“It will come up some way if you do this”, said Janei. She laid her hand on Amelio’s shoulder and kissed him, but it left him unmoved, seemingly. Having arrived at the airport, once more she experienced that same feeling. “How strange it is,” she thought, “that as soon as you abandon someone without really knowing why, and without really knowing whether you’ll see him again, this particular feeling of unease surfaces.” And she knew this time would go exactly like all other times, yet also a little different.
She grabbed his hand, as always, and took him in her arms. Suddenly that urge to say something; something about what he meant to her and how awful it felt now and how they should keep their chins up. But Amelio was ahead of her.
“Janei, let’s keep this simple. We know we love each other but so many people do.” he said.
Why was it that she had no clue what he was talking about? “How little people know about each other,” she thought out of the blue. In her head the 321st version of the film about her life was being showcased, this time about couples that for a very long time don’t really live but just together and then suddenly are confronted with ‘real’ knowledge of each other. All ‘other’ knowledge suddenly seems worthless or perhaps meaningless, even though one surely has lived through all that time. But consciously so?
She began to wonder at what moment in time ahead of this moment she could have foreseen the awkward confrontation. If she had seen this coming, she may have told herself that the confrontation would itself be meaningless. “No,” she knew, “that would be impossible. What was not there, cannot exist for the unconscious. And we are all unconscious.” 31 years on this giant ball had at least assured her of that much. No wonder why she always had many thoughts at such moments.
Suddenly Henry continued his story as though he never had planned to stop. But in fact, Janei knew, he had been waiting for her response, only to proceed with the same story in case she had no response. Not that he was so calculated, he could simply sense when it was wise to use words again, regardless of how meaningless they were. He would find something to say in any nasty situation. “Yes,” she thought, “he is also just human.” And she wouldn’t listen to his words. And he knew it.
Three weeks later they would meet again. Though she couldn’t listen, she knew the answer to their relationship: there was no answer. She would go back home after two years and conduct her long-awaited autoethnographic media research. Then she would think more about this.
The next day, upon arrival at Schiphol airport her family and best friend Bormaus welcomed her to her home country. The conversations they had over coffee at the airport was, perhaps unsurprisingly, for the greater part devoted to new or social media (Facebook) and developments in television programming in the Netherlands. Henry, one of her family members, was both entertained and supercilious about Pow News, a sensation-seeking low quality news source that currently enjoys considerable popularity. A visit to their website, Janei later discovered, was a guaranteed good laugh because of the responses countless people have on incoming news items. A woman was “tortured” after helping a sick girl in the street. ‘shameless’ asked why there was no mention of the offender taking off on a scooter.
Another item they discussed was the mayor of Amsterdam visiting a daycare after discrediting reports about an employee throwing suspicious bed parties with toddlers; the daycare director supposedly tolerated the parties. Bormaus worked at a daycare in Amsterdam and had earlier sent her an article about the position of male daycare employees being under attack due to news items such as these. There was a big debate going on in the country about the issue of ‘safe’ daycare centers. Bormaus had written in an article that the daycare branch is in need of some serious pedagogical professionalization in order to prevent worrying parents from aiming to ensure gruesome punishment for the perpetrators of such misdeeds.
Later that same day in a dinner table conversation Henry told them about a gathering for volunteers in a relief organization’s third world clothing store. This sparked a critical reflection on whether non-profits as new-time missionaries should not focus more on getting old knowledge back to their respective countries instead of just aiming to maximize material prosperity in poor people’s lives.
The conversation then got to the question of religion, or what the Word of God – the Bible – was meant for, and Janei remembered mentioning that asking this question may be more important than answering it. However, it took effort to reach that question since most of the time we are alive was just spent talking about trivial stuff. Janei mentioned the concept of ‘search engines’ as major factor leading us away from asking this and similar questions, because they make it obvious that the questions we ask ourselves in trivial moments become much more complex once the infinite amount of potential questions is realized.
Every situation we find ourselves in, whether it is 4pm afternoons or 11pm before bedtime is now typically one in which we don’t – like we used to – ask whether to do this or that, but initially one of reducing complexity by going for one option now, and dealing with ‘the rest’ later. She was convinced of at least a potential shift in that direction in society. But she had no proof, yet.
Complexities to Janei were the myth of our times since we always have only two choices. In the case of complexity it is whether to go and do this one thing ‘in the meantime’ or to lose oneself completely. Hence the attention for the alleged loss of identity in our times: people seem to have a choice to lose their identity. Some choose to lose it, some choose to protect the self they have. But to Janei, neither way was fulfilling until one realizes that choosing complexity is not really an option but just a myth, a nothing that builds the other option. Neither way leads to losing our identity; we never had it in the first place.
We are out of dwelling time (German: Verweilzeit), she thought later that night, we don’t sit on a chair doing ‘nothing’, we don’t observe a cat falling asleep, as she did right now, thinking thoughts like ‘as creatures grow older they use their senses more while they dream’. People wonder less, they have less eye for the wondrous. But her thoughts would soon turn out hubris. Flying across oceans sometimes seemed to have that effect on Janei.
Janei had returned for three weeks and planned to take recordings of her socalled ethnic environment – the environment she was brought up in and had been familiar with for more than 18 years. The encounter with her family and friends was heart-warming and above all inspired her to write the story of her ethnic identity in a not-too-hubris kind of way, finding many linkages with and hints at how people live their mediated lives.