At least, that’s what my GoogleMaps app teaches me.
And Google– I mean that’s gotta count for something, right? That’s a big company; those people must know what they’re talking about. If they choose to follow little old me around and make me the blue dot at the center of the screen every time, then how can I argue with that?
(uh. You guys know I’m joking, right? Please don’t send me a private message explaining about google maps and how everybody who has the app has their own blue dot. First of all, it would be cruel to crush and disillusion someone with such an optimistic view of things; and second– well, I know.)
This center-of-the-universe thing has been playing around the frayed edges of my mind for the last few days– from Friday morning while I scoured the Oxford Street shops for some new, comfier unmentionables for the 6-yr-old (in hopes that this might help him squirm and tug less in public– but don’t tell him I told you that!) to later in the evening when I got lost in the wrong part of the city trying to meet up with some friends. All symbolism aside, I’m extremely thankful for googlemaps, without which I would be lost approximately 72.7% of the time.
But I can’t help wondering if something is shifting inside each of us– and therefore collectively as a society– as we walk along with our little eyeballs glued to our mobile devices. Is each of us beginning to subconsciously believe that we are the Center of the Universe? Think about it. Not only do we have our own blue dot visually representing us as such, but we also have the power to create a personal universe to our tastes and carry it with us. Provided we manage to stay out of traffic and not run into poles too often, we can immerse ourselves in our tailor-made universe nearly all the time if we wish– save for on airplanes and subways, or if we happen to neglect our batteries.
Our hand-held universe contains, for the most part, only the things we like. Photographs, music, news feeds about topics of interest to us and as-reported-by people and organizations with values and opinions similar to our own. Twitter feed and blogs from people we find clever, amusing, wise– to wit, people with whom we tend to agree and posts about which we observe ‘oh, I was just thinking that same thing the other day!’. Even on FB, we can ‘hide’ posts from people with whom we are not likely to see eye-to-eye (FYI, I don’t do this– but I do hide the game request posts. I’m unproductive enough already in the real world without a virtual farm to run and virtual mafia wars to fight!). When we are the Center of the Universe, we are free to censor life and see it only in the ways that please us.
Now I know I sound kind of sardonic here, but the truth is that this hits pretty close to home for me. I HATE confrontation and will do almost anything to avoid it. Why then, would I not be absolutely delighted at the prospect of a universe in which I don’t have to listen to anyone with views hostile to my own? Why shouldn’t I enjoy a me-centric happy place surrounded by written or spoken words that resonate with my beliefs, music and images I can relate to, and the power to absolutely ignore any dissenting voices?
Because! Help me out here with all the reasons, friends… because living in a wide open world such as ours is today requires interacting with more than just our few comfortable touchpoints? Because in a world where we are privileged to have access to so much information and so many viewpoints, don’t we have a responsibility to learn more, see more, and read more so that we might understand more? Or what about simply because if I shut out those who disagree with me on one aspect or another of our society, I would lose contact with some of my favorite people?
I think if we fall for the notion of ourselves as the center of the universe, allowing only those inputs we desire and understand, we risk becoming a black hole. We get sucked into– or create– a void cut off from dissenting points of light. Just as we can’t hear anyone outside our view, they can no longer hear us. Or maybe we can see that there are others out there, but we’re simply shouting at one another from a great distance, and the words are garbled and unintelligible. There seem to be no rules of engagement when people don’t have to face each other while disagreeing, so online forums can become very hostile places, indeed. We are alienated from one another and we begin to feel that those who believe ‘X’ instead of ‘Y’ can’t possibly be reasonable, intelligent or nice people. After all, how can they profess to love their children when they believe ‘X’?
The more cut off we become from people with different ideas and beliefs, and the more we fall into the hostile, aggressive ways of the anonymous (or at least faceless) online debate; the greater the gulf becomes and the less we want to risk getting close enough to hear and understand what the opposition is saying. We think about the famous Digital Divide in terms of who has access to technology (and, interestingly, recent studies show some surprising things about that). But maybe we should also start thinking about it in terms of how the same Internet we thought would bring the world together as never before is instead allowing us to dig deeper and deeper into our own ideological and political trenches. Have you ever heard a reference to trenches that doesn’t somehow relate to warfare?
I didn’t mean to get all serious on you! Maybe I’ve actually had too much coffee today? (My little blue dot did just move approximately 200 meters down the street to Starbucks for a chai w/espresso… ).
I’m suddenly remembering old times, when I had a car and a GPS we named Mabel. Able-Mabel frequently dropped us– or the equivalent of our little blue dot– offshore in the Atlantic Ocean rather than in seaside Marblehead where we lived. Now that’s the way to ensure your people don’t take themselves too seriously, right? One summer, she actually refused to leave Michigan when we came home from vacation. She stayed there for several months, meandering from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo while we drove around suburban Boston. Eventually the service department at our local dealership convinced her to come back. Oh how I miss Mabel and her humility-inducing notion of who’s in charge. There was no considering myself the Center of the Universe in those days.
The next time I start to feel a little too self-righteous, I will try to remember all the multitude of other blue dots out there. I think Mabel would argue that the universe is a much more interesting place when you’re not always the center of it– and that trying to connect some of those blue dots creates a much richer image than one lone light can make.