13 July 2016

An Old Geezer Remembers the Time Before All this Fancy Cell Phone, Social Media Stuff and Cable TV (It was actually okay)

Sitting in my room. There’s a doubt buzzing around me. A quandary crawls down my back.  It’s already crowded in here with my books, the bed, drawers, and ideas and concerns. Maybe time to clean.

I reach over for a bottle of wisdom but it’s empty. I’m thirsty for more sagacity and know I’ll have to read about it. By the way, do you ever wish we didn’t have the internet and texting and social media and cable TV? We did fine without it. No one was sitting in a bar saying: “I wish I could make a picture of my dog with a frisbee in his mouth instantly available to the world.” I never heard anyone say: I’d like to read about alligators right now without having to go to the goddamned library.” At least not that I remember.

It’s all too easy now. All the world’s information is at your finger tips. You can talk to virtually (no pun intended) anyone and everyone at any time. You can express your opinion on all matters of the day no matter how ill informed you are. Worse, you can read the utterly worthless often insulting opinions of schmucks from all over the damn planet. Every moron with something rude or offensive or factually incorrect to say seems to need to be read or in some cases heard. It’s hard to avoid them. You ever go to the comments section of most websites? It's the cesspool of humanity with the obnoxious and malicious swimming laps.

Then there’s cable TV. We had five channels when I was a kid. Later a sixth. and by the time I graduated high school, a seventh. Shows, movies and sports events were desperately fighting to be seen on the boob tube. Now there’s too damn much on. I literally and honestly mean it when I say there's just a little bit more of value to watch on TV today compared to 50 years ago. I occasionally make the mistake of channel surfing through all 80 billion channels we get and damned if I have a hard time finding anything worthwhile.

It’s great that I can now see 162 rather than just 20 of my favorite baseball team’s games. It’s marvelous that we can watch movies unedited and without commercial interruption. It’s fantastic that there is access to more educational content. It’s wonderful that we can watch our favorite shows at our leisure rather than only at one time a week (and best of all, fast forward through commercials). But there is so much more garbage on TV now than there used to be. It’s simple enough to avoid but the sad fact is that a lot of people watch that crap. Just one example: reality TV. There is nothing the slightest thing real about it. All these shows purporting to show "real" people in "real" situations are as genuine as professional wrestling.

But what’s worst of all and doing severe damage to the national discourse is the 24 news channels. I refer especially to the ones who show everything through a particular political filter and fill hours of air time with chowderheads screaming their opinions. They also have guest meatheads spewing nonsense. Sometimes the chowderheads and meatheads yell at each other. The bloviating obscures the actual news. Thank goodness we have the likes of John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Trevor Noah and Jon Stewart to lampoon some of this rot.

The sad fact is that few people make their own mind up anymore, they watch TV and have their opinions handed to them on a silver platter. Of course the internet can feed hungry non discriminating mental palates all the opinions they can handle. You can read blogs and news sites and follow on twitter the folks that provide the news and opinion that you want and go around repeating it as if you had something original to say. Any idiot can blog and tweet (yours truly being a case in point) and can seem to some poor souls to be a modern day Thomas Aquinas.

Another sin of the news channels is that through their desperation to fill air 24 hours they turn much of their time over to speculation and analysis. But they do both to such an extreme degree that it loses all meaning. And please -- for your sake -- don't get me started on sports channels. Endless previews of every sport event that has a  scintilla of an audience ,all accompanied by endless analysis of what just happened. And opinions and arguing and debates. About goddamned games, for crying out loud. We used to get by without all that nonsense and were just as well informed. (Can you believe they not only televise the NFL and NBA drafts but talk about weeks in advance? Why?) Obviously there are people who watch this stuff. Hell there are living organisms that actually watch golf! Is there a channel to watch people paint houses? You can watch people fish. You can watch people cook. You can watch people sell houses. Why not watch people mop floors? Pick apples? Sell insurance? The mind boggles at the nonsense people watch.

In days of yore we managed with a half hour of national news, a half hour of local news and a couple of newspapers and magazines. We were just as well informed as people are today (I'm not exaggerating here) although we lacked the up-to-the-second breaking stories that we can access from our smart phones. This is a mixed blessing. Since the news is forever updating we often feel the obligation to forever be checking to see if anything has happened anywhere in the world in the last five minutes. And if something major does happen we keep checking for updates and more details. It’s only matter of seconds before we get opinions on an event that only just happened. People rarely take the time to process things anymore. Everything is instant. Thoughtfulness and patience have been replaced by speed.

One of the worst things I see is how automatic it is for people to get out their cell phones the second there's nothing to distract them. I walk into a classroom full of people staring at their phones. The second the break starts the cell phones are back out as they are when class ends. If a student finishes an assignment early the cell phone is out. Get in line, wait for a bus, sit down to relax, and the cell phone is in hand. People can't just sit anymore. Their minds can't be at rest. I actually wonder if people interrupt meditation to check their phones. For the love of god there's always something on the damn things. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, email, text messages, there is literally always something new. And really, people hate to have to wait a few seconds to check. I often see students unable to wait for class to end before whipping the things out (the phones, silly) as I am reminding them about homework, wishing them a nice evening and saying goodbye. I think it qualifies as an addiction in many cases. You ever see young people hanging out together and they're all staring at their phones? What's with that? Conversations have been replaced by short text messages with those damn emojis.

I love my flat screen HD TV with cable. I love my laptop. I love my iPhone. I'd be hard pressed to live without them. And you know what, that's kind of sad.

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