In 2008 I wrote a blog about the feeling of being marginalized by the things I do, such as polymer physics, free-jazz and experimental theatre and poetry. I wasn’t so much feeling sorry for myself, but rather just confused by how humans can be so alike, yet have such a broad dispersion of interests. Since I wrote this I am starting to see that marginalization is being moved from its long history of being outside of the box of societal norms, into a new type of box, where the most bizarre, funny, brilliant and creative people go. This box is not full of financial rewards. It is instead a place of self esteem, minor recognition and community. It is easiest to see this when looking at the connectivity made possible through social networks. Clay Shirky in his new book “Cognitive Surplus” provides dozens of examples of groups who have found homes on Facebook, Nings, and fan sites. Through this he says that whether you are interested in macramé or sci-fi comic books, you will have a group of likeminded friends to virtually share with. Even Jaron Lanier, who is critical of Web 2.0 style mob mentality networking, is a part of a rare instruments forum, where he can share his own music and collections with others who respect this music like he does. Shirky and Lanier, like bloggers and traditional journalists, differ about how far this should and does go. Shirky feels strongly, and quotes academic studies, that show that people are perfectly willing to do things they care about without financial reward. If we replace the time we spend watching TV, with time spent on our hobbies, there is no financial loss, just self esteem gain. Lanier is not convinced that taking professionalism out of all media and creation in general is a good idea, as it lowers the overall quality, and gives wealth to those who are not doing the creating, such as large corporations and advertisers. Both make strong points, and this is an internal argument I will continue to have.
What interests me even more, is the underlying psychology with finding deeper meaning in things that society has generally considered fringe behavior. This may very well be internet enabled but it is not strictly an internet phenomena. My wife and I saw and intriguing Argentinean film yesterday called “Puzzle”. The premise of the movie is extremely simple. A 50 year old woman, who has taken care of her husband and late teenage sons, receives a jigsaw puzzle for her birthday. Not being able to sleep she tries the puzzle, and realizes how fulfilling it is to do puzzles. She then searches for puzzles, and finds a wealthy puzzle master who teaches her how to be a competitive jig saw puzzle player. I won’t give away the rest, but there really isn’t much more to it, yet this film is strangely moving, and speaks to the contemporary sentiment of self realization through formally marginalized activities.
A margin on a page in general a small portion of a page. Maybe though margins in society are not margins at all. Maybe they actually are the whole page. Perhaps I am not so odd in the activities I like, or maybe I am common because everyone has odd activities that appeal to them? I hope that this continues to lead to self empowerment for everyone, and if I am lucky others will be join me in my passion for polymer physics, and free-jazz!