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.

Sharing a Computer

This article on Slate brought me back to the mid/late 1990s and early 2000s when my brother and I shared the family computer (which was really my dad’s computer; my mom never had any interest in it). I don’t remember what the computer itself looked like, but I remember that the monitor was one of those huge, ungainly CRT things that my dad pulled out of the garbage at IBM, where he worked. Beside the computer was a stack of floppy disks, another stack of computer game CDs, and an Artemide Tizio desk lamp, on which my brother and I used to hang action figures and small stuffed animals. I remember that my dad hated when we did that because the lamp was expensive. We had Windows 95 back then, and to this day, I still believe it is the best operating system that ever was.

My brother and I spent so much time playing games on the computer, and those are some of the best memories I have. We’d play all day during the summer, and we would attempt to take turns on the computer, which sometimes became a fight that my dad would have to break up. Then I’d go to my room and read when it was my brother’s turn, which, to a great degree, was better than all the silly games we played on the computer.

The article talks about how playing (or working) on the computer was once a shared family past-time but is now a solo endeavor because where there used to be just a family computer, there are now computing devices for every family member. Laptops, cell phones, and tablets all make the Internet portable and personal, so one can easily retreat to his bedroom or another enclosed space with his device, with no need to share it.

Back in the day of the family computer, you had to interact with people to share the use of the computer. You were the audience when your siblings were playing games. Nothing you did was really private because a parent or a sibling could walk up to you at any time because you had no claim over the computer. It belonged to everyone. I think it should still be this way. Computers and the Internet can too easily be used for evil or for aimlessly wasting time. Sharing a computer can prevent “ownership” of the device and remind us that we are still in a world with other people. Maybe those people would like to “play” with us, so we’d be better off turning away from the screen.

Seven Deadly Sites

I read a cool article that compared different social media sites to the seven deadly sins (so I guess in a way, the author was saying that the Internet was hell?), but I found that some of them weren’t totally accurate (at least not for me), so I reworked the list. Here’s the original:

Lust = Tinder (It’s some kind of dating site, but I’ve never used it.)
Gluttony = Instagram (Because people post pictures of food.)
Greed = LinkedIn (More money, more jobs, more problems.)
Sloth = Netflix (It’s not social media, but the comparison is accurate.)
Wrath = Twitter (Oh, so many heated arguments about nothing!)
Envy = Pinterest (Because people post so many perfect-looking projects.)
Pride = Medium (I’ve never heard of it.) or Facebook (People posting about themselves all the time.)

Here are mine, but they’re not strictly social media:

Lust = 4chan or porn sites (Seems like those are the granddaddy of lustful temptation, not necessarily Tinder.)
Gluttony = Pinterest (I’m not on Instagram, so I see more food and recipes on Pinterest.)
Greed = Tumblr (I follow a lot of notebook and journaling blogs, and I want to buy everything I see on there.) or Amazon (for obvious reasons)
Sloth = YouTube (I watch more YouTube than Netflix, and it’s so easy to say “just one more video… it’s only 3 minutes!”)
Wrath = CNN.com or any news site (The world has so many problems that it makes me angry.)
Envy = Blessed Is She (Ironically an uplifting Catholic site, but it makes me envious because the site features those who are much better writers than me.)
Pride = WordPress (I’ve debated many times about whether I should shut down my blog because I’m trying to figure out why I’m posting. To show off or because I honestly love writing? This is my main Internet home, so in a way it’s my Facebook—I don’t think I could ever give it up.)

What are your seven deadly sites?