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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Don't It Always Seem to Go....

Technology, at its most basic, allows us to move through life with relative ease. For some people, it doesn't move out of cause and effect: you flick a lightswitch and you don't stub your toe. You turn on the radio, move the dial, and suddenly you're immeresed in anything from Chopin to Led Zeppelin. All at your fingertips, all within reach. But technology is so much more to us, whether we choose to accept it or not.

There is a reason why various stages of human eras are named after which technological advances shaped and defined them. The Agrarian Age produced tools and information that allowed humans to settle and begin forming larger groups of people, eventually cities, that demanded laws and an organized hierarchy. This is followed by the Industrial Age, spanning over 250 years and encompassing everything from the harnessing of electricity to the invention of the telephone, radio, and television, thusly shrinking the world to our living rooms. We now find ourselves in the Information Age, or as some have dubbed, the Digital Age, and we walk about with the world in our pocket.

There are several factors involved in living in such an upwardly mobile world. Firstly, information is available to us 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Constant updates for news aggregates like Pulse and Flipboard bombard us with the shape of our world, however we also have the ability to filter it down to only what we want to read about. Secondly, there is the social aspect of mobility, namely, what the hell is happening to us as the world shrinks? It seems as the world gets smaller, the space between us widens. Is this true? Thirdly, as new technology emerges from the folds, offering us supreme convenience, what happens to the old technology?

Massive amounts of information are now available to us instantly. How we choose to imbibe this information, to process and weigh in on it, is entirely up to each individual. But this is the way it always has been. From passenger pigeon to iPad, humans have been able to receive information and make of it what they will. True, we have new devices to receive said information, but it is still delivered via the same interfaces (voice, photos, and videos) as it was since the 30's (and for those of you who are puzzled as to how news was delivered via video during the 30s and before the advent of television, motion pictures often had newsreels that preceded them keeping the cinematic patrons up to speed on all the latest breaking news, plus wacky new dance crazes like the Charelston. I kid, I kid). Essentially, my point is that there are people who push against a more mobile environment armed with the argument that it is simply too much and that human beings aren't capable of separating reputable news sources to....well, the less reputable ones. This is selling humans pretty short! I believe we are savvy enough media consumers to distinguish good from bad, right from wrong, in all it's varied guises.

All is not rosy in the land of technological advances. The consumption of world events, something that humans have done for generations, is one thing. However, the interaction between people using only a digital interface is another kettle of fish altogether. Now I don't want to come off as a curmudgeon, some old man on a porch yelling Get off my lawn! at passing kids, but I just don't like social media. Sure, I can admit that there are benefits of it (hey, the prom king from high school has 8 kids and works at Taco Bell on the weekends hahaha) and it gives small businesses an opportunity to get their name out to massive amounts of people for free, drumming up interest with just a few clicks and shares, but the downfalls far outweigh said benefits. Social media sites are beginning to replace genuine human interaction. Becoming friends with someone simply doesn't carry the same weight anymore. Now we click a button, entering into a tacit agreement that each party will browse through photos, peruse various likes and dislikes, passing judgement on tastes in books and movies, and scoffing generally at any unflattering information they stumble upon. And all of this happens without a word exchanged. Yes, it closes gaps, reuniting friends who have lost touch for 30 years, but I just don't buy into it. It has grown into such a grotesque and ugly facsimile of human interaction that it actually disgusts me.

Is there any more powerful drug than nostalgia? Unfortunately, nostalgia is different things to different people, meaning I'm stuck with The Goonies, ALF, Hypercolor t-shirts, and MS-DOS. Sigh. But nostalgia for technology, or what technology may eventually replace, is a particularly potent drug. People are understandably reluctant to give up books and albums in favor of digital media. I get it. I really do, especially the books. I have bookshelves full to the brim. There is a story to every single book I own (ok, not all are interesting, but still) and I covet the books I own, even though I have pared down my collection over the last couple of years. Yes, books are comforting to hold and curl up with in front of a roaring fire with a cup of hot cocoa, thumbing through the yellowing pages, breathing in that used bookstore smell and getting lost in the story. And spinning vinyl, those cracks and pops on all your vintage Django Reinhardt and Otis Redding records. Yeah, sounds great. But time for the truth. When's the last time you lit a roaring fire, made hot chocolate, curled up and read a beautiful leather bound copy of Anna Karenina you picked up at City Lights? Not too recently? Yeah, don't worry. Me neither. I read at the beach. I read in bed. I read on the couch. I only wish I had a kindle when I read books like 2666 (which I also got a papercut on), The Kindly Ones, and Against The Day. All 1000 plus pages. All pains in the ass to haul on the bus, lug in a backpack, or hold above your head as you read in bed. And don't get me started on vinyl nuts who refuse to acknowledge that music exists on any other format (it's also interesting to note that no one ever waxes nostalgic for 8 tracks or cassette tapes). I love having my music with me wherever I go, accessible wherever and whenever I want. Sure, there's no physical presence anymore, but to me that means less waste of CD packaging and materials and less space taken up in my house. Win-win, right? According to some, lord no. These formats are being fetishized beyond all rationality, and therefore people will defend them to death without paying any mind to the other side of the argument. To some I'm a slave to convenience, willing to sacrifice quality and craftsmanship to make life easier. To me, I'm just doing what makes sense. There are new technologies that are supplementing (but not yet replacing, and may never) older ones and I'm taking advantage of them to make my life easier.

"Most people...still cling to what I call the rearview-mirror view of their world. By this I mean to say that because of the invisibility of any environment during the period of its innovation, man is only consciously aware of the environment that has preceded it; in other words, an environment becomes fully visible only when it has been superseded by a new environment; thus we are always one step behind in our view of the world."

-- Marshall McLuhan

Such a wonderful summation of forward momentum undetected by those who are within it. Those who can see ahead of the curve, can recognize a dying technology and start innovating for people before those people even know what they need, they are true visionaries.

I began writing this entry with great focus. It was to be a succinct and quite short, a diatribe against holding back the future. You cant stop what's coming, to quote Cormac McCarthy. But soon I found I was guilty of the very thing I was railing against. I push against social media, arguably the one phenomenon that has the capability to truly change the world, from pure disgust, unwilling to accept it even though it may be useful to me (but probably not). I realize that there are no real black and whites within these changing times. We are all hurtling headlong into the future whether we like it or not. All I ask is that the next time you see someone reading on a kindle, or watching a movie on their iPad, don't scoff. Don't default to superiority due to the fact that you see them as a slave to technology. I don't believe bookstores will be extinct, nor record stores. Video stores, maybe. They deserve to fade out of the landscape once and for all. Libraries will be around well past my expiration date I'm sure. But there will be new, exciting ways to consume media alongside the old ways. But screw you, I'm still not joining Facebook.

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