Brave New World

Comedy Monster Jim Gaffigan made an interesting distinction that illuminates a lot about our current social crisis. He differentiated between being old and being like “no cellphone in high school” old. I am both, as anyone born before about 1990 is. To prior generations, the idea of having a super computer in your pocket, capable of Flash Gordon-style video conferences, was something out of 1950s science fiction, yet there it is, in my shirt pocket as I type.

Has the smart phone changed the world? You betcha. More than the printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio and television changed the world? You betcha, since it makes irreversible changes instantly, simultaneously, in real time, constantly tweaked and updated for billions of us puny earthlings.

The technology of smart phones has released limitless wealth for many smart business people, many of them now powerful, influential billionaires, their fortunes derived from selling targeted ad demographics based on what they learn about the preferences and personal habits of actual individuals.

Printers made a lot of money selling new printed books, and some newspaper owners got very rich, the latter from ad dollars as much as from people buying newspapers. Telegraph and telephone magnates surely got rich. Radio, a populist game changer, was another gold mine. TV made many people very rich, also based on massive ad dollars spent on this powerfully influential new entertainment technology that instantly reached millions. But none of these was on the scale of these current day billionaires who get rich by monetizing the private needs, wants and weaknesses of billions of people using the internet and the smart phone.

How the technology, carried around in a pocket by billions of us, changes the way we interact is what I am thinking of. There is little chance for real nuance in a text, LOL! The loss of this nuance, to me, is a big deal. I spent years making myself a better writer, learning to choose and rearrange my words carefully. I’ve spent a lot of time making my writing a clear and accurate expression of my thoughts, feelings and observations. It is a certain kind of satisfying work, though unappealing work to many, sitting over something you’re writing and methodically revising it to make it clearer and clearer.

An average writer sending an informational or opinionated text dashes off some words, and an acronym or two, with every expectation of being understood. ROTFLMAO is one you used to see, instead of hearing the sound of your friend laughing, watching her rolling on the floor, you know, her ass literally falling off she’s laughing so hard.

Facial expressions, eye contact, body language, tone of voice, irony — all impossible to discern in any but the most skilled text message. The world of interpersonal communication, the world itself, has radically changed, in less than twenty years.

I know, I’m an old fart and there is probably not even a point to registering the things I am trying to express now. It is surely the kind of nuance that we’ve lost that makes no difference at all to anyone raised without it.

Why quibble about a thumbs up being the same as saying “I like the way you phrased that, very sly” with a wink, a pat or an eye roll? Thumbs up! Like. Nothing ambiguous about it, I thought it was cool.

I text and email my friends all the time, sometimes it’s the only contact we have outside of seeing each other at long intervals (now that we have this endless Democrat [sic] plague upon us, a new Trump-resistant variant of the original “Kung Flu”) but to me, even without the eye contact, body language, facial expressions, talking to them on the phone is almost always preferable to the linear process of sending notes back and forth.

In third grade we passed notes, written on slips of paper, to people we wanted to talk to. During lunch break we got to talk. Back in class we passed notes that were not allowed to be passed. We’d be busted for passing notes sometimes, and would have to pretend to be sorry.

Today it seems to be largely passing notes, purely linear back and forths instead of conversations that can turn into discussions where we actually learn something new about somebody or something else. The other regrettable feature is the linear nature of texts, they focus solely on the matter at hand. It strikes me like the difference between googling a source for a term paper, and including a link as a footnote, and reading a book that leads you to other books that give you information you didn’t know was important.

I am old school, I know, a dying breed. I like to listen, I like to talk, I like to bring in divergent topics related to something I hear someone say. I like the idea of learning, shedding light, having it shed for me, gaining what used to be called insights.

Insight is in short supply in a knee jerk world of instant thumbs up or thumbs down. That business is from the Coliseum when the mob indicated if they wanted a vanquished gladiator killed or spared. It is the same today, friend, “unfriend”, have a nice day.

I love a good talk. I understand that conversation is a dying art, in an age when it is so much easier to tap a few keys and wait for a usually instant reply. We are programed to respond to our phones right away. It saves time, yes, but saves it for what? Time with those we care about is really the only real wealth we have.

To me, a conversation can be magic. A text is only a parlor trick that more than a billion people do billions of times a day. We can see what happens to the world when conversation, and the ability to discuss nuance, and problems that are complex, is flattened into a yes/no computer process that ends in a thumbs up or a thumbs down. LOL!

Rolling on the floor laughing…hey, wait! Where the hell’s my ass??!!!

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