One of my favorite fiction quotes is Hamlet saying, “I could be bounded in a nut shell and count myself a king of infinite space.” (He goes on to add, “were it not that I have bad dreams,” which, if you know the story, was a definite problem for him.) The quote has a special poignancy these days now that we’re all bounded up in our own nut shells (and trying to avoid going nuts).
There have been some unexpected upsides and down sides. Air pollution is down (an upside); reports of domestic abuse are up (a downside). Streets are cleaner, city rats are starving. Bears and wolves are roaming freely in national parks while we cower in our caves.
What changes will stick with us? How different will our future be than we might have expected (assuming we survive this)?
I’ve said in the past that all the crazy and stupid in the world doesn’t make me bitter so much as bemused (which is not at all the same as amused). Lately, as the stakes seem higher and the ought-is gap ever wider, I have to admit to a fair degree of bitterness. It just doesn’t have to be this bad, and often I can’t really grasp why it is.
I read my news feed and am struck by the juxtaposition of items describing the tragedies of life so many experience daily with… hand-wringing over Taylor Swift’s latest romantic breakup.
Ah, the flotsam and jetsam of modern humanity…
Looking back over the trail of sour bubbles, obvious themes emerge: Society, Politics, Media, The Interweb. Important topics that affect and reflect us. Topics I find filled with dire signs and portents, chill winds carrying a hint of smoke that makes my neck hairs stand up straight.
For example, Vin Scully is retiring. If that’s not a sign of the coming apocalypse, I don’t know what one is. Adding insult, my Minnesota Twins are having a bad season of truly biblical proportions.
So a strange sour silly summer…
In the last quarter of the 19th century — USA-centrically, call it 139 years ago — we began to experience having the sound of strangers’ voices in our lives, even in our homes. Not just voices, but music from concert halls and clubs. And other sounds, too: the clip-clop of horse feet, the slam of a door, a gun-shot. Less than 100 years go, those sounds went electric, and we never looked back.
At the beginning of the 20th century, we started another love affair — this one with moving images on rectangular screens, a dance of light and shadow, windows to imaginary worlds. Or windows to recorded memories or news of distant places. When sound went electric, those moving images took voice and spoke and sang. No one alive in our society today remembers a time when moving images weren’t woven into our lives.
Here, now, into the 21st century, in an age of streaming video and music, from cloud to your pocket device (with its high-resolution display and built-in video camera), I can’t help but be impressed by how far we’ve come.
A long way, indeed.
Credit where credit is due, both the major ideas in this post come from Fareed Zakaria on his CNN Sunday program, GPS. If you follow TV news at all, you know Sunday mornings have such long-running standards as Meet the Press (on NBC since 1947!) and Face the Nation (on CBS since 1954). (Or was it Meet the Nation and Face the Press?)
Zakaria is one of the good ones: very intelligent, highly educated, calm and measured. He’s well worth listening to. (I’ve realized one attraction to TV news is the chance to — at least sometimes — hear educated, intelligent talk. It’s a nice respite from most TV entertainment.)
Two things on Zakaria’s last episode really rang a bell with me.
Last week Vinton “Vint” Cerf was the guest on The Colbert Report. The elegant Mr. Cerf is one of the two acknowledged fathers of the internet (the other is Bob Kahn). Among other things, those two invented the TCP/IP protocol that allows all internet communication.
Briefly, the need to connect different computers together goes back to the 1960s. Researchers in the 1970s sought to create a network for government (especially military) and academic computing (the ARPANET). The 1980s saw the birth of the internet — the first “dot-com” name was registered in 1985. And only six years later, in 1991, the “interweb” began!
It got me thinking back to those early text-based days before “the web”…
Every generation “can’t imagine what it was like” with regard to something. Various generations have recently gone through not knowing what it was like before automobiles, before flight, before black and white TV, before space travel, before CDs, and — increasingly —before social media.
The thing about being plugged into the interweb is that you’re plugged into something very, very big. Not just big, big and fast. Lots of information rushes by very fast all the time. Drinking from the interweb — as those they that say things say — is like trying to sip from a firehose.
So what about a generation that’s never known the quiet?