Simulacrum

IRL Streamer Ice Poseidon, Alias Paul Denino

As I predicted, the heat wave I described a couple of days ago has persisted, despite the lies and blandishments of several so-called weathermen. To escape the heat, I spent time reading and lunching at the Westfield Mall in Culver City, followed by movies at the Cinemark at the nearby Howard Hughes Center. Yesterday, it was Whitney, which I described in yesterday’s post. Today, I saw Ant-Man and the Wasp. (Meh!)

Being in the midst of so many people, I was appalled to see that people escaping the heat at the air-conditioned mall depended on their smart phones for entertainment. I was probably the only one of hundreds of people at the mall who had a book. Two or three old men were reading newspapers. And hoards of others were playing games on their smartphones, checking their social media, and other utterly useless tasks. Children were using electronic devices that emitted the usual treacly bibblety-bobbledy-boop sounds of programs oriented for the young.

In addition to my book, I read an article in the July 9 and 16 issue of The New Yorker Magazine entitled “No More Secrets” by Adrian Chen. It was about an IRL (“In Real Life”) streamer named Paul Denino, who styles himself as Ice Poseidon. Imagine living your life hooked up to video equipment that captures your life from minute to minute. On YouTube, I saw a number of video clips from Ice Poseidon’s oeuvre and was thrown for a loss. Ice Poseidon’s life was not really life, but a series of situations in which the Streamer (or Screamer?) and his retinue got into various boring scrapes and liberally dropped f-bombs along the way. If that were my life, I would set about ending it in some dark corner far from the nearest video camera.

All these video devices were intended to enhance life. Instead, they have created a kind of empty simulacrum of life. I keep thinking of the little boy I saw yesterday staring into space while the video game on his tablet kept emitting nonsensical noises to which no one paid any heed.

You Can, But You Won’t

E-Readers Are OK, but Smart Phones Are Not

E-Readers Are OK, but Smart Phones Are Not

Once I saw a website somewhere about all the devices that smart phones will render obsolete. On the list were e-readers, such as Kindle and Nook. I do not believe, however, that people with smart phones will be reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (in seven volumes) anytime soon. I do not even think that they will be reading many shorter books, such as 10 Haikus for the Next Millennium.

Just because you can read books on a smart phone does not mean that you will ever want to. There are four reasons for this:

  • You can only see so many words on a page. Excessive page-turning will render the reading experience too clumsy.
  • If your device is backlit, it will bother your eyes to read for any length of time. E-book readers like Nook and Kindles use a technology that does not glare at you.
  • People past a certain age (and I am already there) have trouble reading words on small screens.
  • Smart phones are so small that the reading experience is psychologically different from cradling a physical book in your hands.

I remember when Gutenberg and other websites put the complete texts of thousands of books online. In the last ten years, I have succeeded in reading only one book online: Sir Richard F. Burton’s Falconry in the Valley of the Indus. It is a relatively short book, and I can tell you it was a real chore, what with the glareback from my monitor. I believe this may also be a problem on iPads and other pad devices.

Over the years, I have long suspected that those people staring at their cellphone screens while walking are probably not reading Moby Dick.

 

The Soundtrack of Your Boring Life

Living in the Moment

Living in the Moment

There appear to be two types of people. A distressingly large number of younger people appear to be hooked up to a sound feed consisting of the dominant sound icons of current popular culture. Whenever I hear snippets of other people’s music, I feel chagrined. When I am attached to an MP3 player, say during a long flight to South America, what I listen to are the symphonies of Sibelius, Mahler, and Bruckner. (I may diversify into some Jazz classics when I get around to copying them.)

But pop music and rap music? Not for me. When driving, I like music that serves as a background to an increased situational awareness, not as a replacement for my consciousness.

Today, I rode the Expo Line into Santa Monica. Virtually everyone under a certain age was hooked up, listening to pop music and operating their smart phones at full intensity. Needless to say, these people were living in their own self-imposed bubbles, not looking out the window or paying attention to the announcements.

The other type of person is someone like me. I live in the world, not in a self-imposed bubble.My dumb phone does not have Internet access, nor is used for texting or sexting, nor even photography (though it has the capability). The only reason I had it with me was in case I needed to call Martine about our lunch plans.

Is there any advantage to living in the pop culture bubble? Perhaps it’s a form of escape from the world, with all its confusing signals that are so insistent for our attention. But is this escape not dangerous? And can a diet of Taylor Swift or hip-hop music dull one’s senses to the world around us? I imagine it’s a way to introducing oneself to peers, indicating that one is cool … one is attached to the good stuff … one is wearing the right clothes … has the right hairstyle … is, in a word, safe.

Maybe I’m a bit dangerous. At least I would like to think so.

There’s an App for That: A Fantasy

It Was the App to End All Apps!

It Was the App to End All Apps!

It all started in 2016 with an app called OmegApp, available simultaneously for the Android and iPhones. It was inevitable that a program like this would eventually make an appearance. Smart phone callers were running out of people to call, or even text. What OmegApp provided was a robotic interface that appeared to deeply care for anyone who communicated with it. The name of the interface was Tag. If you called Tag, Tag would reciprocate and call you back later, with occasional text messages stroking your ego in the meantime. (Tag’s ultimate message? “You’re IT!”)

Soon, the majority of all cell phone calls and texts were handled by the OmegApp system, which operated on five continents in over sixty languages. Before long, people would distractedly wander the streets with that sh*t-eating grin demonstrating that they were, in fact, wanted and needed by somebody (or something).

Of course, it had an immediately catastrophic effect on traffic—pedestrian, bicycle, and motorized.

