Saturday, 17 May 2014

Shadows dancing on a cave wall

I'd like to talk about this guy:

Plato, as depicted in Raphael's The School of Athens

Plato had a lot of ideas, most of which I'm not well enough versed in to have formed any sort of opinion.  But I've thought a lot about his parable of the cave over the years, and it really bugs me.  It prickles because I kind of see myself in it, in relation to my special interests and my internet use.

The general gist is that there's a bunch of people in a cave, sitting facing the wall, and they've always been there and that's their life.  Behind them there's a fire, which they've never seen, and stuff passing between them and the fire casts shadows on their wall.  Their reality, the total sum of their knowledge and experience, is those shadows.

Joseph Wright
That's a pretty crap way to live.  The world is so big, and for all its badness it's so beautiful, that it's a crying shame to not get out (or not be able to get out) and experience as much of it as possible.  There are things to see and to do, experiences to have, food to eat, music to listen to, people to meet, there's fun to be had and work to be done.

So why do I spend so much time on the internet, not doing it?

Sure, you can argue that stuff done online matters, and it sort of does.  It's a means of engaging with people and finding likeminded souls in ways that's not always possible in the physical world.  It lets us look things up so much more easily than in the days when you had to rifle through index cards in long library drawers.  It exposes us to culture and ideas we might have no other opportunity to experience.

(The internet's also a great way to find awful people, horrible things, meaningless drivel, and lies, but that's a whole other discussion for another time.)

But the internet isn't and can't be and shouldn't be a replacement for actually doing stuff.  One half-decent home cooked meal is more valuable than a thousand pinned recipes you'll never try.  Trying your hand at knitting or sewing or carpentry and having something to show for it, however wobbly, is more rewarding than watching any number of tutes on YouTube.  And watching videos of people being together and having fun is a poor substitute for actually being with people and doing fun stuff and worthwhile things yourself.

For instance, I've noticed when I'm lonely I tend to end up watching Top Gear.  And that's great to pass some time, but really I'm watching other people laugh and be friends because it's easier than finding laughter and friends of my own.  Well, in the short-term, anyway - because while it can be a distraction from the need for real life changes, it doesn't fix the underlying issue.

But getting out there and doing things can be scary and really, really difficult, and sometimes genuinely impossible.  You might have to try and fail a dozen times before you have any sort of success, and when your failures involve social rejection and screwing things up in public they hurt.  It takes a lot of willpower and resilience and optimism to keep going in the face of that.

But maybe it's worth doing, to get out of the cave.