Wednesday, April 9, 2008


It's fascinating to watch the digital revolution get its second or third wind, with all manner of hybrid gizmos being dumped on glassy-eyed consumers, who've been told they "need" this or that. For the moment, the monopolists seem to want everything to go through the phone, which is the portable talk-device, telegrammer (text-messaging is the new name for it), data-storer, and locater (that is, law enforcement and Homeland Insecurity can locate you if your phone is near you). The phone is starting to look like a combination leash/security blanket/homing device/wiretapper to me. It wouldn't startle me to see some people sucking on them like pacifiers. I do own a cell phone, but I almost never turn it on, and I like to keep it away from my body. It's a hideous little beetle of a thing, although I like the way it flips open like William Shatner's old communicator on ST. There are only about three people I call on it (or they me), anyway. I do like the fact that my son rigged it so Johnny Cash sings "I Walk the Line" when somebody calls. The wee numbers are so close together that the few times I've tried to text-message, I look like a polar bear trying to open a candy-bar.

But I'm as attached to the (old-fashioned) computer as some people are to their souped-up phones and their boysenberries, or whatever those other things are. Gooseberries? I like the old screened beast for word-processing (now an old-fashioned term), emailing, finding information (especially academic), following threads on LibraryThing, blogging and reading blogs, poking around on Google, getting a whiff of politics, and checking on the Oakland Raiders.

I also got on facebook about a year ago, when almost no faculty were doing so. At first it seemed like it was me and some faculty members at Abilene Christian University (go figure). Now more faculty members are hopping aboard. One hidden benefit has been keeping in touch with alumni.

But I loathe all the new "applications" they've heaped on facebook, like a bad chef ruining a simple, elegant dish. Most of the applications are moronic, but even if that weren't the case, they just make the whole thing look like a strip-mall. The process seems at once self-propelling, self-accelerating, and self-defeating. Proliformation for proliformation's sake: the diseased need to keep producing products productively, prodorrhea.

I especially loathe the Top Friends facebook application--and the ones about what cartoon character you are. What the hell is that? Cartoon characters are cartoon characters, not people. I thought we covered that. Top Friends is a middle-schoolish thing, in my opinion. Next, people will list their second-tier friends, their bottom friends, their Top nemeses, their charming acquaintances, their mid-level Jungian shadows, and their moribund enemies. Some of the facebook groups, I like, however; they seem to serve either a practical or a whimsical purpose and sometimes both.

Beyond the aforementioned few digital engagements, I'm pretty clueless. (Oh, I forgot Ipod.) I know virtually (so to speak) nothing about this Second Life stuff, but it looks a lot like what we used to call "the imagination," except some programmers created it and sold it, and I gather you have to mold your fantasy-life according to what the programmers have established, like sheep going through a chute, or kids at recess. (I always hated organized stuff at recess. The whole point was to take a recess from regimentation.) Apparently there's another fantasy-thing called Entropia. Over there your Top Friends are, by definition, running out of energy, so they just take Top Naps. Thinking about Second Life annoys me as much as thinking about bed-and-breakfasts. I start feeling like Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining, and I want to take an ax to a B&B door in First Life or to all of Second Life. My two main gripes about B&B's are that they're "cute" (meaning uncomfortable and creaky, with lousy beds) and that you're forced to talk to strangers at breakfast. If I'm forced to talk to people at breakfast, then the B&B owners should pay me, is the way I think about it. The strangers are no doubt better people than I am; nothing personal; it's just that I want them to stay strangers, and I want to eat breakfast--in a place where old-pro waitresses work and don't make small-talk.

I think there should be an application-process ("application" in the old sense, not in the facebook sense), and you should have to be doing a few things right in First Life before you're allowed to play much, or at all, in Second Life. Are you a good friend? Do you imagine you're better than other people (if so, do not advance to Second Life)? Are you reducing your carbon footprint? Do you leave a good tip for hard-working servers? Have you read enough poetry? Any poetry? Have you shown a modicum of generosity? Have you sworn not to express road-rage? Do you clean up after yourself? Do you arrive on time? How are your listening skills? After looking at your answers, a counselor would come over and say, "Well, we'd like you to try a bit harder in First Life before you start playing Second Life, okay?"

Now it looks like I might, in connection with my work, have to try something called Moodle. Oy. I think I might have named it VooDoodle or Schtroodle.


Acumensch said...

Hey we must have been thinking about the same thing yesterday! I too was blogging about these things.

I agree that most of the applications are ridiculous. Rate your friends, de-intellectualize everything, become a zombie, etc.

But the trend beneath it all is interesting, this standardization of markup language that allows everything to be interoperable. I think that is really interesting!

Hans Ostrom said...

Yes, I think you're right--the fine-tuning of mark-up language is probably a good thing. I was being curmudgeonly about the applications themselves. There's so much space-junk on facebook now.