Trivial Should Be Enough

Cory Doc­torow, in remark­ing on YouTube reach­ing the aston­ish­ing rate of 1 hour of video uploaded per sec­ond, shares this excerpt from a forth­com­ing book.  I thought it was really great:

A com­mon tac­tic in dis­cus­sions about the Inter­net as a free speech medium is to dis­count Inter­net dis­course as inher­ently triv­ial. Who cares about cute pic­tures of kit­tens, inar­tic­u­late YouTube trolling, and blog posts about what you had for lunch or what your tod­dler said on the way to day-care? Do we really want to trade all the plea­sure and eco­nomic activ­ity gen­er­ated by the enter­tain­ment indus­try for *that*? The usual rebut­tal is to point out all the “wor­thy” ways that we com­mu­ni­cate online: the schol­arly dis­cus­sions, the ter­mi­nally ill com­fort­ing one another, the dis­tance edu­ca­tion that lifts poor and excluded peo­ple out of their lim­ited straits, the dis­si­dents who post videos of secret police mur­der­ing street protesters.

All that stuff is impor­tant, but when it comes to inter­per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tions, triv­ial should be enough.

The rea­son nearly every­thing we put on the Inter­net seems “triv­ial” is because, seen in iso­la­tion, nearly every­thing we say and do is also triv­ial. There is noth­ing of par­tic­u­lar moment in the con­ver­sa­tions I have with my wife over the break­fast table. There is noth­ing earth­shak­ing in the sto­ries I tell my daugh­ter when we walk to day­care in the morn­ing. This does­n’t mean that it’s sane, right, or even pos­si­ble to reg­u­late them.

And yet, taken together, the col­lec­tion of all these “mean­ing­less” inter­ac­tions com­prise nearly the whole of our lives together. They are the invis­i­ble threads that bind us together as a fam­ily. When I am away from my fam­ily, it’s this that I miss. Our social inter­course is built on sub­text as much as it is on text. When you ask your wife how she slept last night, you aren’t really inter­ested in her sleep. You’re inter­ested in her know­ing that you care about her. When you ask after a friend’s kids, you don’t care about their potty-train­ing progress — you and your friend are rein­forc­ing your bond of mutual care.

If that’s not enough rea­son to defend the triv­ial, con­sider this: the momen­tous only arises from the triv­ial. When we rally around a friend with can­cer, or cel­e­brate the extra­or­di­nary achieve­ments of a friend who does well, or com­mis­er­ate over the death of a loved one, we do so only because we have an under­ly­ing layer of triv­ial inter­ac­tion that makes it mean­ing­ful. Wed­dings are a big deal, but every wed­ding is pre­ceded by a long period of small, indi­vid­u­ally unim­por­tant inter­ac­tions, and is also fol­lowed by them. But with­out these “unim­por­tant” moments, there would be no marriages.

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