Overweening Generalist

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Media and Sanity (Formerly "Mental Hygiene")

Whatever device or gadget or medium in which you read this post shapes your apprehension and understanding of it, according to McLuhan. Please tell me more about McLuhan, if you have the time.

A number of you have asked for some more takes on our digitized media landscape (actually, the number is zero...is zero even a number?), given my inveterate bookishness, so I'll download the following into the blogosphere and see if anyone salutes, comments, clicks, vomits.

The OG does not have a Twitter account, has not tweeted a damned thing, as of the date above. The OG has read practical reasons for doing so, but is not sure the practicalities outweigh the investment of time (<----O! that omnipresent "time is money" metaphor again!). The OG was on Facebook for one day, then closed his account. He has no Droid or iPad. Not even an iPod, which may be illegal - not owning one - but I'll have to look that up later. He's not on Google +. He hasn't made any videos to be seen on You Tube or Vimeo or some of those other ones. He is not Linked In, so presumably not many are Stumbling Upon him.

OG likes that you like it and use it and enjoy it, or that, or some of it. He's wired differently. A friend who is the opposite: he's sending Drop Box music to a friend while he's carrying on a conversation about web browsers and Tweeting what someone just said that was funny; his Droid is a permanent attachment to his nervous system and may as well be a prosthetic. When it's possible to get some nano-implant in the brain that accesses the Net only by thinking and speaking out loud to the Cloud, he will be the first in line.

Meanwhile, I sit with my books. I take long walks in the forest, alone. I meditate. I love the MacBook I write this on, so I'm not completely neo-Luddite, nor do I think - and this is my main point - that "my way" is right, and everyone else is crazy. Only most of you are crazy. You know who you are. Or maybe not... Besides books, I love the medium of actually being in the space of another human, and conversing freely. It's analog, but cut me some slack, okay?

Hands at Ten and Two?
I don't know if they still say this, but when I first got my driver's license, the Authorities tried to inculcate the dogma that keeping your hands at the ten o'clock and two o'clock positions on the steering wheel was a big part of safety. That was before Internet and cell phones, but the whole Department of Motor Vehicles system seems antiquated and pretentious and reactionary, so there's probably some 16 year old being told this by a driving examiner as I type this. Anyway, use your turn signal, be aware of the vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, drones, and other moving and not-so moving vehicles and signs around you. Is it necessary to emphasize you ought not be TEXTING while driving? (The quick dopamine or serotonin or oxytocin buzz from making yet another connection with another Being seems a legacy from the Paleozoic, so I consider it an almost intractable problem.)

Farhad Manjoo tries to solve the texting while driving issue HERE; the rise of Siri and the current melange of laws state-by-state in Unistat shows the lawmakers are pretty clueless, although I do like Maine's ban on "distracted driving."

(Wait a minute, hold on: only 70% of "connected consumers" said they'd prefer speech commands over touchscreens while driving? WTF?)

Other states' current laws just seem arbitrary and narrow, and probably unenforceable, for the most part. Voice-texting seems to make a basic break with the old touchscreen texting and reading. (I have sent a touchscreen text maybe five times in my life and do not have a disembodied friend named Siri, and don't tell me you're surprised to hear this.) While it seems difficult to tell how much injury, death and general mayhem has been added by distracted, cell-phone using, texting, even newspaper-reading drivers, and some say it's difficult after an accident to tell if a driver was distracted unless they say they were, or there was a witness, I know I feel distracted even when I'm talking to a friend in the passenger seat, or trying to change the CD (I still listen to CDs in the car!), so I perhaps am not entitled to an opinion.

Some studies I've seen have shown that texting while driving is as dangerous as driving while over the legal alcohol limit. Other studies I've seen (ask me for citations if you really care) show that driving while sleep-deprived is as dangerous as drunk driving.

Let's not even think about texting while drunk, in heavy traffic, on two hour's sleep, but I'm sure it's done.

