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Through Lattice Windows: What Will Become Of Humour?

"I wonder if humour can be sustained in a world that is so quickly changing; where so much depends on a stable connection; where people are so often out of synch. The more disconnected we are, the more difficult it becomes to share a joke,'' writes columnist Leanne Hunt.

What Will Become Of HumourSkype has just entered my world. My brother-in-law and his family have emigrated to the eastern mining region of Australia and Sunday morning saw us holding our first conversation over the internet. However, Sunday morning is a busy time on Skype, and this wasn't helped by the fact that our own internet line was behaving temperamentally.

My niece tried relating a funny story about someone whom she had met at work. At the pivotal point of the story, the sound quality began to deteriorate. Just as she dissolved into stitches, about to deliver her juicy punchline, her words disappeared. My daughter, who was engaging with her at the time, paused until the signal returned then asked in a bewildered tone, "Pardon?"

We have been having trouble with our connection to the server for a month now. Despite having changed service providers, the link still isn't stable. The data transmission kept going down as we talked, and as a result, my brother-in-law's family could hear us but we couldn't hear them. My husband's reaction was to bemoan the inadequacy of our local infrastructure, where the existing system simply cannot cope with the amount of information being transmitted through it. I, on the other hand, had a completely different reaction.

I mourned the loss of easy communication and the inevitable effect it would have on our family interaction in the future.

I was imagining my niece's frustration. She had related her amusing anecdote in expectation of a burst of appreciative laughter, but had instead only elicited blankness. I could foresee her resolving to avoid venturing into the same territory again, lest the experience of meeting with no reaction was repeated.

Then again, that's me. I am particularly sensitive to failed connections. All my life, I have been at the mercy of sudden, inexplicable interruptions to conversations. I will launch into a story addressed to someone across the dinner table, only to find that they have switched their attention elsewhere and have not even been looking at me as I have been speaking.

In addition to a stable connection, timing is crucial to humour. My experience at a recent comedy night in Johannesburg bore this out. The comedians - New Yorkers who used profanities as liberally as we use hand gestures - set out to shock the audience with gutter talk. They also demanded individual audience member participation, calling on people to answer the most vulgar questions some of them had ever heard. Several were so offended that they refused to reply or even laugh at the jokes.

This was because a good proportion of them were guests at office parties, out for an end-of-year celebration - not what the comedians had been expecting at all. In the end, they retreated to much tamer material and went out acknowledging that, perhaps, they had assumed a little too much in regard to what a week-night audience would appreciate.

I wonder if humour can be sustained in a world that is so quickly changing; where so much depends on a stable connection; where people are so often out of synch. The more disconnected we are, the more difficult it becomes to share a joke. But perhaps becoming disconnected is just the necessary transition to getting connected in a new way?

Perhaps, if we are willing to temporarily relinquish humour and communicate with serious deliberation for a while, we will eventually find that elusive kind of timing that does not rely on eye contact or an uninterrupted internet signal or a completely up-to-date theatre audience. Maybe one day, when we all plug into a higher consciousness where time ceases to be linear and is more open and elastic, we will totally reinvent what makes us laugh.

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Do visit Leanne's lively Web site http://diamondpanes.blogspot.com/

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