Vines, Twitter, and Over-the-Top Amusement

I finally got to read Amusing Ourselves to Death (Neil Postman), which I have heard a lot about. The book was published in 1985 but still astonishingly relevant. Since then, society has only continued to go down the track that Postman warned us about. He begins by discussing the various kinds of discourse in American history. Apparently, when Charles Dickens came to America, people gave him the same adulation that in 1985 they would have given to Michael Jackson or in 2018 they would give to someone like Beyoncé.

People also used to listen to famous historical figures speak for five hours or more at a time without losing interest. A debate between two learned people was as entertaining to them as watching the latest Star Wars movie is to us. And listening to those two people wasn’t like a presidential debate of today—instead, they spoke in long, rhetorically beautiful sentences that the average American today couldn’t follow with his tiny attention span.

Much has changed, and with every new medium of communication, it has continued to change. In 1985, television was the biggest threat to America’s intelligence and attention span.

Now it’s even smaller, more bite-sized methods of communication, like Twitter, YouTube, and Vines. Remember Vines, those 6-second clips that make no sense and have no context? Even though Vine shut down a while back, you can still find compilations of the most popular Vines on YouTube, like this:

There is literally no purpose to Vines except amusement, but most of the Vines leave me unsatisfied. I’m always wondering what the backstory was behind each seemingly random incident—what gave the creator the idea for that particular piece of idiocy? Are they really that much of a buffoon away from the camera? Some of the Vines are actually sad when they’re supposed to be funny, like the one where an old woman playing ping-pong falls into a china cabinet, knocking it over.

Vines aren’t effective methods of communication because they’re meant mainly for entertainment, but they are the video equivalent of Twitter, where many people get their news. Even though the character count on Twitter has increased, it is still obviously much more brief than a news program or even a longer online news article. Our president uses Twitter, and the way he uses it is completely typical of what Postman talks about in his book: the president came from a culture of showmanship, and he is less intelligent than he is entertaining.

The author also mentioned that the news has become less a serious discussion of current events and more a frenetic flash of constant warnings and Breaking News That You Must Listen To. Most of the breaking news has little to do with us directly, and we can’t do anything about it. Yes, it was good to be informed about Hurricane Florence, but it was almost counterintuitive to keep flashing “Breaking News” across the screen at every tiny occurrence related to the storm. The 24/7 news leads to a cycle of paranoia, and people don’t get smarter, just more paranoid, hence the running to the store for bread and milk, the actual fights breaking out over bottled water, and the looting of stores. Seeing that red “Breaking News” banner flash across the screen is like constantly being thrust into a state of alarm, whether it’s warranted or not.

Postman touches on religion, too, mostly referring to the televangelists who were a big deal in 1985 and who offered little in the way of genuine learning about religion. Now, the closest thing to televangelists would be those big mega-churches that come equipped with giant television screens, flashing lights, modern music, coffeehouses, and little gift shops. I read somewhere that the Millennial generation is getting fed up with this method of luring people into churches. Instead, they are yearning for the more traditional services of the past, where a pastor spoke the truth using just words, unadorned by anything else. Maybe it’s not too late to hope for a comeback of tradition.

No Such Thing as Laziness?

I found a strange article about a week ago that I thought I’d share: Laziness Does Not Exist. I’m somewhat disinclined to believe the author’s premise that there is no such thing as laziness. The author believes that behind every “lazy” person there is a legitimate excuse as to why they won’t or can’t do something. For instance, if someone doesn’t want to leave the house one day, does that mean they’re lazy? Not necessarily. It could mean that they’re tired or that they’re burned out or that they could be legitimately suffering from agoraphobia. If a student procrastinates on writing an essay, it could be because he is afraid of failure or unsure of what exactly to write, not because he’s plain old lazy.

