A friend of mine posted this on Facebook: “So, two hours ago I rent 12 Monkeys on Amazon Prime and suddenly, out of the blue, Terry Gilliam shows up for the first time in my newsfeed.”
Yep. We’ve all experienced it. Laser targeting.
Netflix’s documentary The Social Dilemma confirms the worst about our online surfing. Every click, every preference runs through complex algorithms so that advertisers can pinpoint us for profit. This includes the clickbait articles on our feeds, tailored to our world views. In chilling detail, the film shows how social media has contributed not only to fake news, but to our continued polarization. Literally, two people can sit down at a coffee shop, flip open their laptops, then browse through alternate versions of the world, all of it presented as fact.
That’s the dark side of our addiction to the internet. However, I want to celebrate how it connects us to far-flung places and people.
I liken it to the Spore Drive in Star Trek: Discovery. A network of mycelium spread across the universe, allowing explorers to instantaneously travel from one point to another, as though miraculously teleported. The Discovery’s Captain, Gabriel Lorca, described it this way: “Imagine a microscopic web that spans the entire cosmos. An intergalactic ecosystem. An infinite number of roads leading everywhere.”
What a wonderful metaphor for the world wide web! I often marvel where it takes me, especially through neural networks like Instagram. Daily, I connect with people from every continent. Their photos celebrate life, love, travel and art. There is joy and pathos, faith and doubt, woe and wonder—a colorful panorama of life on our planet.
The other day, I encountered a video streaming some provocative words. Did the videographer write them, or is it someone else’s poetry? I entered the Spore Drive and found the origin, a piece called Scheherazade by Richard Siken, from his collection Crush, winner of the Yale Younger Poets prize in 2004. He wrote it after the death of his boyfriend. I find it haunting and provocative.
Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake
and dress them in warm clothes again.
How it was late, and no one could sleep, the horses running
until they forget that they are horses.
It’s not like a tree where the roots have to end somewhere,
it’s more like a song on a policeman’s radio,
how we rolled up the carpet so we could dance, and the days
were bright red, and every time we kissed there was another apple
to slice into pieces.
Look at the light through the windowpane. That means it’s noon, that means
Tell me how all this, and love too, will ruin us.
These, our bodies, possessed by light.
Tell me we’ll never get used to it.
Who is Siken? Again, the Spore Drive, this time Wikipedia. He is the recipient of numerous grants and residencies over the years, founder of Spork Press, and released a second book of poems in 2015 called War of the Foxes.
Finally, I learned that he suffered a stroke in 2018. I found his Facebook page which chronicles his struggle to recover, including his first poetry post in two years.
I sent him a friend request, this bard I discovered through the Spore Drive.
Whether or not he responds, I hope he regains his strength. I hope he continues to share his gift.