Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Message is More Than the Medium

A friend of mine who reads beyond the Style section told me about an editorial in yesterdays' WaPo lambasting the banality of the status line (thanks Laura!).

I think the author of the editorial misses the point. She seems to think we're all obsessed with the minutiae of our daily lives "Is it just me or isn't it a bit presumptuous to think that if I'm scrambling an egg, you'll want to know about it?"

Well, I assume no one cares what I do. I may not even care myself. Or maybe I write it on the off chance that one of my friends will read it and laugh, maybe lifting them out of a glum mood, or making them feel that their lives at least aren't as tedious as mine.

Or maybe it's a version of cogito ergo sum. I write status lines, therefore I am. My life has some meaning because I accomplish a number of tedious, meaningless actions throughout my day and I live to greet another, full of more tedious, meaningless actions. Along the way, maybe I make someone laugh, or they share a thought or they see a bit of themselves in me and feel a sense of connection. Maybe they see nothing of me in them and feel a huge relief.

Doesn't she see the spiritual thread running through all this? We connect - sometimes in deep, meaningful ways when we debate religion or politics or values. And sometimes we connect in the fact that we love blueberry smoothies. There is God in that -- whatever you may consider God, the Spirit, the Universe, common humanity. We are not alone - not all the time, sometimes there is a glimmer that there is something more there.

Maybe status lines sometimes approximate something of a Buddhist mindfulness. I am aware that I am scrambling eggs - I am so aware of it that I type it into my status line. Whether it is read by anyone or not does not matter. Status lines offer us a chance at introspection - to look at what we are doing and state it simply, or maybe make light of it, or maybe call out to others for help. "I want to know what you think," is a message conveyed in some status lines I've seen. I've been honored for the chance to share. I've been honored when I've written in the messages and gotten a response - not just to learn something about a subject, but that someone out there cares. Ever hear of the voice crying out in the wilderness? Facebook may provide a clue as to what happens when that cry is answered. I tell you, there is God in there -- it is in each other and I see it whenever anyone takes a moment to talk to me. No matter how brief, no matter how mundane.

Interestingly, McManus' editorial appears on the page right above an editorial by Emily Yoffe. Let's go all wavy lines in a flashback of Ms. Yoffe's writing. Yoffe spent some time as a volunteer at The Claude Moore Colonial Farm. In an article about her experience, she wrote about some of the 18th century tasks she did as a reenactor and how it affected her.
But as I sat on the shaving horse and pulled, my mind began to quiet. I finished my first stick, and as I stroked its silky finish I felt an inordinate sense of accomplishment. I put in another, and I found the scrape-scrape-scrape of the knife lobotomized the usual chattering in my head.
As she closes the article, she quotes another reeanctor, "As Elizabeth Rolando says, "There is a satisfaction in the accomplishment of the mundane.""

So maybe status updating is simply a recognition that our lives, even in their smallest actions, have meaning. Just because it comes via Twitter or Facebook, does not make it less meaningful, it just gives us the chance to recognize that this same meaning occurs in the lives of others and maybe we feel connected or less alone for a moment. It's so beautiful, I wish McManus could see it.