Bowing to the observation of a friend who suggested I was behind the up-to-date computer curve (less politely, that I was indulging my capacities to be an old fart), I went to Walmart yesterday and purchased a little camera that sits on top of my computer screen and allows me to talk to others while looking at them in real time. My friend then held my computer-inept hand and led me through the process of plugging in to the program that would facilitate the camera's uses and meaning. So now I have "Skype."
It's an "app" I guess. Short for "application." The telephones that others carry these days are top-heavy with apps. The television advertises for apps. Talking on the phone is no longer its sole purpose. There are Internet connections, instant messaging in various forms, maps, directions, restaurants and, yes, some version of the ability that Skype provides.
I was wowed by Skype when it first swung into operation on my computer. How magical! My friend introduced me to a woman in Phnom Penh via Skype and we chatted a bit. Half a world away. Imagine that! I love being wowed and I was duly wowed. I could actually 'see' this person I had never met and probably never would. My friend uses Skype to talk simultaneously with his two sons who are in different parts of the country. They all get to 'see' each other. Wow.
Today, I am less wowed by the wow that wowed me yesterday. Today I think that Skype is a little more like Facebook, a social 'networking' site I abominate. What I dislike about Facebook is that the 'networking' it professes to enhance merely underscores the separations it implicitly and explicitly claims to erase. It's not bad or naughty and I can imagine it might have its uses. It's just, from my point of view, not true in any meaningful way.
How much of anyone's life is an 'app' life? Everyone adds on new aspects and abilities. Job, marriage, athletic skill, problem-solving, knowledge, driver's license, religion ... the list goes on and on and on. Taken together, these apps give meaning to the person in the bathroom mirror. "I am _________ (fill in the blank)" or "I am not just _______, but also _______." Others, with their apps, lend support through agreement or disagreement to the apps I have acquired from the Walmart called life.
As I say, I see nothing wrong in it except that relying on such apps to provide an honest and relaxed peace in this life never works. As with Facebook, there is always an unspoken recognition that the solution the apps provide is a simultaneous reiteration and enhancement of the problem.
The connection app is wonderful AND it asserts separation. The goodness app is wonderful AND it asserts whatever the mirror image of goodness is. The kindness app is wonderful AND it asserts unkindness. The belief app is wonderful AND it asserts disbelief.
So many apps. Day after day, more apps. Week after week, more apps. Apps that will make things better ... always better apps to rely on and find meaning in and ... how come I'm not finally and with certainty happy and at ease?
Well, to stick with the computer for a moment, my guess is this: There is nothing wrong with apps, but without looking into the nature of the computer that hosts these apps, things will always be unsatisfactory. More apps and more apps and more apps are added to ... well, to what, precisely? Without answering this question, life becomes not just life, but an app life that requires ever more apps for existence. Who lies at the heart of all these apps? What about the computer itself -- the computer before the apps get shoved down its throat or up its ass? All those reassuring apps ... but who is it who cries out to be reassured?
The Zen teacher Rinzai (one of my Rinzai apps) once encouraged his monks, "Grasp and use, but never name." He could have been talking about apps. Circumstances present themselves and each of us have got one app or another to address those circumstances. So ... use the app. Use the app but don't imagine the app is who you are, don't name and rely on it. Just use it. Once used, address the next set of circumstances ... find an app ... use it ... isn't that enough?
To mangle Gandhi a bit, be the computer you seek.