Dec 06, 2000
"There is no There there,” said Gertrude Stein about Oakland, California. “There is a different there there,” say I, an Oaklandite by birth, about virtuality. “Virtual” presence differs from “real” presence in propinquity—time, place and relationship—as well as vividness and interactivity. The technology of virtual presence simulates “being there”; it holds out the promise of presence on demand—and thereby demands that we do some careful thinking about presence. Consider “virtual worship.”
Attorney General Janet Reno traveled to Cleveland four years ago to observe ex-offenders at work in an innovative reentry program. She visited with members of Care Team, ex-convicts who are carefully selected to work for elderly residents in the community. Then she asked some of the residents how they felt about having criminals doing their shopping and check-cashing, and performing other services. One of the residents responded eagerly: “Ms. Reno, they’re not criminals! They’re our sons. We love them and they love us.”
Here we are in the midst of December—surrounded by Santa, elves and frenzied children. Due to the intense focus on children at this time of year, the season is often a very painful one for people who are experiencing infertility or who have suffered a miscarriage. I recall that when my husband I were struggling to start a family, I once threatened to create a bonfire if I received one more “here are my perfect children” photo.
Like Many people with nothing better to do, I often read obituaries. It is the print equivalent of walking through a cemetery, where whole lives are summed up on headstones and buried along with their times. I love reading about flying daredevils who rode the wings of biplanes in the 1930s, or Kentucky farmers who plowed their fields with teams of matched mules. Since the occasion for meeting these people is to mourn their loss, the effect can be distressing. Wait! I want to shout. You can’t go yet. There are still things I want to know.