We sure do talk about time a lot.
Specifically how technology is accordion-ing our perception and experience of time, how the pace of everything seems to be accelerating maddeningly, or accelerating perfectly, if you’re a technology-is-always-the-solution gadget-blogger type.
And starting this essay by talking about how we’re all talking about something instead of just talking about that something when I don’t even really want to talk about the conversation around that thing, I just want to talk about the thing itself and how it relates to my favorite Prince song, is one of the many ways we all try and run up the flag of “Look, I get it, and I’m not one to go around NOT getting it.”
It is a way to say “I AM AWARE THAT THERE ARE OTHER PEOPLE TALKING ABOUT THIS THING, GOD FORBID I BE JUST ANOTHER PERSON TALKING ABOUT IT, ALLOW ME TO DEMARCATE MY SAVVY, ALLOW ME TO PARTICIPATE AT JUST A SLIGHT, FIVE-FOOT-ABOVE-THE-FRAY REMOVE.” Just like so many things me and people like me do every day, it is another barrage in the arms race of proving how much we fucking get it.
How to participate in this arms race without it dampening our we experience of media, news, life, and each other, I have no idea. I don’t know how you can engage in any form of cynicism without it becoming very real dirt on the windshield through which you view the world. And I say this as somebody that pretty much can’t reach inside myself without feeling the very comforting contours of trusty weapons like The Ironic Distance, The Self-Aware Caveat, The Pre-Apology For Sentiment. I don’t know how I assembled this arsenal, exactly, but just like a lot of hardened gunslingers I find it extremely difficult to resolve my problems without these guns now. They have always been there, and unless I work to take them apart, they will always be there. And what happens if I disarm and I come across somebody that still has them and knows how to use them? I’ll get killed, right?
This is the way I say things on the Internet. This is the way I say things in real life, too. You probably do as well. A lot of, “I know this topic has been done to death.” “I know everybody’s talking about this, but…” For some reason, nothing feels more ancient than the thing everybody was talking about this morning.
Everything can feel instantaneously exhausted and exhausting. Or maybe not, depending on what your mileage with all this kinda stuff is. I expect my experience with all of it is pretty typical. I find Twitter alternately enriching and tiring. I find Facebook mostly just the latter but I think I’m getting better at using it for what it wants to be used for, which is playing mindless hyper-addictive games against people I had an improv class with six years ago. I will often use “Tumblr” as unfair shorthand for “someone with a lot of style and no substance,” but if I’m honest, just like anything else, it boils down to how you use it, and it if you want to use Tumblr to be a fountain of really interesting, beautiful things it can be that just as easily as it can be a soulless fashion carousel.
But taken in total, in a million tabs and windows I can’t help but keep open all the time, this stuff, for me, pretty often results in what I’ll go ahead and call the Long Afternoon Of The Soul, a feeling of strung-out-on-info-ness, and not even INFO per se (that makes me sound all cool and cyberpunk-y, like I’m mainlining 600 terabytes of raw data a second, but I can SEE THE PATTERN, MAAAAAN) but strung out on what would, taken by themselves, be wonderful little bleeps and bloops of human-ness (expressions of love and joy and humor and anger and hypocrisy, and yes, pictures of cats) but taken together during this Long Afternoon, leave me feeling kinda cranky and draggy and sad all the time.
“Dude,” you might say. “Just, like, get up and go for a walk.” And you would not be wrong.
And again, your mileage may vary with this stuff. Maybe you can bang around our Internet’s finest content aggregators for five hours on a random Tuesday and get up feeling fresh and alert and not loaded down with a sort of small-yippy-puppy-coming-out-of-sedation-after-a-nine-hour-flight-in-a-freezing-cargo-hold kinda feeling. And good for you. Like so many other ways other people seem to experience the world, I am endlessly jealous of you and wish you could teach me how to feel it the way you do.
But I feel alarmed by the way technology seems to impact my experience of time.
And my favorite Prince song is “I Would Die 4 U.”
And among the reasons “I Would Die 4 U” is my favorite Prince song is, “I Would Die 4 U” is the sound of time stopping.
I only vaguely remember when it was that I first heard “I Would Die 4 U”: I would’ve been in my early 20’s and it would’ve been in New York and I would’ve just put Prince’s Greatest Hits on my iPod from the UCB tech booth computer, which was and probably still is a marvelous aggregation of like nine different people’s MP3 libraries. It probably came up on shuffle. And it just sounded so ageless and beautiful and like nothing so much as frozen time.
I know so little about actual musical terminology I cannot begin to try to explain why I think “I Would Die 4 U” sounds like a perfect crystalline standstill, why it sounds so amazingly outside of time, outside of influence, outside of everything, how even though it has component parts you recognize (“There’s Prince… there’s female back-up singers… there’s the guitar… and horns, and that’s a synthesizer, right?”) it feels less like other songs you’ve heard and more like you are being suspended in between galaxies and shot through with rays of infinite knowledge.
I don’t know what it is about Prince over the synth line that pervades the song that makes him sound like a floating holographic head projected out of a crystal that you just stumbled upon in an Antarctic cave.
It doesn’t hurt that said head is declaring that he is somehow EVERYTHING, and yet unlike anything you’ve ever seen or felt or known. It seems like the vogue in rap now is not to compare yourself to something, but just say you ARE that thing, like Big Meech, or Larry Hoover, or Ellen Degeneres, or God. I like to imagine every single one of these I AM declarations as a shadow cast on the wall of Plato’s cave by this, the platonic ideal, Prince’s declaration that he IS a dove, he IS your conscious, he IS love.
And yes, I get all the Christ imagery. I’m not one of our nation’s leading Prince scholars, and for all I know he’s writing directly from Jesus’ POV, and this is just the best-ever Christian rock by leaps and bounds and even more leaps and bounds. But isn’t it more fun to read it like Prince is saying all these things about himself?
Prince is talking to YOU. It is you and Prince. You are having a conversation. It’s incredibly intimate and you feel truly alive and truly present and truly in your body. You feel very yourself and very grounded despite the fact that you and Prince are having this conversation in the eye of a temporal mega-storm at the nexus of infinite timestreams. And Prince is telling you:
He is all things, yet entirely his own thing.
He is all things, but there’s nothing like him.
And he would wink out of existence — and then be nowhere, and yet somehow everywhere, still — and he would do it just for YOU.
The whole business is pretty fucking Prince.
One of those things that makes the internet wonderful.