Thursday, February 14, 2008

I know where I am. Now what?

On Monday afternoon I was exhausted and very nearly brain-dead after a stressful weekend. I left work early so that I would be sure to be on time for my volunteer interview at the Newark branch of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America. At Hoboken I got on what I thought was the right train. I promptly lost myself in Byzantine nuttiness, and it wasn't until I saw the LCD board at the front of the car announcing that the next stop was SUFFERN that I realized how spectacularly wrong I was. I had gotten on an express train to a small town just over the border in New York State. I fumed. To no avail I tried to go back to the Byzantine intrigue du jour. Then I brought up the map on my iPhone, located myself using the wholly awesome "pseudo-GPS" capability, and found out that I was only about ten miles from Suffern. Surely the train would make it to Suffern in plenty of time for me to catch the 6:07 inbound train - a good thing, too, because the next one wasn't for two hours. Was that good enough for me, you ask? Why, my dear, you do not know me. May I introduce you to my very special friend, M. OCD? Yes, I began compulsively pressing the little locator icon, updating my position on the map as though it had some talismanic power to draw the train to its destination one femtosecond sooner.

Yes, I know where I am. Whether I do anything useful - or whether I can do anything useful - with the information erupting in thick, chewy boluses from the ever more ubiquitous data spigots is another question entirely. Is it possible that I hear echoes? Was there a moderately successful German merchant in 1507 who, after mounting the new Waldseemüller world map on his wall, stepped back and experienced a frisson of angst over whether he would ever actually need to know that North America was distinct from Asia?

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