“The blogs of strangers had to be read daily, and people nearby who had no web presence were becoming almost cartoonlike, as if they were missing a dimension.”
A slightly unusual book to review, based on the rest of my reading list which is comprised largely of more academic texts, but this book fits the theme.From artist and filmmaker Miranda July, this is a biographical portrait of various Los Angeles residents that also comprises a wonderful narrative about the inability of the internet and the networked world to contain and express the entirety of the human condition.
July, unable to finish her screenplay, pours obsessively over ads for items for sale placed in The Pennysaver. Overwhelmed with curiosity, she reaches out to the people who place the ads, asking to interview them. These people are trying to sell everything from leather jackets and hair dryers to leopards and vintage photo albums, and each has a unique story to tell. The first person she meets, for example, is just beginning the process of transitioning from a man to a woman. The last person she meets ends up acting in her film. Some are lifelong L.A. residents; but others she meets are immigrants from India and Cuba. No two people are alike. But she soon realises that none of them are especially interested in using computers. One acknowledges that it would make it easier to sell her wares if she did it online, but dismisses the notion as too much fuss. Others show little interest in the technology.
It is with this realisation that leads July to reconsider the stories she has been collecting in terms of the networked world:
“The web seemed so inherently endless that it didn’t occur to me what wasn’t there. My appetite for pictures and videos and news and music was so gigantic now that is something was shrinking, something immeasurably, how would I notice? It’s not that my life before the internet was so wildly diverse – but there was only one world and it really did have every single thing in it. Domingo’s blog was one of the best I’d ever read, but I had to drive to him to get it, he had to tell it to me with her whole self, and there was no easy way to search for him. He had to be found accidentally.”
The internet is unknowably vast, our search algorithms get better with each passing day, and yet all of human experience, complexity and emotion will never be contained online. So much research is now conducted solely online, and libraries facilitate this – indeed, often encourage it – but this excludes the richness and variety of the information in the offline world. Oral histories are lost, unrecorded performances vanish.
July took the stories, histories and personal archives (albeit of Care Bears and greeting cards) of normal people, and recorded them for posterity. There’s something wonderful in that.