Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Across the Universe

A 3-D Environment

Back in the 19th century, when industrialization swept the world and ushered in new ways of communicating and travelling, it must have seemed like an infinite number of doors were opened.

People were eased into a new reality defined by railroad tracks and telephone lines. It took a while for the government to deregulate those monopolies and even longer for people to see the effects of deregulation.

A few years later and it was cars and radio. With automobiles, the assembly line sped everything up, innovations fueled by more cars sold each year, and pollution regulations lagged behind, and still do. The radio received a huge boost when Marconi's little black box was used to sleeplessly deliver the casualty list of the Titanic. At the opposite end of the spectrum H.G. Wells spurred a panic when he broadcast over the radio that the martians had landed in 1938.

Then it was airplanes and television. On the TV, the song "We're Having a Baby, My Baby and Me" became the first instance of censorship over the airwaves, a telling sign that over the past seventy years, our country hasn't become any more comfortable with the human body. In 1954 people watched the World Series in color for the first time on national television, immortalizing a moment forever in which people realized that they could stop using their imaginations and were given the ability to watch the game without paying for a ticket. Did you know that people once gathered in lots with mechanical scoreboards and standup figures of players on the basepaths? Planes are used for war, pilots firing pistols and then machine guns, and then cluster bombs, then peaceful worldwide travel, then war again, only a different kind, with Pan Am 103 and 9/11.

And now we have the internet, telling us immediately when Yassir Arafat is dead. And then alive. And then dead again. It is showing us the live score in our sports games, letting us talk and send music and documents and personal information to anyone and everyone. It allows me to post this message to my small audience. We have bloggers calling journalists out on their sources and internet pundits predicting elections and spreading word of fraud and fradulent words. It's a whole new reality, a whole new depth of immersion, more unimaginably immersed, and unimaginably complex, that follows the pattern that has emerged, everything happening much faster, and with less control than the last innovation that changed our world.

The internet is something like 65% pornography. Plenty of scams abound, modern-day witch doctors selling sugar water as anti-aging tonic. Only now it's Nigerian Princesses and email scams and free iPods. And we've accepted it all as reality. We accept spam as a nuisance, XXX pop-ups as embarrasing, and Microsoft as a necessary evil. Steps have been taken on a legislative level, but we haven't yet begun to realize the power of the internet. Blogs are just the start. Tomorrow you might store data on small discs based on corn byproduct. Your computer might download an automatic update and tell itself to mechanically reconfigure itself in a way that increases your processor speed. You might eventually be able to not just type, but neurally connect to your computer. We could go from communities to individuals to brains. In many ways we already have. Think it's science fiction? In Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game", Peter and Valentine Wiggin are capable of swaying international opinion on their versions of blogs.

The Matrix sequels were bad, but one lasting image that was always suggested was that the members of Zion, without color, without culture and without the desire to innovate beyond a need to survive, were no better than the machines that lived in the Overworld. This is why the last movie was pointless; as an audience, we couldn't "connect" with anyone. Basic human emotions notwithstanding, the Zionists were just colorless, cultureless individuals. The Matrix really should have gone in another direction, in which I would have ended it with everyone plugging themselves back in. Because if you're plugged in, and you write a book or a piece of music that everyone else born afterwards was inspired to listen to, doesn't that book or piece of music become it's own entity outside the machine? Because there is never the suggestion that the Machines regulated everyday life to the extent that art was a distraction, that in other realities there was no art. If we were plugged into the Matrix and I wrote the great American novel, and then my existence changed, wouldn't my great American novel remain behind for those that would connect to the same hub (called USA, Earth) that I was attached to?

None of this is bad. Technology has always been neutral, serving the purposes of the greedy and the altruistic alike. Fire can light the way and it can burn things down. Still can do both. What is important is that in our total immersion in yet another reality that makes the world smaller and faster paced, that we do not lose the perspective that art, music and literature gives us.

Science Fiction gives us a look into a possible future. More importantly we see the past in art and music and literature. There is something in them, that while not exactly a universal human constant, is as close as we can ever get. I can look at a Hiroshige print and appreciate it's meticulous artistry. I can read Chaucer and Milton and laugh at their fart jokes. I can listen to Beethoven's 7th and feel something that can't be put into words. And I can read Art Spieglman's "Maus" and get a sense of perspective, a perspective that is lost when I repeatedly refresh my computer to see if Damon got advanced to second, lost when I read an article published four minutes ago about dissatisfaction with Tony Blair in the UK.

So what I'm scared of is the loss of all this. While the internet and art are obviously not mutually exlusive, as it is in fact a wonderful forum for discussion and dissemination, I'm worried about national education being geared towards jobs, teaching only what we need to perform our daily task instead of teaching kids how to think. I'm worried about kids that go home and sign onto AOL, dismiss their history and English texts as dusty remnants of a past civilization, and play "Half Life 2" while their parents watch "American Idol" downstairs.

There's nothing wrong with "Half-Life 2". But it would be nice if the kids were encouraged to look up the texts that provided the creative spark for the design of HL2's dystopic world. It would be nice if the kids playing "Halo 2" read the book "Armor". It would be nice if the kids listening to Trent Reznor went and read Nietzsche afterwards. It would be nice if the kids listening to the new Outkast CD knew something about jazz and if they didn't, were encouraged by the artists to listen to the roots (not The Roots). It would be nice if in the education of the children of this nation, the Holocaust was not just 6 million nameless individuals, but one man's experience told to his son.

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with entertaining music or entertainment. As long as you don't devote your life to following celebrities on the internet, on TV, and in the most extreme cases, just following them around.

In discussion boards, the discussion board is not limited to the most timid or the most ignorant. Informed and educated opinions can elevate the level of discourse on a message board. A plethora of opinions can be wonderful. But part of me can't shake the fear that there will be more and more chat rooms devoted to A/S/L, to Britney Spears, to trivial pursuits. And fewer and fewer people that can interject a new opinion into the mess, perhaps because our education system is starting to fail, perhaps because the exclusivity of certain types of boards eschew those with different tastes and opinions.

As the internet dehumanizes even graphic images into exactly that, I think that the perspective needs to be kept. Not just of recent American history and the current war. There's also more general topics to keep in mind. The direction that the music industry is taking and how it will affect the individual artist. Artist as in an individual who wants his or her voice or intrument heard. Someone who wants to perform and reach out to others. The increasingly conservative and repetitive and self-congratulatory nature of film. The use of the internet to spread novels, graphic or textual. The proliferation of the specific issues that divide the populace and encourage the thought that there is one good and one evil, that democracy is the form of government that everyone wants.

I don't think it's hopeless. In fact I think I'm blessed to have the internet, to have the ability to do and say nearly anything at my fingertips, and to experience a cultural change that is currently still a red-hot blob of metal taken from the forge, ready to take a unique shape. I'd just like everyone else that is as privileged to appreciate a bigger picture as well. Because the loss of perspective carries with it an ominous warning, one in which realities meld together in a horrible schizophrenic nightmare. Simon Cowell criticizing George Bush over a tawdry music video concerning WMD's produced by George Lucas while Akira Kurosawa, Thomas Hardy and Franz Schubert scamper about on the floor like three blind mice with their tails cut off.

Diatribe Over


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