A Meaning To Things
When I was a young boy, my Uncle gave me his stamp collection as a gift. He had spent much of his childhood in Africa and the album was full of stamps from exotic places and many more were over a hundred years old. Sometimes I would open the collection and run my fingers across the embossed squares of paper and slip into day-dreams of times before my own and countries whose names had long since ceased to exist, like Aden, Ceylon and Sarawak! These stamps had come from these foreign lands, and times before, smelled spices in the air and heard river-boats depart in the steamy morning. They had been affixed to epistles by the banks of the Nile or had rubbed the coarse skin of an elephant along the dusty red-earthed road to a village. They had borne Kings and Queens and dictators and freedom-fighters and, with equal bearing, their successors. They had felt things I never knew and knew things I never felt. They had smelled fragrances so pleasing and beautiful that those that have never known those flowers have never known the true extent of happiness. In short, they were witnesses to great adventures and were respected as such.
How different it is today. While traveling through Asia I blogged, Twittered and Flickrd my way through tropical islands, jungle, permafrost and palace. I SMSd my thoughts to loved ones and these communications were received instantly. I recall a friend of mine receiving a photo I uploaded in Northern Thailand while she was in an airport in Atlanta, Georgia. That was amazing to me. But while the content of the photo communicated the message that I am riding elephants in Thailand, the thing itself had no meta-data. Indeed there was no thing – there was her cellphone and my photo on it but nothing else. There was no frayed edge because someone in Singapore had thrown my letter roughly into a ship. There was no bent corner where a customs official in San Francisco had stepped on the mail bag containing my postcard as he searched for contraband durian. There was no thing. It ceased to exist so that we could share a moment in an instant. Yet something extra was lost. And though I have saved the photos that I took and backed-up the Twitters that I sent, when I print them, they print on new paper. Ignorant, blank and stupid.