The Future Is ON

I know I’ve used this analogy at least once, and probably more than that. Sometimes you just go back to a really good well.

It’s from 30 Rock, just a quip. A gag. A one-liner. Dennis, Liz Lemon’s (Tina Fey) on-again, off-again sociopath of a boyfriend, arrives in her offices with his new title of The Beeper King (the former King passed away), complete with a briefcase full of samples. Of beepers. In 2009 or 2010.

Still, he insists they’re making a comeback. “Technology is cyclical, Liz!”

History, maybe, if you’re willing to wander into the abstract. Technology, no. Nothing goes back in the box to be replaced by an earlier, analog version.

This has always been the case. Whatever you don’t like about the modern world and its technology, it’s not going anywhere, any more than the printing press. It will just get shinier.

There’s no value judgment here, at least on my part. The older I get, the more I see the trade-offs we make every day. Last night, I leaned back in my chair and looked at my two 24” monitors sitting side by side on my desk, the whole world waiting inside my browser. They’re sharper than anything I imagined 30 years ago, rail thin and lightweight, and at that moment – and for a lot of moments I spend here at the desk – they functioned primarily as a clock. I’ve taken to putting the stupid thing to sleep several times a day, just because I imagined a future and it looked sort of like this, but it never occurred to me that the future would always be on.

And so we come back to social media, which is the world we live in, and we’re really talking about Facebook. Whatever Mr. Zuckerberg had in mind originally, no matter how that vision changed and grew, we’re the ones who are playing his game.

It’s a good game, too. A lot of the time. The allure is obvious and the draw powerful: Stay off Facebook and run the risk of being out of any number of loops. Loops you actually might not need, but you’ll be missing them and eventually that can wear on somebody. I get it.

But a large, open clearinghouse for everyone’s dumb ideas? We should have seen this coming. Human nature being what it is.

I don’t have any good solutions, either. Our understandable resistance to hear statements from people we might or might not really know that are offensive or at least in opposition to things we believe led to our ability to lock it down, see only what we want. Convenient for those of us who like to keep our blood pressure under control, but whatever the problem it seems obvious, maybe axiomatic, that choosing bubbles over wide-open conversation isn’t solving anything, and never has.

Bubbles are boring, for one thing. After removing myself from field about a year ago, I’ve kept my distance and my mouth shut, for the most part. And following a brief effort to unfriend some names that I barely recognized, people I had only a spot in my high school yearbook in common with, I just did what we all end up doing and blocked most of them.

So I’m presented every morning with a slew of posts from people who agree with me on most things, and watching paint dry looks better and better. Moderation, not my strongest suit, might be the better part of valor here.

***

On the brighter, or shinier, side, and speaking of those glistening monitors, I’ve had some fun exploring high definition at a pretty high level lately. Feeling that I needed an optical drive, if only to pull home video off DVDs to edit, I opted for a Blu-Ray drive. It wasn’t expensive and I figured the upgrade might come in handy.

Blu-Ray technology strikes me as almost niche, at least in the sense that most people probably don’t care. My mom has a nice, high-definition television but a standard definition cable package. It’s a little baffling to watch but she can’t imagine a reason to upgrade, and I’m probably with her. You don’t miss what you never have.

Blu-Rays have allowed me to practice some rules that became necessary 30 years ago, when buying VHS tapes became a thing, particularly for people with kids. We must have had (and still do) dozens of Disney movies, along with blank tapes I recorded various films and shows on. A foot had to be put down, and when we switched to DVDs it was my foot. I couldn’t stop anyone else in this household, but I could keep my collection to a minimum, and now Blu-Ray made it even leaner. I can stream virtually anything I want; I own a few, select titles on Blu-Ray, and just because I like owning them. I’ve got The Godfather. I have every Rocky movie. There are a few others.

And despite the lack of freeware capable of negotiating the elaborate DRM B-R manufacturers pile on their disks, meaning that I had to buy software to play them, it’s actually a pretty cool experience. A smaller screen, better resolution than my plasma in the other room, and a super-crisp picture.

I’ll get over it eventually, and the drive will gather the dust that all of this gathers, but as I said: Shiny is compelling, and sometimes it takes a while to realize that all that glitters is not glittery, really. A lot of it is noise, and we have the tools to take care of that, and always have.

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