Instantaneous discovery: living in a state of techno-joy

Once upon a time, an intriguing footnote or quotation would mean another trip to the library to begin another expedition through the undergrowth of the Dewey Decimal pursuing a new thought or idea. Now, a whole new world of discovery is a mere embedded hyperlink away.

Techno-fear vs. techno-joy

Each day, as I trudge through my daily commute, I am faced with that defining image of our modern society. A carriage full of men and women, crammed closer together than common decency would ordinarily allow, each comfortably isolated in the blue-white glow of their phones, tablets and laptops.

For many, this encapsulates everything that is wrong with the faux-future we privileged cosmopolitan Westerners find ourselves living in. We spend so much of our time surfing the sine waves of the digital world that we neglect our reality. Our ‘in-world’ interactions and communications wither. We are never truly here. We are never truly now. Quite simply, we are never truly present.

In my humble opinion, however, this interpretation of our modern world lies somewhere between poppycock and balderdash.

Eddie Izzard once described the modern world as being split into two factions – those who have techno-fear and techno-joy. Those with techno-fear see the world through the grey-tinted spectacles of the neo-luddite. They complain that we spend too much time looking at our phones, that our attention spans have shrunk, that we no longer know how to talk to each other anymore. Those of us who live in a blissful state of techno-joy see beyond the surface of the flat screens to what lies beneath.

We are not simply staring at our screens. We are reading messages from friends, the letters from lovers and the reminders from spouses. We are flicking through the family photograph album that we now carry in our pockets. We communicate with colleagues, compile our diaries and amend our budgets. At our fingertips we have an invitation to the libraries of the world. An almost infinite gallery of images, moving and still, artistic and documentary, jostles for our attention with a collection of music so vast it would take many lifetimes to listen to.

It is this bristling sensation of opportunity and discovery that fuels our Information Age. For me, it has rekindled a joy in learning that a decade and a half of schooling had all but extinguished. Rather than stomping along a well-trodden path of education, each day begins with a step towards the cliff-edge and gazing across a vast, unmapped landscape of knowledge.

The journey of discovery

Take jazz. The source of my passion for jazz, and the reasons for its development, would fill a blog post of itself. Suffice to say I went from understanding nothing, to working with some jazz musicians, to hearing some, to wanting to know more, to wanting to know everything.

So I read a book. More specifically, The History of Jazz by Ted Gioia. So far, so 20th century. What was uniquely post-information age was the ability to immediately hear each work as it was discussed.  From Charlie Parker’s seminal alto break in his recording of “A Night in Tunisia” for Dial Records (March 28, 1946) to Brad Mehldau’s reworking of Radiohead (Songs: The Art of the Trio Vol. 3) I could immediately delve into the discography via my Deezer account and listen whilst I read about the intricacies of the sound.

The true pleasure of these discoveries is not simply the immediacy, nor the accessibility – picking up and putting down threads of thought wherever I find myself – but the sheer wealth of information that is available. Not just finding a recording of “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock, but being able to instantaneously find and listen to “Watermelon Man” recorded for Takin’ Off (1962)… and then instantaneously find and listen to Hancock’s reworking for Head Hunters (1973) with the distinctive ‘blown beer bottle’ intro.

This of course highlights the real wonder that makes this journey of discovery possible – not the data itself, but the searchability of it all. Without the ability to type into my web browsers address bar ‘Night in Tunisia Parker’ and within nanoseconds be scrolling through videos, articles, and recordings, all this information would remain a Tower of Babel in its inaccessibility.

At the same time, it is the fuzzy edges of this imperfect search function that is the real gift. To misquote Donald Rumsfield, it is not the known unknowns that provide the real joy in discovery, it is the unknown unknowns. Once upon a time, an intriguing footnote or quotation would mean another trip to the library to begin another expedition through the undergrowth of the Dewey Decimal pursuing a new thought or idea. Now, a whole new world of discovery is a mere embedded hyperlink away. A simple mention of ‘Delta Blues’ or ‘Congo Square’ in the context of reading an artist’s history bring new thoughts, ideas and stories to life.

After a particularly convoluted and meandering classroom discussion, our teacher of the time shrugged off the time lost and said, “You only really learn through tangents. Like great art is only really acknowledged when seen through the corner of the eye”. He was, perhaps not coincidentally, one of the few teachers I met who was truly inspirational.

In that observation he encapsulated where the joy in the digital world truly lies. It has made autodidacts of us all, taking our own paths of discovery through a landscape of human history. And we are each able to make our own footprints on the virgin snow.

Feature image: Particle physics based animated art, made with the Python programming language inside Cinema 4D, by Glenn Marshall.

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