The Finite and the Infinite in the World of Text
The text organizes a person’s life. No doubt, it is very important what you read. But what is even more important is how you do it.
To begin with, let us have a closer look at how children’s games have changed. Take, for example, a dogedball or hide-and-seek. What was the point? Yes, everybody knows the answer. It was the Victory. And the Victory is possible only on condition that the game has some end. I mean that epic moment when winners are rejoicing (‘We are the champions!’) and losers are lamenting (‘Bad luck this time. Next time you’ll see!’)
The games of today have a completely different philosophy, browser games being the most vivid example here. I used to have a neighbor who was really hooked on them. Whenever I dropped by, he was very busy staring at the computer screen and leveling up his character. You know, one day I asked him,
- Are you playing one and the same game?
- Yes, - was his answer.
- And when on earth are you going to win?
- What do you mean? – was his honest surprise.
- Well, every game is supposed to have an end, isn’t it?
We chatted for a while but I failed to show him how meaningless his games seem to an outsider with a solid bookish background. What I mean is that our old offline world was organized like a book. It had the exposition, the climax and the denouement. However, this new computer world is shaped in a very different way – everything is flowing, changing and… never ending. Reading a book is a linear process – one day you start it and sooner or later you flip over the last page.
Online texts are structureless and infinite. While reading an article on the Internet, you often get distracted with incoming email or newsfeed from some social network, and they become part of the text. And then you get back to your article to leave it later for some random hyperlink. What is more, the browser does remember all the pages you have visited and you can access them anytime. So, the text of the Web is not a set of different texts, it is one gigantic (infinite?) supertext that we are just trying to engulf all the time. We are doing it the same way my poor neighbor is playing his never-ending browser game. Not for the winning. But for its own miserable sake.
You might feel tempted to argue that reading books is similar: after finishing one you start another and do it again and again. But in fact you do not. The book is an enclosed system, whereas on the web you don’t have a book any longer. Now your book has become some infinitesimal chapter among quintillions of other such chapters piled on the Net.
I’d even dare to extrapolate. In the world of printed books a person’s life was not infinite and not meaningless. It had the beginning, some sort of a plot (the story) and a most important part – the finale, i.e. the message the life’s author wanted to convey.
On the other hand, human life in today’s epoch of endless games and infinite texts seems to have no message, no finale, no meaning. This life is always to be continued. I happen to be given this life and I’m just trying to live it somehow, to live it for the pure fun of it.
There is nothing particularly wrong with such mindset. But for me it’s just all too boring.