This past spring break I read The Ticking is the Bomb, the latest memoir from one of my favorite living authors, Nick Flynn. This past summer a good friend recommended and let me borrow her copy of his first memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, a beautiful little book I won’t even try (and, inevitably, fail) to summarize here. After finishing the last page of Ticking last week, I found myself so moved that I decided to email the author himself and tell him what his work meant to me. It was about four in the morning, I had just ridden a train for 18 hours and I was delirious with insomnia — cut me some slack. I almost forgot about the whole ordeal until I checked my Gmail account two days later and saw an unread message from Nick Flynn himself.
Nothing about this exchange was noteworthy. I went onto someone’s website, found his contact information, sent an email and within a few business days he responded. Pretty standard course of action. What I find incredible about this whole thing is more an investigation of just how interconnected our society has become with the advent of the internet and social networking sites and all that jazz — it’s a pretty standard observation and safe argument, I know, but one that’s always fascinated me. I feel like we sort of build these figures up to be larger-than-life simulacra of themselves — we can talk about Charlie Kaufman in a film class and forget that he’s a normal dude who eats at Taco Bell and Panera, just like me. We forget he sends and receives emails just like the rest of us.
If I wanted to get in touch with someone from an older generation, say, Philip Roth, it’d be damn near impossible to get a hold of Roth-the-man-himself. He’s (presumably) too old to have or check an email account — whichever account I find on the internet would probably forward me to a publishing or booking agent. I’d most likely need to look for a hard address for a writer of Roth’s caliber — but good luck finding one specific “Philip Roth” in a state as densely populated as New York (specifically Brooklyn, if I had to take a blind guess) or New Jersey (based on his novels’ subject matter).
Someone like Nick Flynn, however, is younger and, for lack of a better word, “hip”-er. His website has a hyperlink titled “contact” that, when clicked, opens up a blank email document with his email address already entered. Finding him was as easy as sending an email to my nonfiction professor. Modern technology has, if nothing else (and let’s be real here, it does a lot else), made it incredibly easy to reach those who would be previously unreachable.
Last month I was reading a review of one of my favorite CDs released a few years ago (The Go! Team’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike if you’re curious) and saw a jab at Harrisburg, PA — my hometown, for those of you who don’t know. My buddy did some investigative reporting — he tweeted at the author’s twitter account, who at-replied back, saying it was a now-dated social criticism about the intelligent design debate going on in Harrisburg’s school system. Take an example from our own school — someone recently captured a video of a guy in a chicken suit taking over an Orgo class in Tech. Someone put it on the internet, someone else stumbled upon it, liked it and within hours it had hundreds of thousands of hits from all over the world.
The first assignment for my nonfiction course this quarter was to set up a Wordpress account and write weekly blog posts on the course’s Wordpress page. Our stories go up one after another for all to see, and sometimes the big bad professor himself leaves lighthearted and friendly comments on our posts. I remember one time last year fall quarter I sent my professor an email and he responded almost immediately via gchat — I was a scared first quarter freshman who didn’t even know how to gchat, and here’s one of my professors going over a reading response paper with me in an informal, real-time setting. It was welcoming, to say the least — this professor wasn’t a big, scary impersonal professor anymore. He still shows up as a little green dot on my gchat list, and we keep in touch every once in a while — far above and beyond what’s required of a professor teaching an intro course with probably 200 kids. The entire internet institution adds a level of familiarity previously unheard of.
I guess the fact of the matter is we tend to forget that these people are still people like you or me. You forget that David After Dentist still goes to school and has normal friends. You watch a video like Star Wars Kid and you laugh, but more importantly, you forget that this could be the kid down the hall from you. You watch the Somebody in a Chicken Suit video and you forget that this kid goes to our school — he’s not actually the celebrity we make him out to be. You forget Nick Flynn is, first and foremost, just a normal dude, the same as you or me, who likes getting fan mail.