Spanning miracles

Sometimes an LCD monitor provides a glimpse into something more than the contents of a web page. This evening, sitting here, prepping scans to upload into the Digital Elfquest online comics project, I suddenly realized that EQ’s MySpace friends list is approaching a thousand names. Granted, there are plenty of folks, groups, bands here that have much larger networks. But this one belongs to the denizens of the World of Two Moons, and that makes it rather astounding, at least to this self-professed late-adopter. A thousand names, each with its unique connected image…

I remember once reading about people who were born in the late 1800s, who lived long enough to witness or hear about both the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, and the first landing of humans on the moon in 1969. I sometimes wonder what those folks thought and felt, knowing their experience had spanned two such milestone events.

The astronomer Carl Sagan once said that “this generation” (meaning, at the time he said it, the one popularly referred to as the baby boom) was the only generation in the entire history of the world whose real-time knowledge of the planets went from blurry phantasms in a telescope’s eye to real, finely-detailed, spectacularly dimensional worlds.

In the late 1960s or early 1970s, when I was in college at MIT, my best friend and I would, instead of studying or working on problem sets, stay up all night to hang out in the Artificial Intelligence lab building. Sometimes, when we weren’t pillaging the parts bins for oddball electronics projects, we would watch the geek wizards doing stuff with big refrigerator-sized computers and “dumb” terminals that were, frankly, a complete mystery to me. Punch cards and paper tapes were the I/O devices of the day. But I also recall watching some of the gurus working on this strange, round picture-tube-y kind of thing on which two greenish arrowheads were slowly darting back and forth, occasionally spitting out dots of light at each other. The wizards were calling it “Space War” and it was the first computer video game (long before the term “video game” got coined).

And tonight, here I sit, tapping into a keyboard that’s sending each stroke wirelessly into a modem that’s capable of sending – a million times faster than I could ever type them – the bits and bytes I generate. And those nanoscopic impulses are flying outward into a network that’s inconceivably intertwined across the entire planet. And at this very moment there are millions of souls, just like yet completely unlike me, sitting at keyboards and monitors, carrying on work and conversations and life as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. And it is! Most of those souls aren’t giving a second thought to the process (I still say it’s magic) by which all this is happening. Yet for me, it’s still a kind of miracle; I feel a weird double exposure kind of thing going on in my own mind. I’m using this laptop right now, same as I would use any appliance I’m used to – the microwave, my car, the telephone – without thinking about it. It’s a part of my life in these times

And yet, damn! This is karking amazing! I can, if I want to, carry on a conversation with or send a note to every one of those soon-to-be-a-thousand people, who are scattered across the entire globe, most of whom I have never met and may never meet, in the flesh. And yet in a sense they are as close as the letters and images on the screen. They are all out there, all real people, with lives and stories and hopes and fears and dreams. And if I stretch my imagination just a little, I can picture each and every one of them peeking at me from within the sparkling pixels of the images they’ve chosen as their avatars.

(Heh. I’d better be careful; at this rate I could go “Matrix” any moment.)

Point is, I feel keenly and happily aware of the fact that in my very own life, I’ve experienced that sensation of spanning, of the wonder that comes from being in a now yet remembering athen when all of this was unimaginable. I discover I’m also grateful to understand how miracles come in many forms. Instant electronic communication with anyone, anywhere, is not the same as a conversation over coffee, is not the same as a late night phone call. Each contains its own wonder. “They are all perfect.”