Life as an Extreme Sport

The Genealogy of Pinball Effects

Last night, I looked around my recently de-clothed living room, at books scattered here and there, stacked and toppled, mixed within camera and art supplies, and thought “ananda help me, I don’t want to read any of this!” I wandered between bookshelves (and yes, although I live in a studio apartment, I currently have three standing bookshelves, and two that mimic built-ins, thanks to Kevin’s help) looking for something to read, briefly considered going back to reading about the history of collecting and museums, and finally my eyes landed on James Burke’s The Pinball Effect. The perfect mix of academic and popular writing to curl up with before sleep, tempered with fond memories of a television show I’d rearrange my schedule to watchBurke’s show “Connections”, which ran through several iterations on the BBC, and was brought over here by the Discovery Channel in the mid 1990s.

I opened the book, and having read pieces before, skipped the directionsYes, the book has directions – it’s sort of a hard copy of internet linking, with the ability to follow multiple stories by skipping around the book and paragraphs. It’s very cool, and very difficult to explain without showing you. Just imagine the internet on paper, and ignore the headache that creates. and skimmed the introduction…

We all live on the great, dynamic web of change. It links us to one another and, in some ways, to everything in the past. And in the way that each of us influences the course of events, it also links us to the future we are all busy making, every second. No matter how remote all these links may seem, over space and time, they are real. No person acts without causing change on the web. Each one of us has an effect, somewhere, somewhen. Everybody contributes to the process. In some way, anything we do makes history, because we are history. The web is the expression of our existence, and of all those who went before us, and all who will come after us.Burke, James. The Pinball Effect. Back Bay Books, 1996; pp 3

This is Foucault, NietzscheWhose I can now spell without having to look up, something that I’m not sure is good, or depressing., genealogy. No beginning, no ending; stories stretch into the past, into the future, and they don’t do so in neat, straight lines, but instead more of a giant spaghetti mess of intertwining. Maybe this is not getting away from academia as much as I’d like – skip the intro and run to chapter one.

It doesn’t matter where you begin a journey on the great web of change. There is no right place, and no event too humdrum to start from, because one of the fascinating things about the web is the way effects ripple across it. Any action, anywhere, can trigger a chain of events that crosses space and time, to end (perhaps) clear across the world. anything that happens on the web makes waves.Burke, James. The Pinball Effect. Back Bay Books, 1996; pp 7

…he’s talking about resonance. The web is the environment, the world, everything that we sense, and the effects rippling, that’s a prodding of the autopoietic system resonating out and in, affecting and changing the systems within the system.

On the one hand, this makes sense. I’ve loved Burke since being exposed to his television shows, I’m slowly collecting the books as I find them used. It’s a style of thinking I gravitate to and can appreciate, and it brings me great joy to see just how renaissance water gardens made the carburetor possible, and to know how bubblegum led to the flak jacket (just to name two examples of trails genealogies he’s led us through). And it’s not like this is a new thought, that this is what his books and shows do. I’ve brought this in to class before as an example of a genealogy that’s accessible, easy to understand, and I’m sure I will again.

On the other hand, it’s almost disappointing to not even be able to sit and read something “for fun” without the academic brain kicking in. I want to ask if I’m cursed, will I ever be able to simply enjoy something for what it is, without analysing? Will I ever be able to sit down with a book and see it just as a book, something to escape with and enjoy for a few hours, or will I endlessly be thinking about how I can apply it in a teaching scenario, what it illustrates, how to utilize it for a class?

And the gripping hand points out that this connection, this seeing and feeling of the web, that is what energizes me, what I love, dare I say what I live for. To see the almost visible connections between science and fiction, affect and music, people. And it’s what I’ve been missing lately, those a-ha moments of connection and visibility.