Tuesday questions, Katachi edition

The other day, Mike wrote this:

With the explosion of the Information Age there is faster and greater exposure to culture than ever before. Growing up in Louisville we joked that fashion trends took a couple of years to move from NYC to Kentucky. Now the timeline has shrunk to months. With other cultural trends this can happen in days. Just think of what YouTube does for the American lexicon and you will have a pretty good idea of what I am talking about.

Indeed.  If I were the sort of person who still cared about such things, it would take no time at all for me to learn precisely how out-of-date my shoes are.  (On the one hand, I’m sure fashionable people in New York City would point at my old square-toed Kenneth Coles and laugh their asses off.  On the other hand, one of the nice things about moving out of New York City is that you stop really caring what fashionable people there think of your shoes.)

These days it feels like the zeitgeist gets blasted at us with the force of a fire hose aimed at our faces.  Even for those who’d just as soon opt out of the deluge, a certain degree of splashing is unavoidable.  The Better Half treats social media with roughly the same esteem as the small animal carcasses our cat deposits on our doorstep when he escapes the house, and even he was forced to ask me the other night what “twerking” is.

Sad to say, much of what pours forth from the belching maw of our popular culture seems like so much unprocessed sewage.  If you’re looking for something crass, degrading or exploitative to watch, a two-step process of turning on your television and waiting should suffice.  (If this happens to fail on the first channel you select, go one or two in either direction and you’re sure to find something soon.)  On the other end of the equation, if you’re hoping to get really famous, at least for a short while, nothing will do the trick quite like convincing a bunch of your most sociopathic friends to get together and then filming everyone treating each other horribly, at which point you pitch it to Bravo.

This was the thrust of last week’s Question — why do people tune in to watch awful people enact tightly-scripted programs that make Henrik Ibsen seem too soft on humanity?  The collective answer from comments in a nutshell?  “Beats me.”  But the conversation that got going there included lots of interesting thoughts about all that is lamentable and wrong with the state of American culture.

To which I say, “I agree.  But…”

The unavoidable truth is that, short of becoming an anchorite or taking heavy sedatives from dawn to dusk, there’s little one can do to avoid learning what the Kardashians are doing.  And this unblinking focus on talentless fame whores can make one despair that our new world of constant information flow yields nothing but dross.  LeeEsq summed it up thusly:

What can I say, we live in an age of decadance where all that is beautiful and pure is lost.

I sympathize with that sentiment, but I disagree.  As much drek as the Information Age can deliver, it can also turn up beautiful little marvels that we might otherwise never see.

Take, for example. the video below.  I came across it months ago as one of Andrew Sullivan’s “Mental Health Breaks.”  It is a jewel.

I have no idea what that song is about. For all I know, it could be about the joys of eating live kittens.  But not only is the video a whimsical marvel, I found the song itself lovely.  In no time at all, I had typed the singer Shugo Tokumaru’s name into Spotify and found several albums’ worth of similarly lovely songs.

It’s impossible to know if I would ever have come across Mr. Tokumaru before the Internet came along.  Maybe I would have, but somehow I doubt it.  What seems much more likely is that I would go my whole life without ever having heard of this man who sings in a language I don’t know in a country I’ve not (yet) visited.  And that life would have been just a little poorer for having missed this small, happy delight.

So that’s this week’s Question — what beautiful things in your life do you owe to the Information Age?  What would you almost certainly have missed if there were no Internet?  What happiness, major or minor, would you never have had?

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44 thoughts on “Tuesday questions, Katachi edition

  1. I’ve made friends through the internet. I’ve been able to keep up with friends in far flung places through the Internet. Read more because of the Internet. Become a somewhat published writer (if pseudononoumsly) through the Internet. My dating life is probably better than it would be without the Internet.

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  2. Oh, and as to the question:
    I would not have seen millions walk in freedom.
    I would not have seen ideas (both silly and grand)
    travel to the farthest reaches of the world.
    I would not have seen emergent behavior,
    self-organizing behavior.

