Technology can be a force for good or bad or both good and bad at the same time. So often I get lost in surfing from one piece of information to another and sometimes I lose track of what I have initially set out to find. I cannot now recall how I used to do legal research, looking up case laws pre-internet days. These days research is made much easier online.
There are days I get anxiety attacks because not only I have to catch up with reading printed books and texts, there is kindle and iBooks plus far too many good articles and writings to consume on-line whether on my MacBook or my iPhone. Ravenous I am. There are days when I have to tell myself to get out and get disconnected.
In this internet age, social etiquette has taken on a new landscape. It seems to be acceptable when one is seen responding to texts in the office or during lunch with others. The netizens seem constantly engaged whether at work or outside, we are required to do things electronically and also off-line. Multitasking is necessary as we want to maximize our time attending to tasks in the physical world as well as online.The young generations are naturally good at keeping up with technology while the baby boomers and senior citizen adapt to the changes. In this age of connectivity, we cannot live without the internet. Period.
In Sympathy written by Olivia Sudjic, the protagonist, Alice Hare was adopted. She knows little of her birth parents and all she knows is that her father is in prison and her mother is dead. Her adoptive parents offers little stability when her adoptive father disappears. Both her and her adoptive mother do not have any real sense of what is real and it is easier for Alice to dissolve the personal boundaries in the virtual world rather than finding closeness with people that are around her. Her adoptive grandmother has made contact with her through letters writing. As she is uncertain about what she wants to do after graduating, she visits Silvia, her cancer-stricken grandmother in New York. She stumbles on Mizuko Himura online and becomes obsessed with the connections and parallels that she sees in her personal history and that of Mizuko, a Japanese heiress, a freelance writer who teaches creative writing at Columbia University and an Instagrammer. She manages to get acquainted with Mizuko through some coincidences which are made possible in this modern internet days. She engineers a real-life friendship by creating a self that Mizuko will be drawn to based on what Mizuko has curated on line.
Alice is an extremely fluid and unsettling character and she completely lacks self-awareness as she stalks Mizuko’s consciously- curated online persona.
As the story progresses, Alice is plunging into an online bottomless hole of strange connections just like how a seven year-old in Alice in Wonderland follows a hare down a rabbit hole when suddenly she finds herself falling a long way a and find herself in a curious hall with many locked doors of all sizes. Portmanteau is the word, indeed. The following passage resonates with me.
‘ Have you ever truly, keenly felt like you don’t know who you are? Do you ever do something and think, Who is at the Controls? Like some mad pilot has locked you out of the cockpit? I definitely do. I feel a kind of vertigo that makes me shake afterwards. I guess we all feel it when making a difficult- seeming choice, and sometimes you seriously don’t know what you want because you don’t know who you’re supposed to be, or who you want to be. Physics, my first and second families, my philoophydegree, had all failed to help me answer that question. The former has led me to wonder whether I am one of an infinite number of Alices in multiple universes. A quantum fuck-up, which is some who fucks up in every one of those universes but in different ways. My first family took no care at my making, and my second family got me, essentially by mistake, out of a million possible babies going spare.”
The story takes us through from 2011 Japanese tsunami to the disappearance of flight MH 370. Here is an excerpt that makes the reference to the plane incidents.
‘ When Dwight came to our bedroom after supper, he was distracted. He had become even more obsessed with the missing plane after the second one, another Malaysia Airline flight, was shot down over eastern Ukraine.
“ The numbers are spooking me,” he said as he got into bed.
I tried to sound normal. “Because it’s the second time, you mean ?”
“No- well, yes, that too. Listen, though : Flight 17 , Boeing 777, first flew July 17, 1997, exactly, like, exactly seventeen years to the day before it crashed, July 17.”
“ It’s weird,” I said ‘
Imagine a life without Wikipedia.
“ I realized I did not know precisely what a seizure was. Stop for a moment to think of a life without Wikipedia. Sweet source of eternal comfort. Ministering angel of information . Think of your life without the option to Internet search.”
Here is another passage from Sympathy.
‘This is just happening so naturally, I told myself. I just have to keep pressing on each link to get to the next;I don’t have to know where it’s going.’
‘It’s hard to explain how an infatuation actually starts. It’s a state to all -encompassing that it’s almost impossible to remember how it felt to live inside your own head before it began. Everything that precedes it becomes a pathway that was always leading there. Time before is valuable only as a resource with which to create a persona, to bind the object of the infatuation closer. I had given my (partially fabricated) past life to Mizuko to make a story that in the end never got told. Or not by her. It is also an explanation that seems reasonable to anyone but you.‘
It likens to a situation when one adores a film star or some celebrity. It is creepy when one stalks another whether it is online or offline.
I like the book not because I like everything avant-garde. I like it because I often question reality and definitely the matrix how we lead our virtual reality. I never trust what I hear and what I see, both physically and virtually. I find that technology is a force to be reckoned with and I find myself on guard so as not to be completely taken over by it because as it is I already find myself getting sucked into vortex of various kinds.