Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chopsticks on a Grand Piano

Have you ever bought a fancy kitchen mixer just because you needed a new bowl? Or maybe a fancy moleskin organizer for doodling? Would you buy a $10000 custom road bike to ride to school? Yeah, me neither.

But this is exactly what we often do with technology today.

If you have read any of my blog in the past, you may have noted that I am usually very critical of the various technical advancements of our age. I wish to set the record straight now and remark that much of the internet, cell phones, computers, and everything thereto related is good. What I mean by that is that these things, for which I will use the blanket term technology, help us to accomplish goals that we may otherwise find very and perhaps prohibitively difficult. It would be an understatement to say that the internet offers vastly unexplored potential. Add other technology to that, and the prospect is infinite.

But if you can make it, someone can reduce it to its basest level of benefit. The movable type printing press was first used to print the Bible--a noble and worthy effort--but consider all of the less savory and less useful results of print, including crudeness, libel, propaganda, and lowbrow entertainment. I don't know exactly what was first televised, but I can guarantee you that it was of greater worth than Jersey Shore. Information is overshadowed by entertainment. The problem with this is that so much time can be lost over entertainment.

These are not flaws in the medium, but in the group using it. Television, video recording and broadcasting, and their derivatives and descendants today are not inherently lacking in worth. However, by far their most prominent implementation, resulting from their audience's demonstrated interest, is simply for purposes of entertainment, lacking completely in true information from which one might benefit. The best of these sources of entertainment may deliver a well-written presentation on the same caliber as what is generally hailed as quality theater or literature, but this is the exception. The most updated information on TV Nielsen ratings that I found had among the top spots a couple sports broadcasts, a vacuous "talent" popularity contest, some lowbrow comedy, some unrealistic cop dramas, and one celebrity birthday party.

There is so much potential for personal edification in television, but no one is watching the programming that edifies. One only has to observe the generally declining quality and substance of shows on the formerly educational channels of Discovery (I guess we are now discovering new ways a family of rednecks can argue while they build motorcycles), The History Channel (The only history you'll get is the history of antique toilet seats, but even then you'll hear more about how much a pawn shop will pay for them, coupled with more familial quarreling), and so forth to realize that there is less and less room for anything other than shut-your-mind-off entertainment on TV. Again, this flaw does not lie in the medium.

The internet is a staggering example of a young medium of a different variety that is challenging expectations. One reason is the fact that so much more can be presented on the internet. The History Channel may have to bump actual history shows to run Pawn Stars, but on the internet the abundance of space permits the more excellent content to remain even when it becomes less popular. Thus the internet is very much a source of useful and worthwhile content. Furthermore, the internet's inherently interactive nature makes it astronomically more than just a source of content.

But the public continues to use the internet for things of little worth. Interactivity opens up new avenues of time-wasting with online gaming and social networking. Neither of these are entirely without advantage, but as a recovering former online gamer and currently struggling Facebook addict I can tell you that the costs definitely outweigh the gains for people like me if their behavior is not governed by the strictest personal restraint. There is, indeed, a website that admits its shortcoming in its own URL (I just visited it to copy the URL and fell prey to its promise myself). During the SOPA blackout, Stephen Colbert summarized pretty well what content people were missing (the part relevant to this discussion comes about 2:00):

That is the kind of content people are worried about losing. Of course that was an exaggeration, but you see what I'm trying to say.

And let's not forget the myriads of smartphone apps that are of absolutely no real service; there's the light-saber app, the popcorn app, the quotes-from-popular-TV-show apps, at least two and probably many more fart noise apps, and a pile of apps for absurdly simple games. When I see an advertisement for a smartphone, if I were not better-informed I would have to assume that a smartphone is simply a device for listening to music, watching videos, and playing Angry Birds, because these are what are advertised (along with some alphanumeric cipher indicating what generation of network is most current). I know that there is more to those devices than entertainment, but no one is telling me about it.

What I am suggesting is that there are plenty of unexplored possibilities to the internet. They may take some extra work and education to discover and exploit, but if we'd stop just playing Chopsticks and Heart and Soul on this grand piano, we could begin to make some beautiful music.

No comments:

Post a Comment