The comedian Marc Maron nails it for me. He tells about the time he was minding his own business, driving down the road, texting, when he had to slam on the brakes because someone suddenly appeared in the road in front of him, and it angered him they were there. He realized that texting while driving was worse than drunk driving because, as he says, "When you're drunk driving, at least SOMEONE is driving the car." Maron goes on to cover an angle I hadn't thought of before: dying in a car crash because you were texting, and that portion of the text is still there for the emergency crew, cops, medical personnel, etc, to see. Maron "guarantees" what's on your device will be absurd. "Soy milk is so fu..." So fu what? "What a lameass LO..." Laugh out loud at WHAT? And then the worst: did you hear how Dave died? He was texting while driving and his last words were, "That bitch can suc..." (Polite mourners will all agree he was trying to say, emphatically, that his ex-wife can succeed in anything she tries to do!) Ask yourself, driving-texters, do you want your last words to be something like that? (Catch Maron's full act with This Has To Be Funny - the bit about his visit to the Creationist Museum alone is worth the price - and his podcasts are pretty cool, too.)

                                 We've come a long way, baby! The UNIVAC, 1951

Dithering over Twitter
Some of my smartest friends don't understand why I don't at least set up an account and Tweet to..."followers" (as a minor scholar of the Manson Family, the word bugs me a bit) that I've just written an article for so-and-so, or blogged on blah-blah-blah. So I admit it: I'm thinking about jumping into the twitterverse. But no plunge yet. I worry about its own imperatives, specifically how much time it'll steal from me when there are so many things I know I enjoy and find fulfilling already. I doubt yet another way to "connect" in some disembodied way with fellow humans will finally make me feel like I've arrived. And when I look at the top Twitterholics and their number of followers, I'm amazed to see that Barack Obama is #7 in the world. He's hip, he's smarter than me. Maybe there's something to this stuff?

But then I see the Barackstar is just ahead of Rihanna and Taylor Swift, but below, in descending order to Numero Uno: Britney Spears (she's still alive?), Kim Kardashian, Shakira, Katy Perry, Bieber, and Numero Uno Gaga. I'm a snob. I know it.

Twitter seems to have revolutionary applications; we've seen that with reports from the Arab Spring (not going too well in Syria, so far, and Egypt? Oy!), and Occupy stuff. And it can get your house robbed, too. If you've committed some crimes such as bank fraud and others, it can get you arrested. If you Tweet the wrong joke in the wrong place, you can find yourself arrested and banned for life from, say the airport. Twitter also adds a whole new dimension to the art of creepily stalking someone else, even if, for this writer, it was Dear Ol' Dad. On the other hand, you can continue to update your friends on the latest even after you're dead, so there's that enigmatic mindfuck of a thrill to foist on friends. You may have heard it here first! (And Blogger allows you to complete a blogpost, then set a timer for it to go live, so you cannot be 100% sure you're not reading this from a dude who's already dead! WOW! Talk about receiving messages from the Great Beyond!? <cue: theremin music>)

It seems there's an ethical quandary among tweeters about "Tweeting you own horn." How much is acceptable? In a writer's forum I read recently there seems a basic assumption that one of the primary purposes for Tweeting is to let followers know you've produced yet another masterpiece. Other early Tweet-theorists tell us we ought break our Tweet-actions into - I've seen two models, each with variations - 33/33/33 or 25/25/25/25: with the 33s, you spend a third of your tweets telling people about your work/projects/business; another third is spent on pushing your friend's work/projects, etc; and the last 33 just "shooting the breeze," apparently in attempt to bond phatically. The 25 model is the same as the 33, but with an extra category shoved in: social and political ideas, responsibilities to your fellow humans, I'm going to the Occupy/Tea Party/Meat Is Murder/Save The Plankton rally at the Union Square, who's with me? Etc.

I could relate articles I've read about why Twitter is more popular per capita with African Americans than "whites" (although the gap seems to be lessening), the use of Twitter by Somali terrorists, the implications of a bazillionaire Saudi Prince's investment in Twitter, and the project of trying to predict the future by monitoring the twitterverse, but call me a twit or a taxi, it'll have to wait.

A French Idea
The French have decided it's not fair to mention Twitter, Facebook, etc by name in their mainstream media because it seems to be free publicity for those giants, and there are always smaller companies that do social media who are trying to gain a sliver of the pie. After a few hours of thinking about it, this makes sense to me. However, when one of these megacorps have been found to be violating the law, or a prominent, independent citizen watchdog group says one of these monstrosities wants to do something that will infringe on what we so laffingly call "privacy" or something else having to do with fundamental fairness, I think you have to be able to mention them. Imagine your bubble-headed bleached-blond babbling on the 11 o'clock news that, "A very powerful search engine company announced today that it intends to corner the market on tasers, personal drones, and automatic weapons and in a separate statement says it's going to independently explore Mars for the future recreational colonization of its own CEOs and some of its most loyal employees..."

