Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Nope, nothing to do with my phone

A Twitter link from Sarah of Smart Bitches Trashy Books led me to Columnist David Brooks' Op-Ed on Cellphones, Texts and Lovers.

While the bulk of his column may not have a lot of bearing on my particular soapbox (but go read it anyway if you want to be enlightened on what people can get up to with a phone on a Friday night), this particular bit did resonate (emphasis is my own):

This does not mean that young people today are worse or shallower than young people in the past. It does mean they get less help. People once lived within a pattern of being, which educated the emotions, guided the temporary toward the permanent and linked everyday urges to higher things. The accumulated wisdom of the community steered couples as they tried to earn each other’s commitment.

This blog goes on a lot about bonsai club activities for a reason - the knowledge I have acquired in this hobby is primarily because we sought out a local club when I started getting interested in bonsai almost 14 years ago. Since hooking up with Teacher-san and a group of very enlightened (AKA geeky) friends, my store of specialist and horticultural knowledge has grown radically. But I would never have gotten there without the baby steps taken in the little club we still go to.  So, if I have ever helped anyone out there take their own baby steps in their journey of discovery, then well and good.

TOH and I are inveterate book collectors and the number of bonsai books at home probably rivals the size of a club's library. On top of that, we have videos. DVDs. Whatever. But we have always felt that nothing replaces the ability to ask someone a question, study a tree together and discuss possibilities.  To this end, private lessons are fantastic, but not exactly cheap.  A club meeting or workshop with more-experienced members is a reasonable alternative, especially for a beginner who isn't sure of how much commitment to make to the hobby.

But the downside to any collective is evident: it's full of OTHER PEOPLE. Which could mean politics. Or personality clashes. Or differences of opinion. Well, if you don't want a repeat of your own family, what can I say?

Don't think that confining yourself to surfing the 'Net is going to shield you from all that, though. I have read many a diatribe on public forums (OK 'fora' if you are a stickler for the correct use of Latin) which make evident that backscratching, brown-nosing and backstabbing are not purely face-to-face activities. (Or back-to-back for that matter.  Hurrrr.)  I also remember talking to a Spanish enthusiast whose beef with Internet forums was that any tree could be made to look good depending on the angle that a picture was taken.  So there's always video.  Maybe in a few years' time the technology will catch up with us, but at the moment the time it would take to integrate all the media involved just to do a quick Q&A - it makes my head spin.  We do a lot of virtual meetings in my day job and believe me it's got a ways to go yet.  (And yes my patience factor is VERY VERY SMALL when it comes to waiting for software to perform properly.)

Nonetheless, I find it significant that, while the Internet has opened up a Whole Wide World to us without the need to ever leave our armchairs, the success of social media shows that we still have a tendency to congregate.  Yes, into groups.  Only our congregations are not necessarily held together by time or face, but by a similarity of interests and etiquette.  We are still appreciative of help (if not necessarily actively looking for it); so what would be more logical - or even easier, for that matter - than the accumulated wisdom of a non-virtual community, if there actually is one to hand?

Bonsai isn't the only thing I do, and from time to time on Twitter I touch on the other interests and related congregations that I subscribe to.  And I've made new friends, kept in touch with old ones, learned new things and shared on others.  All the same sort of thing that I do at the clubs I go to physically, actually.

Huh. And you thought I'd tell you about what I do with my phone on a Friday night, dincha?

What? Didn't you read the title of this post???


  1. Yep, read the cellphone article. It's amazing how some journalists can write so much and say nothing. So, cellphones are being used for social intercourse, isn't that what they were designed for? Or perhaps I am missing something here.

    As for the blog entry, the connection is correct. We live in a digital age where information is exchanged using a variety of media. Bonsai has not quite capitalised on this yet or indeed in communicating with others in general, by whatever means.

  2. Further to above. I suppose this reluctance of bonsai folk to communicate has a number of reasons. Some just feel they do not have something of value to say. Some are too lazy; either to express themselves or to learn to use the new technology. Those that do communicate digitally are so few they are spread widely and so local networks of like minded individuals fail to crystalise. But mostly people have forgotten the value of a community. This poses other questions. What is the difference between social cohesion and tribalism/gang culture? Has our wider society fractured into individualism?

  3. I wonder how much of the communication factor is age-related. Younger folk are more likely to use digital communication IMO, whereas the older ones are slower to pick up newer technologies, or worried about breaking something.

    Spot on in pointing out the disappearing appreciation of the value of community. That, I believe, is not age-related. Perhaps it is more common in the West?

    Will we wind up with young people forming digital communities and physical clubs eventually dying out with the older generations? What a sad thought...