In this Non Sequitur (AMS), Wiley Miller longs for the world before social media, and whether this would be a lame amusement park or the basis for culture war is open to debate. If it would be war, we could hope enough people would sit around whining about how lame it was that the shock troops of a slower world would gain significant ground.
But it’s not a bad mental exercise to tote up the things you’d miss and the things we’d be better off without.
I certainly don’t miss Foto Mat and several days waiting to see if photos came out, which I say after a couple of adventures which I thought were going well but had equipment failures — like a VP of British Petroleum I had just interviewed, or John and Yoko at an opening of an exhibit of her work.
I don’t think the world would be any poorer if we could still take a couple of photos and then check to see the lighting was right and that things were coming out well.
I’m not so sure about video stores. At least they got people off their duffs and out of the building.
But I certainly miss the days when honest, competent gatekeepers at honest, competent news outlets told us what we needed to know, while the Bat Baby and other deliberate falsehoods were confined to the checkout rack at the grocery store, and we’d shake our heads over the gullible ignoramuses who’d pick up a copy.
Little did we know those sleaze merchants would one day help elect a president.
As I’ve said here several times before, however, I think the biggest loss is in the increased portability of all these improvements. We’ve lost the ability to be alone, to amuse ourselves, to think for ourselves.
And to learn how to whistle through our fingers, but mostly to be able to go buy groceries without checking back home to make sure we’re getting the right brand, and to simply walk down the street without having to carry on a conversation with somebody, anybody, in order to feel connected and to chase away the scary silence.
It’s not just the Internet. Well before all that, transistor radios gave us the ability to avoid walking around thinking, but I lived outside their limited range, and, even after sunset, needed to string an antenna out my window to pick up any stations.
Which isn’t quite walking uphill in the snow both ways to school, but it’s a significant difference between then and now.
And another thing.
Today’s Edison Lee (KFS) is not only a funny riff on the difference between a burger set up by a professional videographer for a $30,000 commercial and one of two hundred burgers dished up on an assembly line by a 16-year-old on his first job.
It’s also a reminder of how McDonalds, Burger King and the rest have put local diners nearly out of business, just as surely as Wal-Mart killed local department stores and Rite Aid eliminated your friendly neighborhood pharmacist.
There was a time, O Best Beloved, when a family on vacation would spot a diner at lunchtime, and Dad would go have a look to make sure the place was clean and orderly before beckoning everyone in.
And what you’d get would, indeed, be a sizzling, juicy all-beef patty grilled to perfection and topped with fresh onion and lettuce on a toasted sesame bun, because the person who made it was a for-real cook who had just made an order of pork chops and was just about to fry some chicken and treated your order with the same care, making sure that the burger and the fries came out at the same time so they’d both be hot.
Today, we see those Golden Arches and are happy to have familiar food from a familiar source. It’s not that a Quarter Pounder is bad, despite how people dump on the brand.
It’s not bad.
But it isn’t good, either. And hamburgers once were.
Mind you, these aren’t the biggest losses in our current world. Nick Anderson (AMS) notes the ease with which we accept language that an intelligent person would never have stood for, once upon a time.
When the lies were still only spin, Stephen Colbert joked about “truthiness” at the White House Concubines Association’s self-congratulatory dinner, and the spinners were outraged but the rest of us laughed.
But then came “alternative facts,” with which the new Trump administration explained away their preposterous lies about the size of the crowd at the Inauguration and, unlike Colbert, they were dead serious. Over the next four years, Dear Leader proceeded to feed us 30,000 documented absurdies, lies and other false statements.
I’d be happy to go back to the Foto Mat if we could also go back to a time when being caught lying ended a political career.
Too late for either, and now, Anderson suggests, Putin is prepared to exploit our lack of critical evaluation. Clausewitz didn’t precisely say “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means,” but, then again, he’d have laughed at the claim that violence is simply “legitimate political discourse,” whether it occurred in the nation’s capitol building or on the steppes of Eastern Ukraine.
And to repeat something I’ve said before, you should re-read “Animal Farm,” not “1984.”
In “1984,” Orwell describes an established autocracy, while, in “Animal Farm,” he demonstrates how such a despotic dystopia can be established through the slow, steady drip, drip, drip of self-serving, ever more audacious lies.
I’m not a Luddite, simply nostalgic, and I like this xkcd take on Wordle. I’ve been playing the game for a while, though I don’t post my scores because who cares?
But I’m starting to lose interest. If you start with “ratio,” “irate” or “noise,” you’ve knocked off three vowels and a pair of the most common consonants, after which it’s like playing knock-knock jokes with a four-year-old: The answers are more random than logical, and you won’t come away knowing anything you didn’t know when you walked in.
Getting a little smarter every day seems like a worthy goal.
It used to be, anyway.