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Presenting … the Intravidual

Faced with what we are becoming, it’s important to recall what we have beenintravidual_pshrink40.JPG

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for attending this week’s special Soul Shelter convocation. Now allow me to find my notes. … Ah, here they are.

(Shuffling papers)

Well, before we proceed I must tell you that the view from this podium is lovely. You all look just swell in your evening attire.  Please thank your servers, they’re doing a fine job, aren’t they?


Now for tonight’s introduction:

As regular readers well know, a recurring subject on Soul Shelter is one we refer to somewhat dramatically as Technology versus the Soul. Tonight we convene to formally acknowledge the emergence of an organism which embodies this conflict splendidly.

This organism, already amongst us but hitherto nameless, now bears a title thanks to Mr. Dalton Conley and his new book Elsewhere U.S.A: How We Got From the Company Man, Family Dinners, and the Affluent Society to the Home Office, Blackberry Moms, and Economic Anxiety.

This organism Mr. Conley dubs The Intravidual .

Prophesied more than a decade ago by Sven Birkerts in The Gutenberg Elegies (1998), the characteristics of the Intravidual and the sociological implications of its existence are familiar to us by now. Here’s how Birkerts described them:

We will establish a wide lateral interaction, dealing via screen with more and more people at the same time that our sustained face-to-face encounters diminish. It will be harder and harder — we know this already — to step free of our mediating devices. There will be people who never in their lives have the experience that was, until our time, the norm — who will never stand in isolated silence among trees and stones, out of shouting distance of any other person, with no communication implement, forced to confront the slow, grainy momentum of time passing.

Most of us recall an era of Individualism. We were born in one. We were subject to the laws of time as we waited on the mail, traveled to a friend’s home, or bided the dark hours when the world’s transmissions took a pause. We were subject to ourselves: solitude and privacy were almost unavoidable. We chose and savored them or had them thrust upon us and learned to make the most of them.

Many of us kept journals or diaries, recording and reflecting in sacred secrecy. If we wished, we could clasp the covers shut with tiny locks.

In contrast, today’s Intravidual blogs his thoughts for the world (it is not the purpose of a elsewhereusa_cvr2_pshrink40.JPGblog to cultivate privacy). One doesn’t tuck a blog away in a drawer and allow its recorded contemplations to fructify in the soul. The Intravidual clicks “Publish,” watches pixels flash into form, and eagerly awaits comments.

We used to send messages to friends by post, endorsing our salutations with the slow intaglio of the hand and creasing the papers with care. The Intravidual defaults to e-mail (perhaps customized with colored fonts).

We used to relate voice-to-voice by telephone or face-to-face over coffee. The Intravidual defaults to text messages, or connects briefly by voice-mail to alert his correspondents to incoming e-mails. Quickness is crucial, for the Intravidual must maintain countless simultaneous connections to Intraviduals elsewhere and everywhere.

The Intravidual is determined and defined by the efficiency of his gadgets, by his light-speed inclusion in a conversation, an argument, a realm of professed opinion chattering at every hour and encompassing everywhere. The Intravidual exists in a sphere of selves, a sphere that in Mr. Conley’s terms lies perpetually elsewhere– that is, never right here right now. Through his gadgets the Intravidual channels his work directly into his home, once a private space. Fiber optics allow him to constantly import the world and export himself.

Where is nature in this new Intravidualistic order? Where is time, whose constraints once fostered privacy, silence, solitude, which things in turn begat the illuminations of art, religion, and philosophy through the ages?

Faced with what we are becoming, it’s important to recall what we have been. Dictionaries are helpful:

Individual / adj. & n. adj. 1 single 2 particular; special; not general 3 having a distinct character 4 characteristic of a particular person 5 designed for use by one person. n. 1 a single member of a class 2 a single human being as distinct from a family or group 3 colloq. a person (From Middle English = indivisible).

Individual, you might say, is soul. Poet John Keats (1795-1821) described a soul as an Intelligence that has acquired an Identity of its own.

What do we mean by “soul” here at Soul Shelter? I like Birkerts’ definition:

My use of soul is secular. I mean it to stand for inwardness, for that awareness we carry of ourselves as mysterious creatures at large in the universe. The soul is that part of us that smelts meaning and tries to derive a sense of purpose from experience. … Soul is our inwardness, our self-reflectedness, our orientation to the unknown. Soul waxes in private, wanes in public. We feel it, or feel through it, when we are in sacral spaces, when we love, when we respond to natural or artistic beauty.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Intravidual is here. Long live the individual and the soul.*

This concludes our special convocation.

*Some handy tips for cultivating anti-Intravidualism: 1) Try keeping an offline journal, for your eyes only 2) Set a time for powering on, and limit time spent online 3) Write a letter the old-fashioned way 4) Invite a friend for a face-to-face visit, or meet for conversation over coffee 5) Take a walk (longer the better, no connective devices allowed) 6) Read books.

(Thanks to reader Steve for pointing us to Conley’s book.)

(This post appears courtesy of the Soul Shelter archives.)

You may also enjoy:

Soul School

Is the Internet Dangerous?

Why Multitasking Slows Productivity — and What To Do About It

Six Ways to Stretch Time

The Hazards of Career, the Rewards of Vocation

3 Comments to Presenting … the Intravidual

On Nov 22, 2009, Hank commented:

As someone who has been keenly aware of both the upside and downside of technology, I hold out hope that the perserverance of our soul–that which always exists outside of the world,–will retain its yearning for REAL contact. My own 25-year immersion into technological “progress” has caused me to hold sacred that which can only be done with my hands, or conducted face-to-face. Humans could no more exist on a purely computer-mediated existence than they could eat Captain Crunch all day long. The body and the spirit will rebel, and bring about a proper homeostasis. Luddites are looking smarter with each passing decade.

On Dec 6, 2009, John Bardos - JetSetCitizen commented:

I agree that hiding behind a computer screen is not a healthy way to live, but I don’t think that is what is happening online. The more people interact online, the more they want to meet in real life.

Online services like Foursquare, Google Latitude, Loopt and FireEagle are all designed to facilitate real world meet ups. Also, consider all the Tweetups that occur around the world on a regular basis. People are interacting and connecting with others in the real world more then ever.

Younger generations are not hiding in their bedrooms and talking through a computer screen. They are going to conferences, organizing meet ups and traveling more than ever.

When you meet online friends and colleagues in the real world, the connections are much stronger because you know each other more than you ever would without the online history. That is valuable.

People who criticize technology are probably only halfheartedly embracing it. (No offense. :-))They can’t expect much if they don’t invest in the relationships. It is no different then real world connections. If they want to discover their ‘souls,’ I would say jump into the technology even more.

I have made more connections online than I could have in a lifetime of real world relationships. We live in amazing times!

On Dec 6, 2009, by Mark commented:

John– Thanks for the very thoughtful comments, and refreshing optimism. I see your point. And to that point, Conley’s book most disturbed me by its picture of a habitual hyper-extroversion possibly new to the human race, summed up by my own sentence in this post: “the Intravidual must maintain countless simultaneous connections to Intraviduals elsewhere and everywhere.” Community is a blessing and a necessity (after too much solitude in my creative life, I’m learning this somewhat painfully of late).

One thing I wanted to address in talking about Conley’s book (and what I hope I address throughout our Technology vs. the Soul thread) is the ways the Internet may be changing human behavior, possibly not always for the better. The jury will be out for some time yet, of course. Meanwhile, we must keep alert to how our computers alter our own personal behaviors, for better or worse. Thanks again for pointing out the better! ~Mark

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