Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Internet Metaphor for Getting What Matters in Life

In Martin Buber’s “I and Thou” a distinction is made between experience and relation, which corresponds to the distinction between I-It and I-Thou relationships. I’m not going to elaborate on these terms—I’m just mentioning them here because the point I’m about to make is just an internet-savvy riff on Buber’s ideas.

These days I get most of my TV and music from the internet, and I use two different methods: streaming and downloading. Now, I’m not going to get technical, mostly because I don’t know much about how streaming or downloading works. Here’s what I think I know:

Streaming requires an open and active connection. Streaming requires that I use the computer I’m streaming with, that my internet connection remains continuous, that I stay on the website I’m streaming from, and that the website is working.
Downloading does not require this kind of connection. Once I’ve downloaded my video or audio, then I could very well use that file even if the website crashes, even if the internet is down, even on another computer once this one is dead.
Ready for the metaphor?

Many of the most important things in life must be streamed, not downloaded. There are very few things that can be obtained and then possessed forever. Love must be streamed. I can’t simply have the love of a partner or friend; I can only seek out, again and again, interactions and connections through which that love is shared. I’ve been finding recently that joy too must be streamed. Happy memories and recent achievements are pleasant, but joy is a here-and-now experience. I can only feel joyful when I am present, and when those things or people that bring me joy are also present.

There are some necessities that appear to require only downloading, but this is an illusion. For example, food: at the grocery store, I get the illusion that I can purchase this food, and then it’s mine, to be eaten as I like when and where I like. True enough—but the availability of that food depends on civilization maintaining an open and active (I think the buzzword here is sustainable) connection to our natural resources.

What else must be streamed rather than downloaded?