Afterthoughts: Wired, Connected and Lost

It’s getting harder and harder for us to be where we are.

Have you been to Hawaii lately?

Odd question, I know. Our reader demographics tell me that you most likely have lived in the Islands for 20 years or more, if you weren’t actually born and raised here. But the stats also tell me that you’re college educated or higher, in a dual-income family, working as a professional or as a business owner. You are, like me, no doubt wired up with cable TV and a broadband connection to the Internet.

So I’ll ask you again. Have you been to Hawaii lately? I’m curious, because I’m not so sure myself sometimes. I’ve been assimilated by the Internet, plugged into the great hive mind. Resistance, it turns out, was futile.

Maybe it all began on Sept. 11, 2001, when I picked up the habit of scanning the CNN home page. Then came Afghanistan and Iraq and, with them, a growing compulsion to read everything I could find. Liberal Web sites. Conservative Web sites. For and against. Bush is the devil. Bush is a saint. Iraq is a quagmire. Iraq is the frontier of freedom. I can’t get enough. It all seems so urgent.

From the gateway of online journalism it was a pretty quick slide for me into the hard stuff—blogs. Hideous word, isn’t it? A contraction of “Web log.” The language had a perfectly good word for what most blogs are. Tracts. Partisan opinions printed for all to see. You can find blogs in the lower altitudes of the Internet, in an interconnected, cross-referential realm called the “blogosphere,” somewhere between the “pornosphere” and the “punditsphere.”

Pretty dizzying place, the blogosphere. No one there knows anything, but they say it so convincingly, on any subject you can think of. Blogs on Iraq, blogs on politics, blogs on architecture, blogs on science, blogs on national security. So tasty, so tempting.

So not having anything to do with Hawaii. My butt is planted firmly in a task chair in Hawaii Kai, my eyelids drooping, while my brain says, “Just click through one more link on this weapons of mass destruction’ blog.” It’s 2 a.m., but in the blogosphere, the time is always now.

Illustration: Michael Austin

Is it like this for you, too? Do you know more than you probably ought to about Scott and Laci, Brad and Jen, Robert Blake and the wife he mighta maybe killed but we don’t know yet until the trial? Do you know more than you need to about the intricacies of Third World tsunami relief? More than you care to about Abu Ghraib? In the 24-hour news cycle, every national and international event, from manini to massive, is a cliff hanger. I’m hooked on perpetual crisis.

It isn’t just the news, of course, that pulls our minds out of where our bodies happen to be. We’ve got iTunes and eBay. We can spend the whole night watching the first season of 24 on DVD. Flip through the latest Esquire before going to bed to read The Da Vinci Code. You can live in Hawaii full-time and not give the place a second thought.

My job keeps me thoroughly connected to the Islands, but I know people for whom that isn’t even true anymore. People who, through the Internet and e-mail, work for Mainland bosses or international clients. What prevents their heads from simply floating away?

Of course, this has been going on for a long time. The Internet has only sped it up. I look at my circle of friends and acquaintances, men and women in their 30s, most born and raised here. We grew up on 1980s New Wave courtesy of 98 Rock and Hollywood’s finest at the Waikiki Theatres. Many of us know more about Coldplay than we do about Kalapana. It’s probably no coincidence that for some of us, regardless of ethnicity or the neighborhoods we grew up in, or whether we went to public or private school, pidgin is a distant second language.

None of this will stop. At the Hawaii International Film Festival last October, I saw a feature-length movie made by local high school students, filmed at Kapolei High School. Through its 90-plus minutes, I heard exactly one pidgin expression, “choke grinds.” The rest was all hip-hop jargon, and something almost, but not quite, like California Valley Girl-speak, all, no doubt, soaked up through music, movies and TV.

Maybe there is no such thing as “local” anywhere, anymore. There is only the Media—the Great All—and the places where we sleep.