Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The iPods They Carried

When Tim O'Brien set forth on his writer's journey to provide us with The Things They Carried, he was prescient in ways we could only experience at the time of first reading as a tingle of mammalian anticipation.  He was defining us and our complex amalgam of thought, intent, and feeling, representing us as we were from the Ice Age and earlier, through the recent past of the misbegotten Vietnam War, and tipping us into what we have evolved into.

The characters in The Things They Carried tote about government issue ordinance as well as things transported from home or sent them from home, things that define who they are, their approximate military and social ranking and their states of emotional development.  To that last, you might even include the stage of their emotional and intellectual development.  By focusing on the individual tool kit, O'Brien broke ground in demonstrating how the tool kit reflected its user, the thing or things defined the person as surely and deftly as the fingerprint identifies the carrier.

We no longer question the uniqueness of the fingerprint; it imprints our identity on whatever we touch, a lingering pattern of our presence in a place, our use of a thing, perhaps even our admiration of a thing.  We have been presented with growing evidence that our DNA is in a larger sense than mere fingerprint a record of our presence in the world as a sensate being, a metaphoric ATM receipt of our having lived.  Soon the matter will become even more expansive:  some forensic anthropologist or archaeologist will be able to pick an iPod or iPhone from a group of similar devices and, after a few moments of checking such things as phone numbers, text messages, photos, music, and even the choice of aps (applications) will be able to provide a profile of the uniqueness of us, leaving us to conclude that the iPhone or iPod is indeed the fingerprint writ large because of the fact that the device will have that element, too, the fingerprint, as if to nail down the deal by assuring our identity.

It is no great leap of imagination to posit a time when all of us will have built into our iPhone or iPod an ap that contains our medical history, making it possible for us to connect in yet another way with yet other useful sources.  It requires a bit more of a leap to posit a personal or emotional record which we could share, say, with a prospective mate, effectively precluding the lengthy surveys required by on line dating and mating services.  Wanna compare emotes?  Emote being emotional profiles.  Before we date, our iPods date.

Truth--what a funny and difficult word to describe--to tell, we all of carry with us our tool kit of self, using portions of it to get us from precipitous ledge of existence to the next existential precipitous ledge, and although iPhones and iPods are great fun (the pod more so because it does not require a monthly fee) we have in our original tool kits all the aps we need, just as our Cro-Magnon forbears did.  This is not at all Luddite; I have no wish to return to the simpler ways, not when I can simultaneously carry about the complete piano works of Maurice Ravel or hear the lush landscapes of Frederick Delius nor the sublime late quartets of Beethoven or the soaring solos of John Coltrane or the stunning inventiveness of Art Tatum; not when I can quickly find my place in Twelfth Night or a mind candy thriller.  It always comes down to the lowest common denominator, the use we make of our tools in the search for who we are and how to navigate who we are across the forests of existential night.

It would be splendid to be able to access the Ap Store whereby to download the greatest tool of all, empathy, then set forth to discover if empathy has fingerprints that can be left as traces of having handled it.

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