I don't know about you, but I'd want the name of that company blurted out by the mouthpiece. Oh hell, I'll probably read about it on Twitter. And who are we fooling? We all know it's Google. And the French aren't banning naming search engines, only "social networking" sites. But aren't Google's tentacles in every pie by now? Anyway...

FREE Course in How to Code!
In Douglas Rushkoff's book, Program or Be Programmed: Ten Commands For A Digital Age, he says if you know how to program, that's great, but he extends the semantics for "programming" to how you interact with your gadgets. (One of the things I like best about Rushkoff's semantics of "programs" is his extension of it to BS [belief systems], social institutions, and language itself.) The gadgets are programmed by their makers to have, seemingly, their own imperatives. You must program yourself and your interaction with your gadgets for what YOU want, not what the gadget wants you do with your time. To you philosophy geeks, we're in the realm of subjective intentionality here.

But would you like to learn how to code, the hardcore way? Two young hotshots, Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski, started Codeacademy, and you can learn to code throughout 2012 for free. This article covers it, and makes a point I found salient: how many people who have lost or will lose their jobs to robots have/had no clue how easily this was done. This coding dealio seems empowering, and I'm going to try to find the time to learn some of this stuff, being a blithering idiot when it comes to these modalities, right now.

So, if all goes well, I will be coding like a madman by the end of the year, just in time for the Apocalypse, when that damned Mayan calendar claims us all.

Rushkoff talking for 5 minutes about Program or Be Programmed:


Cleveland Okie (Tom Jackson) said...

Listening to CDs in your car, as opposed to plugging in an MP3 player, is actually quite rational and is not Luddite behavior at all. CDs have MUCH BETTER sound quality, as I'm sure you know better than I.

Am very amused by your Twitter comments. I don't really know how to "refute" them, except to warn that Twitter actually can be quite addicting. I use it to "keep up," although you are correct that it can take up a lot of time.

michael said...

The first time I heard music on an MP3 I thought it was sad: there just seems to be too much of the total harmonic output washed out. I love CDs, and will probably end up one of the last people to buy from the local indy emporiums.

Re: Twitter: it's too easy to cherrypick the negative, untoward aspects of any type of media, which is what I did. Know that, on some level, I'm playing a writer-character here. But only a little...

I write these things in a frenzy and only come back and edit for typos and other gaffes a few hours later, and you commented on an article that was not edited at all; a pretty ugly one. I apologize for making a seasoned newsman read such howlers. Thanks for being charitable and not pointing the stuff out....There are still a handful of old blogs I don't think I ever went back over once. This stuff is cheap, and even though my stats say I average 4000 hits a month, I suspect I have about six readers...and they are all from your site, or Sue Howard's.

Igor M said...

I (finally) couldn't resist pointing out that you may have wrong biases about your readers. Last time I wanted to speak up, you asserted that you'd be surprised if many readers heard about the eight circuits of consciousness. Well, I am one of your frequent readers for about half a year, I loved RAW's Prometheus Rising, I'm interested in and am familiar with most subjects and people that you mention, but other than that... I consume a whole lot of mainstream culture, and, at 23, I have never read a book longer than 500 pages (couldn't even make it through Illuminatus Trilogy), and I'm writing this response from an iPad. I think I might resemble your "average reader", but maybe I'm an outlier. You can easily find out the answer to this question by engaging in the social networking world. If you think it's worth it, of course.
P.S. thanks for all the thought-provoking articles

michael said...

@Igor M: You have no idea how much I appreciate hearing from a brilliant 23 yr old! You made my day! Thanks, man!

I tried to purposefully make my assumptions about my Readers hard to pin down. Because the RAWphiles I've known LOVE the social media stuff, love programming, love the omniephemeralization of communication devices...In what we so laffingly call Real Life I'm a lot like the guy who writes the Overweening Generalist, but not EXACTLY like him. The OG is more staid and bookish, because he seems to see that as a better fulcrum point to comment on the social world as he sees it now.

I know, because I asked him. I asked him if someone like Igor M would be an outlier, and he said he thinks not; Igor M is more like his Ideal Reader. And I don't think he was putting me on...but he's been known to do that. I think he's sirius, and we both agree that biases are quite often "wrong."

