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Magazines > Searcher > November 2005
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Vol. 13 No. 10 — Nov 2005
SEARCHER'S VOICE
Number 11 Is Missing
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine

I was a quiet, well-behaved, even decorous child and, sad to say, this pitiable condition persisted even into adolescence. But one magic day, one unforgettable, glowing epiphany of a day, I fell into bad company — thank heaven! — and played hooky. It was so long ago that I’m sure the statute of limitations has elapsed. For some still incomprehensible reason, my two companions and I decided to enjoy the thrills of truancy at a world-renowned local landmark: Forest Lawn Mortuary in Glendale, Calif. (“Why there?” you ask. Why indeed! Perhaps we thought we could avoid pursuit there.) Actually, Forest Lawn, when you have the leisure — and the good health — to tour it, offers a panoply of monuments and mazes and semi-artistic displays, a veritable Disneyland of the Dead.

In any case, in the course of our perambulations, we three juvenile delinquents ended up in “The Court of Freedom,” designed to appeal to those who prefer patriotism to religion or art as a theme for their final resting place. The monuments in this section of the cemetery include a giant mosaic reproduction of the famous painting, “The Signing of the Declaration of Independence.” In front of the mosaic is a small stand with a stone plaque providing an outline sketch of the painting with numbers inserted in the outlined figures for each of the Signers and a corresponding list of the names and colonies/states each Signer represented. (If you don’t believe me, just go to http://www.forestlawn.com/visitors_guide/
memorial_parks/glendale/courtfreedom.asp
.)

Well, we three wild and crazy truants went through that list, Signer by Signer, at least twice and — you guessed it— Number 11 was missing. Where his head and shoulders should have appeared, there was just a mosaic portrait of a blank wall. (It’s been 4 decades or more since I’ve been to Forest Lawn, but I have a vague recollection that Number 11 might have come from New Jersey.)

From that time forward, whenever members of our mini-gang would meet in our high school corridors or call each other on the phone or transmit a covert note, our secret code had the initiator of the contact murmur in low and furtive tones, “Number 11,” to which the other would reply in equally covert fashion (unless giggling broke out), “Is Missing.” The day before we graduated high school, we returned to Forest Lawn (don’t worry, this trip was legal). We found the administrative offices, asked to speak to someone in charge, and reported Number 11’s omission. Somehow, this act felt like a rite of passage. After all, as high school graduates, we had joined the adult world and become responsible for its errors and omissions. Somehow, though, I never felt that the bemused official with whom we spoke had an equivalent sense of his adult obligations. Suffice it to say that I still seriously doubt that our departure was followed by his ordering a tall ladder and a bucket of Venetian glass tiles for a little night work.

So what does all this have to do with the interests and insights of Searcher magazine readers? Hang in there! It’s coming. Recently I opened my e-mail in box and saw a name I hadn’t seen or heard in decades (alright 4!) and next to it, on the message title line, the words “Number 11 is missing.” Out of the mists of time, through the wonders of online, the companion of my youth had found me after all these years. She wasn’t sure it was me, but gave the name of our high school and repeated the code words. When I called her and our conversation dropped to something below the rate of rapid-fire automatic weapons, I asked her how she had found me. Somehow, it was no surprise when the answer was Google. Not that she had been looking for me, but in scanning Google News, she noticed a NewsBreak of interest and, when she read my name, figured she’d take a chance.

Ain’t online grand?! Every time I hear someone slam computers or the Internet as cold or impersonal or isolating or even dehumanizing, I rise to battle. E-mail alone invalidates that argument. Through all the spam and the phishing and the needless repetitions, e-mail connects people to people wonderfully. It’s no substitute for personal encounters, but then personal encounters are no substitute for e-mail. How many times have you chosen e-mail deliberately for the way it can connect you with someone that a phone call or a lunch meeting could not? How many people do you now feel you know whom you may have never seen (except possibly in digital graphics), but have communicated with through listservs or forums or chat rooms? And often you may know more about the thoughts and principles and attitudes toward life of these digital friends than you do with people you meet regularly.

The other day a colleague and I had a small phone spat, the sort of thing that could have rankled and taken a couple of weeks to heal. But within the hour I had gotten an e-mail message that apologized and explained how a bad mood had turned into a bad Monday. A call conveying that kind of apology would have been hard to do. Mutual resentments and hypersensitive temperaments would have made reconciliation difficult if conducted “live,” but an e-mail gives the sender a chance to compose their thoughts and the recipient a chance to ponder, remember their own shortcomings, and wait a while before wording a reply.

These days the humanity of online has become almost commercialized in social networking systems and services designed to bring people together, to find and share expertise, to build collaborative networks that may include people who have never met. But then it’s hard to say that people who have come together via computer have “never met.” Even adding the words “in person” seems inaccurate. What is a person? Aren’t an individual’s thoughts and interests and words as real as the sight of their face or the touch of their hand? If Shakespeare were alive today, I wonder if he would agree, citing his own words, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”?

Then again, he’d probably e-mail it.

To be absolutely fair, sometimes one has to worry whether the digital world may get a touch too touchy-feely. An article by Timothy McNulty in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described a potential new service called “roadcasting.” You’re driving down the freeway — OK, you’re stalled in traffic — and you notice someone in the other car tapping their fingers to a tune. Wonder what they’re listening to? Start up your Roadcaster and, if the guy in the other car has one, you could tune into the playlists on their digital music player through wireless technology in the car. Sounds kind of pushy, doesn’t it? On the other hand, it only works if people agree to post their playlists, something users already do by the hundreds of thousands.

Generosity, making new friends, reaching out to strangers, making a better world ... online at work.

bq


Barbara Quint's e-mail address is bquint@mindspring.com.
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