david kestenbaum’s “how iMet my neighbor on iTunes”

Yesterday on NPR, David Kestenbaum had this fine piece of writing about discovering someone else’s iTunes music folder on his desktop. The piece runs like a mystery story as Kestenbaum figures out that the “Anna,” whose folder “Anna’s Music” now resides on his desktop, must be using Kestenbaum’s wireless service; Kestenbaum’s wife has recently taken down the firewall. On realizing that this Anna must reside in the neighborhood, Kestenbaum decides to email her using an address he finds on one of her downloaded songs. He makes a leap — the kind of leap we all want to make when we’re looking for connection and community — he mentions that he and his wife would like to invite Anna over to dinner.

What a blessedly human thing to do — connect. Through music, food, talk. We need government-financed chunks of the day, every day, to do just that. Imagine. If we all had the time, all took the time, to make a meal together every day (or once a week), to sit and talk, to commune. Ah, yes. That’s what communes do.

At any rate, I hate that I knew the email was a bad idea. If I had gotten an email saying, “Hey, we like the same music. Come on over and have dinner with me and the wife!” — I probably would have thought it was spam and dumped it. Or I would have freaked out. Being female in 21st-century U.S.A just means being hyper alert for the next piece of violence, and Kestenbaum tried to circumvent this state of fear by saying he was NOT a stalker. Ah, well.

Kestenbaum’s wife finds out there’s an “Anna” in their building and David reaches out again, after he hasn’t received a response to his email. Sharing music tastes with Anna compels him to hope that there’s a friendship waiting to be built, and David goes to Anna’s door, knocks — and they talk. We hear their voices on the radio, so David had to set up the interview, talk. But his piece ends by saying that they retreated back to their caves, as he called their homes.

An opportunity missed — it’s a sweet, bittersweet piece — and Kestenbaum’s delivery on the radio is a little quirky, as if he’s just talking to us and not reading from a piece of writing he’s polished. The piece reveals as much about how we live as it does about cyberculture — our yearning to connect, our ignorance of those who live just meters away.

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