The OG has not read any of the Stig Larson books, but wants to. He likes Jeopardy!, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Daily Show, Colbert Report, That Metal Show, The Soup, and 60 Minutes. His favorite "new" band is Blotted Science, but Fountains of Wayne is right there. I think the OG really is sorta stodgy, and is sorta jealous of guys like you, frankly. Dude's WEIRD! But he's fun to talk to...

Igor M said...

I hardly go by the brilliant label, but thank you for the sentiment. Frankly, I am sometimes intimidated by your writing. I think that by reading your blog, I am compensating for the fact that I never actually embraced the Intellectual lifestyle. Although it pains me to realize how much I could enrich my life if I gave up my addictions to distraction and laziness (and current technologies makes it that much harder, it seems).

I want to talk about General Semantics, but I've never read any of Korzybski. I sometimes feel like I possess some mystical knowledge, but I've never been able to put it to practice. I just get my daily fix from your blog, or an Alan Watts lecture, or some weird YouTube videos, and that's it. I find that there is something really fascinating about the whole anti-culture, Truth-seeking, mystical way of living that I just can't get enough of. Yet I don't know if I will ever be able to cross the bridge to the other side, or if I will continue just enjoying the view from where I'm at (not that I'm unhappy with where I'm at).

Now that you mention it, it makes sense that I would be the OG's Ideal Reader. I guess this blog is exactly what I need right now (and a dictionary, too). It sometimes feels like it's tailored for me. I'd be curious to read your blog after smoking pot one day.

Anyway, I decided to comment, because it seems like you're not getting much feedback from yours Readers. Maybe I will make more to-the-point comments in the future.

P.S. I just knew that you would comment on the "wrongness" of biases!

michael said...

@Igor M: I am biased. So are you. Everyone can't help but be biased in some way, about most important issues. But we can work to SEE our biases more clearly.

The OG seems sorta too 3rd circuit-y, but tries to convey more from the others. I'm not sure an intellectual lifestyle is all it might seem to be cracked up to "be." But I think I grok your meaning. I'm writing here to learn, and if I'm not having fun too, I find I'm not learning very much. Hence the attempts at humor. But also: writing can function - as RAW, Crowley and many others have made implicit and even explicit - as a sort of yoga-like technique; manipulating words, ideas, even syntax, can be transformative for the writer and maybe The Reader.

Your kind vibes are much appreciated.

I write a lot of this blog stoned, so maybe reading it stoned will yield something new?

Have you ever tried to write about your understanding of Korzybski, as filtered through your nervous system via RAW?

Alias Bogus said...

I am a fairly regular visitor, but that is because I work on a collaborative blog related to RAW, set up by students at his online college, back when we had direct day-to-day contact with him as a tutor which (to use language inappropriate to my age) felt awesome. And we have a direct feed to this site in our Breaking News column on the left hand side of the page – with the most recent at the top – so I am alerted to new posts here, and usually find they reward my time.

Only Maybe

As a very bookish person myself (after 30 years as a self-employed street performer I ended up working in a library, on the computers, for the last decade or so) – I particularly enjoy sustained thinking. However, because of my job supporting computer use I have had to plunge into the world of technology, often starting accounts simply to know how things work, to be able to assist ‘customers’. Some I find useful, and maintain, some fade away once I have got the hang of them.

I don’t really understand Twitter (I feel like I am standing around at a party where I don’t know anyone – or understand most of the conversations well enough to be able to contribute) but remain an avid user of blogs, wikis, websites, and even Facebook.

We all have our inner Luddite, I suspect. I don’t drive, for instance (easier to read on public transport!)

michael said...

I know of your guy's very cool site and read it and have commented, but not as often as I would like. I'm glad whatever I'm doing here usually rewards your time.

Yea, the Luddite thing: all I really want is for people to THINK about how they want to use media, according to their own values.

It's cool how your job supporting computer tech has led you to do some basic hacking, just to see how Stuff Works. I'm 100% in favor of that spirit, that impetus, behind hacking.

Just as I see Rushkoff's extensional use of "programming" interesting, I also see something similar in hacking; for example, I think reading RAW, Korzybski, Lakoff, and Kahneman's new book as hacking manuals: how to hack "reality" with RAW; how to hack language and symbolic systems as they work in human nervous systems with Korzybski and Lakoff, how irrationality and a-rationaity operate in Kahneman's work, esp with unconscious biases and counterintuitive modes of thought, incl economic thinking, and the assumptions of Enlightenment rationalism, etc.

Annabel Lee said...

