Thoughts on going virtual: I'll be at the Clyde

There’s been a lot of press lately [1993] about the Information Highway, about how we’re all going to be able to summon the world onto home computer screens—you’ll be able to pull in any movie you want, any news, any book, any work of art. You’ll be able to shop any store in the country. And never leave your home. Wow.

Does this sound great or lousy to you? I suspect that your opinion may be directly tied to what your days are like. To what you actually do and see and hear and smell and experience, day after day. If that includes a lot of depersonalized and annoying interactions with the world at large, the idea of retreating to a nice quiet one-on-one relationship with a home computer could be really tempting. As a former New Yorker, I get it.

Take movies. I used to love Manhattan’s selection of hundreds of films, but year by year it was more and more of a drag to be a movie buff. Getting across town on time for a showing was hard; the theatre lines were long; the theatre staffs rude; the prices daunting—and more and more of the good theatres were being et by megascreens showing only “major motion pictures.” It was all too depersonalized and annoying.

But maybe what we need to do now is not to retreat from all this public incivility into computerized isolation, but to stand and fight to preserve those public institutions that make life livable. Like, I suggest that every movie lover needs a Clyde.

The Clyde is the only movie in the island community where I now live. It reminds me of a theatre in my old New York neighborhood, a theatre that closed years ago. The Clyde has one screen. Dolby sound. Real popcorn in the lobby. Real neighbors in the seats. The neighbors who own the place choose to show the very films I want to see. They publish a schedule of upcoming films every quarter—everybody on the island has it taped to the refrigerator. If I’m off-island, I will not see a picture that I know is coming to the Clyde—because it will be so much better there.

Sometimes a picture gets to our theatre after the video gets to the grocery store—but people still go to see it at the Clyde. And that says something about this information highway that’s rolling toward our doors. Yes, we could hole up at home and watch the video on our home screens, in our bathrobes, for a little less than a ticket to the Clyde, but we’d rather go to the Clyde. There, it’s hi Dave, how’s the ankle, it’s knowing the out-of-control laugh in the back is your favorite bank teller, it’s seeing that the Parsons kid is there on her own, no longer a pg-thirteener—it’s personal. The Clyde is a civilized institution, a maker of community; anybody or anything that threatened the Clyde would have to reckon with me.

It’s precious because real life is populated with real fellow humans, walking, talking, surprising, intriguing fellow humans. Each of us among them. Out there in the movie houses, in libraries, in the streets, in the flesh. We’re all mixing it up in communities and neighborhoods large and small. It’s risky. It’s annoying. It’s unpredictable. It’s glorious.

So do I want to hole up in my living room, become a node in an electronic pseudo-community, absorbing impersonal, controlled, pre-packaged, binary simulations of real experience? Not on your life. Look for me at the Clyde.

Ann Medlock for KPLU, July 12, 1993

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