100 million years ago then humped some large rodents to create the creature that eventually became us. So tweet on, ratboy, this could be the best we'll ever get.