I don't mind Twitter. I have an account where I primarily tweet about politics (big surprise), random thoughts that pop in my head, and promote my site. I don't really understand why people are so into it, but I at least can use it effectively.

Facebook, by contrast, I cannot stand. Every time I figure out all the new tools, they decide they want to change something. Most of the content is stupid, pointless and a complete waste of time. I don't care about the games or apps on there. Again, I only have the account to promote my own website, complete with a FB page dedicated to my website.

I have actually quit Facebook a few times, only to be sucked back by the need to socially market my site and generate traffic and revenues. I would love to be in a situation where I never have to use Facebook again. It seems as pointless to me as MySpace did when it was the rage.

Maybe I just don't have the right mindset for social applications. I generally prefer talking to people and meeting in real life to the internet. Maybe I am a dinosaur, even at my young age. Honestly, I just don't care.

michael said...

@Annabel: I was put off by the semantics of "friend" on FB. Also, I just like my anonymity. Hell, I've had people from my teens and early twenties get hold of my email because they know someone who knows me and where I am now. People can get hold of me if they really want...I sorta usually don't "want" that, but I've never ignored someone who wrote out of the blue, "remember me? I got your email from someone who knows your brother..." And I HATED high school, didn't learn a damned thing, didn't fit into any clique, and thought 10th-12 grade more like a watered down Lord of the Flies than anything else...the only sanity I could find was not going to school and instead using my library card, taking home 15 books at a time, and reading 'em all.

I'm glad you're using Twitter in a way that suits YOU. Ditto FB. Have you read what Rushkoff and a few others have said about FB? That they're in the business of selling you what your friends like, and vice-versa? And the "privacy" issue is really a morass to get into there...

If you're a young, wizened dinosaur, you're my kinda reptile, Ms.Lee!

Shifting gears a bit: what do we all think about our own relationship with the media we love to use, and the idea of "addiction"? The topic is fascinating to me.

Igor M said...

I always liked Richard Alpert's (aka Ram Dass) general (somewhat esoteric) view on "addiction". He described objects of addiction as tools for one to get back the feeling of Home, a glimpse of what it was like before one was born, the "spiritual comfort". So whenever one feels the slightest discomfort, she gets the urge to return to one of these objects for a temporary fix.

The intestesting part to me is that it appears that one is not comforted by getting whatever magical features the object of addiction has, but instead gets relief from the disappearance of desire (ie discomfort) when he possesses it (clearly a Buddhist observation). So, when an obese kid eats his chocolate, claiming that it makes him happy, the actual source of that happiness appears to be the "spiritual comfort" that comes from finally letting go of the desire for chocolate (in this case, by consuming it), which at a deeper level is some sort of insecurity. Similarly, when one is in love (with another), the Love is not really about the other -- she is just a key for one to get that feeling of Home back (in case one needs a key, that is). Yet, as it often happens, when the key is gone, we think that Home is gone too.

So, relationships that arise from addiction appear to be based on our quest for getting the feeling of comfort. If the comfort is there, then suddenly we realize that we are in a relationship with everything at once.

Now, how this all ties in to media, I am not sure. My marketing communications professor once mentioned that he believes that the term "Social Media" is misguided, as the word media traditionally implies having control over the message and its distribution. He prefers using "Social Networking", as it better reflects the reality of communications in this medium. A message can go viral and reach hundreds of millions within days of it appearing on the network, finding its way to all open receivers. Now, I don't use Facebook and Twitter that much, but I definitely see the power of this medium in our age of information.

michael said...

@Igor: I liked the way you conveyed Ram Dass's take on addiction, and consider that one workable model for thinking about it, aside from my preferred and main models, which concern the rhetoric of neurobiological evolution, predispositions, genes+environment+ accidents+Something Else.

I especially liked the idea of "comfort," which seems isomorphic to the increasing psychotropy of post-Neolithic worldwide cultures towards self-regulation of internal states.

Your stuff about the semantics of "social media" and how it seems more appropriate to talk of "Social Networking" makes a lot of sense to me, although, unlike thinkers such as Clay Shirky, I do think quite a lot of the peer-to-peer everyday messages are more phatic in nature than the idealized ideas/memes/let's get together and do some action narrative about social networking. Still: salient points from you and your Prof. That 1/1,000,000+ messages go viral still seems substantial when we consider the old one-way media of TV/radio/films.

What a great, meaty comment from you, again. So: thanks!