keep your heart close
Heemin Chung, Sunken Village, 2022
The internet ushered in a Cambrian explosion of connection, allowing us to find each other while hundreds of miles apart. But to underpin this connection, I’m beginning to believe that the internet has only given us legibility, but not understanding.
For a long time, I’ve been obsessed with being legible online. You can find what I write, read, and even think all in one place. Legibility is important in an attention economy. You only have ten seconds to make an impression, and you better make them count.
But legibility is fundamentally different from understanding. Frankly, legibility is simple; it’s just the sharing of information.
The attempt to understand another, however, is not an easy undertaking. It requires constant attending, bearing witness—”the privilege of having been seen by someone, and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them, and to have believed in them, and sometimes, just to have accompanied them, for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”
Understanding moves deeply beyond sharing with you what I think about so-and-so book or so-and-so place. It’s a lifelong journey. It means slowly revealing my unique constellation of reference points, the way I tend to bounce when I walk, why certain silly movies make me cry, the first thoughts I have when I walk into a crowd of people.
I’ll never forget this encounter. I have a mentor who I’ve met monthly with over video chat for almost two years. We know each other deeply. Many of our thoughts are casually prefaced with, “Based on what I know about you…” or “That’s such a Katie question…” We’ve met IRL only a handful of times (he’s based on the west coast and I, on the east), but the last time we did was transformative. He was in the middle of a sentence and paused in sudden realization:“You know, you actually know me better than a lot of other people.”
There’s a line in the film Before Sunrise that sums this up well,
“I believe if there's any kind of God it wouldn't be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there's any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone sharing something. I know, it's almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.”
I think the ease of digital connection has made us confuse legibility for understanding. We chase the faceless masses, but fail to cherish the faithful few.
The attempt to see and be seen by another is not a trifle.
Keep your heart close, but give it deeply.
quote from David Whyte, discovered from my friend Jasmine’s wonderful piece “attending to the other”
I agree Katie, as a more private person in the past and have been more open as I put my writing on the Internet, I have found joy in seeing people (many over the internet) better know what I think/like/dislike but of course, all writers choose to write what they want and there a lot of nuances to a person besides their writing. Understanding does take a lot of work in a friendship/relationship