As I said, I don’t know if I agree. Webster’s defines lazy as “disinclined to activity or exertion: not energetic or vigorous,” but it doesn’t expound on why the person feels that way, and perhaps that’s why we are now questioning the very concept of laziness. It seems to me that in our society today, we work very hard not to judge people. We have to be sensitive to their feelings and their neuroses and their pronouns and a thousand other things before we open our mouths and speak to them or open our brains and judge them. I read somewhere that people judge others because it is part of human nature: you make a judgment to size the person up. Are they a threat? Are they an ally or an enemy? Will they help or harm you? It’s not always bad to judge… sometimes it can even save your life.*

Back to laziness… I do agree that there are times when a person’s behavior looks lazy but really isn’t, due to any number of legitimate reasons. I also think there are times when someone is actually lazy and there’s no other excuse, like when you have energy, but you just don’t feel like doing something because… there really isn’t a concrete reason. You just can’t be bothered. Or when people prefer to live on government assistance, not because they are truly entitled to it or eligible for it, but because they are too lazy to work and are “working the system” instead.

What do you think? Does laziness exist? Or have we become too sophisticated to lazily throw that label around?

*And oddly enough, it often seems like the people who are so bent on being nonjudgmental are the very same people who will judge others for being judgmental. Go figure.

Backlash Against Natural Cycles

Good news, everyone! The FDA has approved the “contraceptive” Natural Cycles. I put “contraceptive” in quotes because Natural Cycles is technically a fertility tracking app, not a true contraceptive in the sense that the Pill or condoms are. It involves no artificial hormones or devices and is “natural” because the woman is monitoring her body’s signs and using the app to track them. She is not altering the natural state of her body but merely observing it to determine when her fertile and infertile phases are. Based on her body’s natural signs, she can determine whether to avoid or achieve pregnancy during that particular cycle.

Fertility tracking is supposedly coming back into style because many are not satisfied with the Pill because it causes unwanted, uncomfortable side effects and is bad for the environment. Other hormonal contraceptives are often mistrusted for the same reasons. More “mechanical” methods such as condoms are not trusted because they were never known to be as effective as the Pill and the other hormonal methods. There is also the relatively recent obsession with having a cleaner environment, and hormonal contraceptives such as the Pill have been known to pollute the environment.

Upon approval by the FDA, Natural Cycles was met with backlash because, well, it caused women to have unintended pregnancies and was billed as a contraceptive when in reality, it is not. Used correctly, Natural Cycles and other fertility tracking methods can be extremely effective at preventing pregnancy, even more so than the Pill. However, they require a lot more “work” on the user’s part to reach the optimal rate of effectiveness. The user can’t just simply take a pill or put on a condom. Natural Cycles and other similar methods work best when both partners agree on using them and commit to using them properly. Together, the partners decide whether each cycle would be the right one in which to avoid or a conceive a child, and that decision influences how they will use the information from the Natural Cycles app. Using this kind of method without the involvement and full knowledge of the other partner is dishonest, so it is really meant for those who are in long-term, committed relationships.

It seems, from reading the negative comments about Natural Cycles, that people don’t like that there is an “ideal user” of the app. The “ideal user” is someone in a committed relationship, and that should honestly be the case for all contraceptives. Ideally, the decision to use (or not to use) them should belong to both partners. The “ideal user” is also mature enough to and organized enough to keep track of her cycle and handle the consequence properly if the app happens to “fail.” I would argue that Natural Cycles really isn’t meant for very young women who are in college or high school.

The app should not be used with the attitude that if the contraceptive fails, abortion can be used as a backup method. Supposedly (and very sadly), Natural Cycles was “causing” more abortions because it failed so often, but again, I think that is more a result of the FDA not giving it a proper label as a fertility tracker rather than a contraceptive. It is also more a result of users falsely believing that it is just as “easy” to use as more common contraceptive methods. Entering information into an app may seem super easy, but the information needs to be entered accurately for the app to correctly analyze the data.

In short, it is wonderful that the FDA approved Natural Cycles, but it won’t truly be effective or widely used and understood unless the overarching mentality around contraceptives, sex, and babies changes… and it will probably a long time before that happens.