Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Thoughts on future

So, today has been dubbed "Back to the Future Day," because October 21, 2015 was the day the time-machine Delorean was set to in the first movie. (It's been a long time since I saw it, and I don't think I've seen either of the sequels).

I commented on Twitter that I feared our futures might look more like Idiocracy than Back to the Future; the whole "amusing ourselves to death" thing. Then again, there are probably enough cranky types like me who question WHY we need Shakespeare-in-emoji to keep the culture going. (On bleaker days, I imagine us as being a bit like the Lindisfarne monks - quietly passing down the touchstones of culture (as we see them, at least) to future generations in the hopes that some day, people will want to read again)

I will say there are a couple things about human behavior currently that do concern me for our future. And I'm not talking about ISIS or ISL or whatever we're supposed to call it now, or concerns about how the social safety net is supported by an ever-shrinking cadre of workers. These are kind of little things by comparison, but they are things I encounter every day:

1. People seem to be getting more self-absorbed and nastier. I see enough snarking on Twitter and I generally only follow people who tend to be a bit more civil. There's a lot of what I have taken to calling "othering" - that is, being able to see the other human being as not-human some how. The most recent example was when Lamar Odom was in extremis, there were people various places making rather horrible jokes. And okay: I acknowledge it looks like he's made some pretty bad choices in his life. But he's also a fellow human being. And as frustrated as I get at how people BEHAVE, I try to remember that they are still human underneath it all.

And just stuff like how people act in the grocery store, or the post-office line, or whatever: nota bene -  you are not the Most Important Person in the Whole Wide World*. I'll work to remember that about me if you work to remember it about you.

(* I'd blame the short-lived, early 70s series of cartoons containing that statement but I seem to be one of the few who remembers them, so. Though apparently Tina Fey also remembers them. Heh. Perhaps I need to read that book, based on the snippet I see there. I also remember 1979 and the "need to save money.")

2. The incredible ubiquity of electronic gadgets and electronic "noise." I re-read Ray Bradbury's short story "The Murderer" last night - I have a copy of "The Golden Apples of the Sun," a short-story collection with it in, but it's also available online. I first remember encountering this story in a tv adaptation - I think it was on PBS? I just remember the guy talking about the 'Dirty feet, muddy feet, wipe your feet, PLEASE be neat" officious doormat.

Well, when I first saw the tv adaptation, the internet only existed as something for people in the armed forces, cell phones were still a few years off, and I don't think grocery stores had yet considered putting tvs blaring ads on the endcaps of aisles.

But re-reading it NOW, when there even IS a wristwatch phone....well, it's striking. (And I confess: I play music in my office. Quiet classical music. But I can turn it off if I want to, and I have it mainly to overcome noise from the hall.) But I admit, every time I go to the grocery store and have an endcap tv shouting at me (the wal-mart is bad for this), I think of the story and confess I fantasize slightly about pulling out a multi-tool and quickly and quietly cutting the wires (if wires there be) that lead to the thing and making it shut down.

And even more egregious: when I was in the Kroger's (and Kroger's, shame on you. You are otherwise the best grocery store I have easy access to) over the weekend, I was going down an aisle and suddenly heard a low, murmuring voice. I stopped dead and whipped around, because in my experience, that kind of sound means (a) I'm imagining things and am fixing to get a migraine headache or (b) I am about to be approached by the sort of man generally known in my crowd as a 'creeper.'

But it wasn't either one: it was a tiny device, smaller than a typical smartphone, bolted to the shelf. It had a tiny screen on it, and apparently a motion-sensing device - so as you walked by, it played an ad at you. ARGH.

My general feeling is this: I have already made the effort to go to the grocery. I am already in there buying stuff. I do not need to be advertised to MORE. In fact, I find it slightly offensive and I wonder: am I getting any kind of discount here for enduring more advertising? Probably not.

The thing is, I kind of feel I am a voice crying in the wilderness on this. Very few people I have encountered and brought this up with seem to care, or else they go, "huh. I never noticed those." (which tells me: brace for even more intrusive advertising in the future). I suspect it's because everyone else is looking at their wrist radios smart phones. Because that's something else I notice: lots and lots of people can't put the smartphone down. I see it walking across campus: I welcome having to go across campus for a meeting or to drop off paperwork as a few minutes' break, a chance to be alone with my thoughts for a while. But it seems about 80% of the people I encounter are heads down, tapping away. (Bradbury predicted this too, with his comments in the story on the endless banal updates about golf games or what street the bus is at). I don't know. I don't have that much important to say that I can think of texting it to people, and I honestly don't think I have people who love me enough - NOT EVEN MY PARENTS - to want me to constantly barrage them with 'this is what I'm doing now'

Where I really mind it is in the grocery store. Or in the halls of my building. Where people nearly run into you because they are not looking where they are going. I've also had a few near-misses on the road where the other person, when I looked over after swerving out of the way, was clearly texting.

And I don't know. I wonder if this whole thing is just going to serve to isolate me more, if seemingly 75-80 percent of the population is always texting a friend? I've been in 'social' settings where many of the people were dinking on their cell phones - and people like me who didn't have one wound up being a little left out. I don't know. Maybe this drives me to become even more of a hermit....

And from what I've seen, it does seem that Facebooking or texting or whatever people do now on their smart phones is kind of addictive. I know sometimes I have trouble prying myself off the internet, and I generally have decent willpower. (And as I've said: I've just given up calling people out for texting and junk in class, because I'd be stopping every 10 minutes to call people out. I do my speech about how people think they can multitask but they really can't, I tell people who come and whine at me about their poor grades or whatever that maybe they need to put the cell phone away if they are one of my serial texters, but I'm not going to stop class and remind myself of "If you were more interesting, they wouldn't be doing that" every ten minutes of my work life)

I will say, though: If I were teaching high school English or even junior-high English, I'd have "The Murderer" on my list of stories for the class to read and discuss. (Actually, a lot of Bradbury's short stories raise interesting discussion topics, like the one about the dad who "took his kids to Mars" by spending the money he should have spent on equipment (he ran a junkyard) on a junker rocket.....)


purlewe said...

the bradbury story that sticks with me is the veldt. sooooo weird. And I think about it b'c people have tvs as big as rooms now.

I will look at yours. I enjoy bradbury, even if it is creepy.

Charlotte said...

I haven't encountered the TV's with ads in the grocery stores here. Thank goodness! I wouldn't like that either.