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    • Oh you are a precious old thing, arncha? I have seen millions walk into fields of fire out here, cleared for them by tyrants and criminals, to the point where entire industries have grown up around the vulnerabilities thus created. I have seen intelligent thought drowned out by thousands of yammering idiots, liars, single-issue johnnies, propaganda of every sort and the masks of brutishness everywhere. If Emergent Behaviour is what you’ve seen, the Herd Instinct is very ancient, the cruelty of the Facebook Bully, the degeneration of adults into the pettiness of an elementary school playground. It has all been seen before. Nothing new has Emerged.

      The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
      The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity.

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      • Oh, tish and tosh. Of course there is ill in all things.
        But have no fear, and walk in righteousness —
        we’ll mostly be dead soon anyway.

        I intend to savor this reality while I still am able to live in it.
        I’ve got my feet planted firmly against the buffeting winds
        of the next reality, of course, only natural to…

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  3. For all its advantages, for all that it’s done to connect us to each other, the Net has also served to isolate us from each other in ways we might yet come to regret. Staring into the Void of our devices, we’re not evolving as fast as the technology.

    And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

    For every silver lining, there’s always a little dark cloud. The Net was designed by optimists, idealists who didn’t understand how naked we would become as the Net exposed us to other agencies we didn’t want to see us. We’ve made little aprons for ourselves but our eyes are now opened. And now there is no hiding.

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  4. I wouldn’t know any of the folks here without the LoOG. My relationship with my eventual wife likely would have proceeded the same without the net (we met in person and stayed in touch mostly via phone and text), but I know a number of friends who owe at least part of their relationship to what the internet could offer them in terms of staying connected. I am able to stay in touch with friends much better than before, and I’m not even a social media dynamo. This allowed me to find and invite my former colleague and her partner to our wedding.

    While I don’t doubt that the tools have influenced the content put out, they are still more avenues to content than content themselves. One can wield the internet in any number of ways, from perusing Tumblr sites of pointless memes to connecting with loved ones. It is all in what you make of it.

    Now, back to the cat videos!

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  5. “So that’s this week’s Question — what beautiful things in your life do you owe to the Information Age?”

    A pretty shocking amount, really. I almost said “pretty much everything except family and friends,” but then it hit me that since I’ve started writing here I actually have a lot of friends that I know from the inter-tubes.

    Without the internet and information technology, I would never have been able to create the business model for my company that I did, and would be working for The Man instead of retired. And my second career, writing, clearly never has a chance to happen thirty years ago.

    If I look at every one of the dozens and dozens of non-jazz musical artist I’ve listened to over the past month, I think there are three that I would have ever known about without the internet: Lyle Lovett, Arcade Fire and Pink Martini. (Pink Martini I would never have known about if it weren’t for the fact that they’re from PDX, and in my mind kind of count for this exercise since they’re so multi-genre and un-pigeon-holeable I don’t think they survive long enough for me to have discovered them in a pre-internet world.)

    Writers I have discovered thanks to the information age include Russell Saunders, Chuck Klosterman, Helen Oyeyemi, Jonathan Lethem, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Alyssa Rosenberg, Colson Whitehead, Alan Weisman, Mark Haddon, Nick Harkaway, Wendy Moore, Naomi Alderman, Anthony Beevor, Charles C. Mann, and probably a hundred others.

    I loves me some Information Age.

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  6. I, like most of us I imagine, have thought about this a lot. The internet and I have a love hate relationship, and there are probably more times that I wish it wasn’t around then there are that I’m glad it’s here, but I do have to admit that there are too many people and pleasures for me to count that I owe to the internet.

