I just discovered McLuhan. That, and read a Tom Wolfe essay about him, written in 1965.
Tom Wolfe would receive at most a C for his essay, and I would get worse if I were tested on it.
McLuhan is the man who said that TV, and the phone, and electronics are not simply tools that man chooses to manipulate, to use for good or for bad, to be subject to or not. No. They change man. Change the way he perceives the world. He spoke about moving from a visual to an aural filter. Visual meant organized, cubicles, bureaucracy, and that was the legacy of print. Auditory is tribal, sensual. Not sure why auditory requires more interaction, why he equates auditory with tactile, and visual with standing outside.
I’ll need to read his book “Understanding Media”, to judge it further – and how it relates to today, and the internet. I’m repelled a little by the smell of haughty academia, where wisdom is trapped in the hundreds of sub-sub-categories of specialized studies. Or, I’m simply lazy.
I’ve always claimed that the internet, and other 2oth century technologies tools; that there are fundamental human traits that don’t and won’t change. That there are truths. That’s at the core of it- the question of will it change what we are, or even as we evolve, is there some anchoring definition to what we are.
The awesomeness of internet phenomenon challenges that cherished belief of mine that there are truths – makes me wonder if we aren’t being swept by a tsunami history into a different future. It’s always there, the thrill of being part of the ride, and the awe of its power that makes people suddenly recall the romanticism of cows.
My Twitter feed goes something like this:
Israel is a monster. The anti #bde law is anti democratic. (righteous indignation)
I feel like my mind’s been shattered. 8 Year old #BPboy found dismembered. (raw emotion)
How to add your Facebook friends to Google Plus http://jkl3.jk (immediate, dynamic)
Can’t wait to watch the #worldcup (mundane, human)
And then it keeps going –
Listen to me – We must stop evil!
Listen to me – I’m in so much pain.
Listen to me – You must keep up!
Listen to me – I’m just an ordinary person chatting about stuff.
And then it keeps going –
While I’m here at my desk, with a press release to write, PPC keywords to research and input, emails to follow up on.
And it keeps going.
One after another, snippets of conversations slide onto my screen. So many conversations. So much ego, and investment, and parallel lines, and words that seem to go out into the world, but never get found.
In the toddler play area at Ceaserland there is an oversized red funnel, with an ominous looking black hole at the center. You drop a penny into the side of the bowl and it rolls around in a great lazy circle, then goes around again, and one more time, spiraling faster and faster, until it disappears into the waiting black yawn.
The image of the spiraling penny comes to mind when I read a tech article about an exciting new technology that can recommend books, or music, or friends, or places to visit based on information you’ve input previously. Twitter’s ‘Who to follow’, Facebook ads, Pandora’s algorithm. You’ve read that so you might want to read this. You ‘liked’ this article so you’re probably interested in skiing and therefore want to buy a ski board.
The architects of these technologies claim they are expanding worlds, ushering people towards doors they might never have noticed otherwise. Kind of them, I concede, but then I see the penny and the way its world keeps shrinking as it moves around the red mouth.
Imagine: You are sixteen and your entire life is governed by online interaction. You read books online, you play sports on a Wii, you eat at places recommended by Yelp, and listen to music liked by your friends on Facebook. At sixteen you like The Black Eyed Peas. At seventeen you like bands that were recommended to you because you liked the Black Eyed Peas. At eighteen you like bands that were recommended to you because you checked in at a concert of a band that was suggested to you because you liked the Black Eyed Peas. At nineteen you like a band… When you’re fifty, you’re still listening to music because at sixteen your friend liked the Black Eyed Peas.
More ominously, all the links in the Black Eyed Peas’ evolution that had been so kindly suggested to you were not the product of survival of the best, but intelligently designed by the best minds in marketing. At fifty, you’re listening to music that a genius marketing intern decreed you would thirty years earlier.
The real world also has a way of getting bigger and smaller at the same time. Smaller as you mature and realize your own limitations; bigger as you realize that the world that you do have is endlessly full of new discoveries. In the digital world, unless you feed it more information from its analog counterpart, your world will keep getting smaller.
Unless the bottom of the big red funnel at Ceaserland is really a wormhole. And my penny is out there in an alternate universe.