In Cleveland, the Dotes twins, Mairzy and Doezy, were struck head-on by the 56A bus as it barreled down East 177th Street. Both the driver and the victims were on Tag at the time. In Santa Monica, a distracted little Lambsy Divey walked off the bluff overlooking the Coast Highway and ended up being run over half a dozen cars, all of whose drivers were texting on Tag.

One would think that there would be an outcry. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. The phone companies were making more money than ever, and those Tag users who didn’t end up a casualty felt happier than before. In fact, talking to Tag was more satisfying than sex and raising a family. In all probability, this may be curtains for the human race: Only the deaf and blind seem to be immune to OmegApp’s blandishments.

The Dinosaur and the Flickers

Changing Tastes Affect Whole Media

Changing Tastes Affect Whole Media

Yesterday at Cinecon 51, I had an interesting discussion with a film memorabilia vendor from Philadelphia about the changing tastes of the film audience. Both of us noted that there was a remarkable lack of younger filmgoers—anything under age forty—attending the recently restored films from former decades. In fact, most of the attendees were in their seventies or above.

That set me to thinking: I am happy that I did not achieve my educational goal of becoming a professor of motion picture history and criticism. If I had, I would have had to face the fact that my chosen field was, essentially, ultimately doomed for lack of interest. How many younger people would be interested in silent films, or early talkies in black and white, or even anything that had a more complicated story line. Who would even be able to sit still for The Seven Samurai or Doctor Zhivago or Rules of the Game?

People are clearly becoming more distracted as time goes on. Movie screens have gotten smaller, and home TV screens have grown larger. They haven’t quite met yet, though the tendency continues. One does not need to watch a television with rapt attention, not while one is texting, reading one’s e-mails, or watching YouTube on a smart phone.

So, if I were a professor of film history, I would feel as if I were ramming films down the throats of a younger generation that thought the subject matter was irrelevant.  Who cares about the films of F. W. Murnau, Josef von Sternberg, or even Alfred Hitchcock?  (I can just imagine trying to explain Hitch’s Vertigo or Shadow of a Doubt to a restive crowd who were itching to jump onto their smart phones.)

As far as my own tastes are concerned, I will follow them through à l’outrance, to the bitter end. The films I love, I will always love and continue to study, even though it separates me from the following generations. Does that make me a dinosaur? So be it!

The Missing Link, Going Forward

Man May Prevail, But With What “Modifications”?

Man May Prevail, But With What “Modifications”?

I am always amused about talk of a “missing link” between what was recognizably ape and what is recognizably human. But once we have Homo sapiens down, what about changes to our species that may be as significant—if not more significant—to those which we have traditionally associated with the concept of a missing link?

Today, I had lunch at a local Thai restaurant. In the next booth sat a woman who was part of a larger party that had not yet all met up. No sooner did she get seated than she had a long painful conversation with another member of the party which was supposedly looking for the restaurant but had trouble finding it. At no point did she get the name of the restaurant correct (she kept calling it simply “Thai Café”) and never thought to supply the exact street address. All her instructions were with regard to the identities of nearby retail establishments. If her friend was several blocks away, he would have no more luck finding the “Thai Café” than the stores in its immediate vicinity.

The thought suddenly hit me that the smart phone has introduced new ways of thinking. No longer is any sort of advance preparation required for anything. One can simply make a phone call and use relational markers to home a friend in to the desired location employing fuzzy logic of a sort.

Man has developed increasingly sophisticated tools for tens of thousands of years, but for the first time we are approaching the point where we are using tools to change ourselves and our very thought processes. It is possible, for example, that the smart phone may be as significant for the human race as Gutenberg’s invention of moveable type. If we ever improve robots to the point that we can communicate with them, that may be even more significant. In both cases, man is delegating his own brain powers to a device that parses, stores, and possibly communicates commands.

What do you suppose the effect of that will be on the human brain? Perhaps it will begin to atrophy. Once one has a truly smart phone, one does not have to think for oneself any more.

I’m not sure I would like that development, or should I say retrogression?

The Ineluctability and Persistence of the Now

Maybe Not So Smart

Maybe Not So Smart After All

I have frequently written about the distractions of modern life, especially with regards to all those convenient little electronic devices created to suck away all your moments of quiet contemplation. Meditation? Hah! It is to laugh!

As one who has ripped out all those little electronic tendrils that seek to ensnare me into an ineluctable and persistent “now” consisting mostly of advertising and various types of cultural noise, I try to be immune. But there are always billboards, loud advertising messages from the TV that Martine is watching across the room when I am on my computer, newspaper ads, and so on. Although I have a cell phone, it is probably one of the last LG models that are non-Internet, non-Smart, and non-Kim-Kardashian-compatible. And I have resolved not to buy a Smart Phone unless there is absolutely no other cellular option available.

According to Malcolm McCullough, a professor of design and architecture at the University of Michigan:

A quiet life takes more notice of the world, and uses technology more for curiosity and less for conquest [though I would ask, Who is conquering whom?]. It finds comfort and restoration in unmediated perceptions. It increases the ability to discern among forms of environmentally encountered information. It values persistence and not just novelty. It stretches and extends the now, beyond the latest tweets, beyond the next business quarter, until the sense of the time period you inhabit exceeds the extent of your lifetime.

I do not think I could write these blogs unless I had a more directed thought process. In fact, I fear that the generation now in school could have done permanent damage to their ability to concentrate. If this tendency is irreversible, welcome to a whole new world of barbarism. Not a pretty thought.

Is all that we are capable of concentrating on is Miley Cyrus’s nude body as she swings on a wrecking ball? If so, we are already a new lost generation. Excuse me while I try to find a nice quiet place in the past to hide and shut out all the noise.