Saturday, September 7, 2013

How Vonnegut Gives Sublime Purpose to YouTube

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." --Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

I never read Vonnegut in high school. None of his books were part of the curriculum for my school, although I recognized the name Slaughterhouse-Five. I was never tempted to pick up the book, however, because a) slaughterhouses--ick, and b) I heard it was a war story--boring. However, I had also heard that the craft of the writing was worth reading, and despite hating war stories, I did enjoy Catch-22; so, I stayed open to the idea while not actively seeking it out. Circumstances, however, did not put me in possession of a Vonnegut book with ample time to read it, and so I've gone 36 years, eight as a Literature teacher, without reading Vonnegut. Then, I went to Indy.

I went to Indy for a week-long digital writing conference through HWP--Hoosier Writing Project, an organization near and dear to my heart. One of the teacher-consultants leading the workshop volunteers at the Vonnegut Library and gave us a tour. His energy and intensity persuaded me to be more proactive about getting a Vonnegut book into my hands--and head. When I got home from the conference, I kept the idea in the front of my mind; cleaning one day, I noticed that I had (accidentally stolen) a copy of Cat's Cradle from my school's bookroom. Serendipity!

I was entranced with the whimsically harsh plot and irreverent characters. I even snagged a few quotes to go into an American Literature unit I'm working on, including the quote above. The context of this quote is the main character being asked to go somewhere out of the ordinary, and his hesitation to go, clearly juxtaposed in this quote with a religion he adapts later in the book. Complicated, but insightful. And so true of many things. If one is open to the peculiar and doesn't fight to stay on a particular path, there is a sense of omnipotent interconnection in the world.

So, what does this have to do with YouTube? Well, if you replace "travel suggestions" with "hyperlinks," I think you can see the connection. Serendipity plays a huge role in surfing the net and sometimes, it just feels like dancing through knowledge. In an online product demo, the sales rep asked me to find a YouTube video to demonstrate a product feature. I randomly chose a link, and it turned out to lead me--once the sales pitch was over--to a science video site that would work for another idea I was working on. Brilliant! The dance has begun. But it wasn't over there. Numerous content related sites began to pop up as hyperlinks, channels full of usable, high quality resources that I could use. Now I'm dancing! I subscribed to several channels and felt interconnectedness of things. A sales rep pointed me randomly to a website that ended up being exactly what I would need in a conference two weeks from now.

And that is how Vonnegut gives sublime purpose to YouTube--and the internet in general. The interconnectedness of information and "travel suggestions" in the form of hyperlinks make it easy to believe that there is an active force for good guiding us in this information dance. So, next time you berate yourself for spending quality surf time online, remember that the connections may take you to new places, and you've earned the right to dance a bit.

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