    I imagine my life would be the same, but different, if I were using the World Book instead of Wikipedia to help my son with his homework; if in place of the Artchive I’d spend time in museums; if instead of reading old books from Project Gutenberg, I’d go to the local library. I’m pretty sure what I’d gain in each of those exchanges would at least cover what I’d lose. I can’t say that I’d miss it, then, except the talking to people outside of my little town.

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  7. I don’t know if it’s a factor of my own ability to just ignore stuff I don’t like or that my own tastes are crass but I don’t find the downsides of the information age even remotely comparable to the advantages. I mean sure, you see some gross pictures or occasionally get an icky story or meet an obnoxious troll but even the argument with the tools have some educational value.
    As to entertainment, I never particularly liked the old gatekeeper dominated entertainment media either. Those endless sitcoms with the canned laughter; Barf! Sure we have the Kardashians and Dance Moms (mediated by a hostess the husband and I refer to as Dance Cow~ we only see her when watching Project Runway) but we also have Project Runway and Game of Thrones and all the other exquisitely written stuff. Additionally we have so much more stuff tailored more to our individual tastes. In 1970’s you all listened to the same handful of mega artists because that was all there was. Now there are people who make things for free just for the joy of making it and millions of people can see them. Everyone can find entertainment that’s much more closely fitted to their individual tastes.

    And the talent it showcases; God(ess?)! The Talent!

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  8. I love this question but I couldn’t begin to answer it. I came of age on the internet, really – found it in 1994 when I was still in high school, and spent at least 3 hours a day online every day thereafter that I wasn’t traveling, or otherwise consciously taking a break (I like to hermit up every so often) – so:

    My spouse, about 3/4 of my oldest friends, 3/4 of my newest friends (weirdly, only about 1/3 of the friends I’ve had for a middling amount of time :) ), at least half of the books I’ve read, at least half of the music I love, at least half of the art I love, at least half of the pretty crafts I’ve made… most of the video games I’ve enjoyed (actually I think a lot of my favorite tabletop games are things we discovered on the net, too) … at least a third of the reason for my chosen career… yeah. “The internet” is so thoroughly admixed into my life that it’s pretty hard to imagine life without its benefices. Although, it would be easier (though still endless) to count up all the amazing wonderful things that would still be in my life without an internet :).

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    • As an example –
      I’m pretty sure I would’ve gone to New Zealand eventually someday without the internet, because I’ve wanted to do that since I was four – and it would’ve been just as naturally beautiful and full of lovely people and I would’ve swooned over it endlessly. Perhaps I would’ve even been slightly more amazed without being able to preview things? I don’t really know that part for sure…

      However,
      I doubt it would’ve been affordable enough for me to go this earlly in my life, without the internet deal I got.
      I wouldn’t have been able to meet up with James K without the internet, ’cause I wouldn’t have known him.
      I wouldn’t have cared about WETA or seeing Mount Doom without the internet (I promise you that in a non-Internet world, there would never have BEEN an epic live action Lord of the Rings, let alone one that was mostly filmed in New Zealand).
      I’m actually reasonably sure that without the internet, my very good friend whom I spent a huge amount of time with, who lives in Auckland, would never have come to my workplace for her schooling in the first place. And she would still be in the country where she grew up, or else in the UK. Thus, I would never have met her AND I would never have been visiting her in NZ.
      I wouldn’t have had easy access to the umpteen NZ books and movies I read before I went, and have been reading afterward, which would’ve notably diminished my pleasure in it (I feel confident about that, because when I went to Toronto when I was *seven*, I loved seeing places I had only ever read about, and connecting up the places I was going to the places I had been).
      I wouldn’t have known about the AMAZING train journey that was my favorite touristy part of the whole trip without the internet (I know, there would’ve been other ways of finding out about it – but *I* wouldn’t have thought to use them). Which also means I wouldn’t have had the 2 moments of absolute sublimity during the bus trip down to Wellington, or met the very interesting older gentleman who was traveling to Hamilton to see his kids, because I wouldn’t have been on that bus.
      I suspect (but cannot prove) that at least half of the coffee shops I enjoyed and the public library and museum stuff that I loved, wouldn’t have been there without a causal chain that involved the internet.
      I would’ve found it incredibly hard to leave Jaybird for that long, without the Internet.

