I’m Still Mad at Matt Damon: Wondering, Authenticity, and the Internet

I’m still pretty mad about the way Matt Damon treated Minnie Driver in Good Will Hunting. My wife was down at the family farm with the kids and I was home by myself. So I watched it this past weekend. Don’t tell my wife but I kinda have a crush on Minnie Driver in that movie. Did have a crush. Well, do. So I’m mad at Matt Damon.

A couple of hours previous to watching this movie for at least the third time, I signed off of facebook and Twitter for an indefinite period. I wanted a little time away. And this decision was with me constantly while I was watching the film because the temptation to tweet the great lines were legion. And then I noticed something in the film I had not noticed before.

The scene that draws everyone in to the story is the chalkboard scene. When Will does the problem on the chalkboard out in the hall of the math building, it is obvious someone of genius does it, though at first no one knows who it is. There are no thoughts of a student faking it by using the internet. Why? It was 1997. So, we are talking pre-wikipedia or anything of the sort. Sure, there were internet sites in 1997 but they had blue backgrounds with yellow and red writing.

Today most people would just assume whoever solved the problem got help from the internet. The plethora of information would have rendered us more than a little cynical about the beauty of someone like Will’s genius. We would simply assume his information was borrowed and not really his own. And we would do this because so much of our information is.

We either know too much or we know too little. Maybe both. But while the math professor knew that there was someone who could authentically prove the theorem, we now wonder at the possibility of authenticity at all. The prodigious abilities of Will Hunting stood in stark relief to the meager resources at his disposal, proving his authenticity. I wonder if we have the opposite problem. I wonder if we have resources so very instantly at our fingertips…in our pockets, abilities are no longer really needed and the wonder of greatness is never really seen.

We have no need any longer to sit and wonder. There are no long drives to the library to see if they have a book that might help us think through issues in a particular discipline of study.  There is no scanning of the shelves while the quiet of the room full of books begs us to continue on our quest for an answer. And once we find that book, there are no time periods of looking for the information, possibly writing it down and taking it in as we do. Now we hit ‘enter’ and we ‘cut and paste’ and think we have done something.

We have more information but we do not know it.

Admittedly, I actually got nostalgic for that once upon a time when the internet did not dominate our life. It was a moment. An “aorist” kind of moment. The kind of moment with continuing effects stretching into and doing violence to other moments, changing them. I thought for a moment about how my kids will never know a time without the internet and therefore never really understand what it is. I argued with myself for a moment. And all my arguments for the net’s necessity rung hollow across the landscape of history. The tinny arguments could only reach back to a period not long ago, say….around 1997.

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