Microserfs

Did you hear about the Japanese college student? He thought he could save money by eating nothing but ramen, but he died of malnourishment before he ever graduated. Maybe this is an urban legend. But it’s a good story for looking at ascetic sorts of things.

Malachi Ritscher was a jazz critic for a Chicago newspaper. He married at 17 and was divorced by the time he turned 27. He ran a website called SavageSound.com which posted information on shows in the Chicago area. During his lifetime he made over 2000 recordings of performances, most of these of high quality and a few commercially released. He didn’t ask for money. When newspapers asked him if they could do an interview to run a story on him, he always declined. He didn’t want the publicity. As he said it, he was just a fan. The last half of his life, he lived alone. He knew pi to 1101th decimal place. He had a sharp sense of humour. He had many acquaintances, but few friends. Last week he stepped into traffic and lit himself on fire. He was 52.

There’s traditionally two reasons people commit suicide. The first is that they feel disconnected from the rest of society. Usually this feeling has something to do with disenfranchisement as well. The second is that they are so involved that they lose a sense of self. It’s obvious which reason was Malachi’s. But it’s worth noting, too, I think, how active he tried to be. Besides everything he did with music, he was a member of numerous unions, Mensa and the Chicago protest community. But nothing worked out for him, and he twisted himself into believing certain terrible things.

Ten years ago, Abe’s a little ahead of his time. He wonders if, in the future, everyone will be like him. Living in a little room, needing only a couple hours of “facetime” a day. A sort of human program sending his most personal thoughts in e-mails to people hundreds of kilometres away. He believes it is sustainable. Dan doesn’t think so, and tells him about the university student and the ramen.

I’ve got nothing against the internet. I think it’s really great. But you can’t deny that it tricks you into believing certain things, that it provides you with information when you think you’re getting action. It’s hard to recognise empty sometimes when you fill it with a cascade of screaming sounds, 1’s and 0’s. By the time you figure it out, it might be too late.

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