      And so on.

      See? It’s an unanswerable question for me – just that one example goes on and on and I’m still leaving stuff out :D.

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  9. I’ll add on to what other have said about keeping in touch with friends which i’m poor at. The toobz have helped me be slightly less bad at it. I’ve always been a science and especially an astronomy geek. Nowadays i can keep up with every new astronomy development including hearing directly from the scientists who did the research. If there is something i didn’t understand i can search through different web sites or go to good youtube sites until i can read or see a video that helps me understand the topic. I can really read as deeply as i care even if that is reading actual journal articles if i care to and can follow them. Simply an amazing time to live.

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  10. I’m sure fashionable people in New York City would point at my old square-toed Kenneth Coles and laugh their asses off.

    Well, thanks to the Internet I’ve learned something disturbing about the shoes that I’ve been strutting around in for the past few years.

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  11. Peculiar as it sounds, the mere fact that the Internet exists is the source of a significant bit of happiness for me. In a childish sort of way…

    Starting in 1980, one of my responsibilities at the giant telecom/cable companies where I worked was technology intelligence — predicting where things were headed, what we could do with it, and what our competitors could do. I was (usually) a lone voice predicting the rise of increasingly powerful personal processing devices, the importance of data networks to interconnect those devices, and as time went on, everything-over-IP. 20 years ago next month, I distributed an internal white paper titled “The IP Telephone Company”; the last 20 years have, in terms of the underlying capabilities, played out pretty much as I outlined them — even the timing, which is the hardest part, was fairly accurate. Most of my work wasn’t popular with the business and marketing types, since it all predicted change-or-die scenarios. When I think about it, I always get a smug little smile, because I was right and all of them were wrong. I said it was childish.

    I didn’t get everything right, of course. I really underestimated how much quality early cell phone users were willing to sacrifice in order to have mobility (the 1970s landline telephone network had better voice quality than most of today’s cell networks). And I thought that IP multicast was going to be a really big deal. I wasn’t the only one; one-sixteenth of the entire IPv4 address space is reserved for multicast. Unfortunately, it’s still not available to the vast majority of end-users on the Internet.

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  12. It’s hard to answer this because my adult life has all been during the Information Age. Things that I wouldn’t have without the Internet comprise a large section of my life:
    – Access to international news and opinions beyond cable TV, including some exceptional bloggers (Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Atlantic, in particular, is an amazing writer and has exposed me to viewpoints and experiences I wasn’t even aware existed). The knowledge that there are people beyond my family and friends who share my opinions, even when cable news doesn’t (Daniel Larison, Conor Friedersdorf, and everyone else doing wonderful work on the anti-war and anti-security-state front).
    – Vacations that I can plan almost entirely online (flights, trains, hotels; TripAdvisor). It’s at the point where the idea that people had to book their flights through a travel agent because there was no way of doing it themselves is a strange concept to me.
    – Three webcomics I love: The Order of the Stick (started out as a riff on D&D, became an intensely engaging story with strong plotlines, amazing and well-developed characters, and strong moral themes), Strong Female Protagonist (about a superhero; gets into many of the major issues I have with comic-book super heroism), and xkcd (deeply geeky in-jokes, very funny). I’d recommend all of them.
    – The simple ability to discuss politics and world events with people from all over the world and with a wide range of differing opinions.
    – Mindless Diversions, which got me to read The Sandman and gives me the chance to discuss two rather niche TV series I love – Fringe and Babylon 5 – with other people.
    – More or less everything academic I’ve ever done. The vast majority of research – academic journals, statistical data, etc. – is online.

    To get a sense of what the Internet is to my generation, think of what your life would be like if telephones – of any kind – and television simply ceased to exist.

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