Sunday night is a biiiiiig TV night. Thus, I was up until the wee hours of the morning. Watching Reza use Liquid Ass on the gang! Catching up with the adventures of Jon Snow, Cersai, and Tyrion. Wondering whether Eli will ever snag another political consulting job since he’s failed so miserably in keeping Peter from being indicted.
After that, it seemed very important that I watch Ghost World for the 40th time.
It dawned on me that video on demand is actually the fourth major technological revolution of my lifetime.
The first three major technological revolutions of my lifetime were (in chronological order) computers, the Internet, and smart phones.
Rik was the first person I knew with a computer. He won it at an Apple trade show. When would this have been? I have no idea, actually: My memories aren’t anchored to a timeline.
But by 1987, I would have owned one, too. I would have needed it for grad school.
Computers, in those days, weren’t for communicating. They were strictly word processors or data compilers. They were very clunky and slow. And there was a Holy War going on between Microsoft (the Catholic Church) and Apple (the Gnostics.) I came down on the side of the Gnostics. It had nothing to do with design and usability – two concepts, which to this very day, more-or-less sail right over my head. It would have had to do with the fact that Rik had an Apple.
In graduate school, I amused myself by doing things like inventing the Marginal Futility Function, counterpoint to the Marginal Utility Function, which is the utility a consumer gains or loses by increasing or decreasing the consumption of a good or service. The basic unit of microeconomics. Economics is an exceedingly dry subject.
Somewhere toward my third year, pounding away on my Mac Plus keyboard at a paper on water regulation, I thought to myself: I’m sick of talking to my computer! I want my computer to talk back.
And this turned out to be well within the realm of possibility.
I’d read about this… thing… that let you talk to other people using your computer. Well. Write to other people, anyway. Kind of like typing a letter, putting it in a bottle, throwing the bottle into the ocean, and waiting a couple of hours for the bottle to wash back up with a letter inside it from someone else.
This thing was called the Well.
I joined the Well, and thus became what they now call An Early Internet Adopter.
The Well exerted a disproportionate amount of influence considering its tiny, tiny size. Chiefly because journalists then, like journalists now, greatly prefer sitting in their bedrooms, guzzling Diet Coke, eating Cheezits, and reading about stuff to actually going out and doing investigative legwork.
I became moderately famous on the Well due to my propensity for hilarious quips and blood feuds.
As I became moderately famous, I, too, began to exert a disproportionate amount of influence! I’m in books! Thankfully, they're out of print. But the best thing about being famous on the Well was that it attracted the interest of Time Inc., leading to a job at People Magazine. I became People’s Interactive Entertainment Editor, which meant I got to sit in my bedroom, guzzling Diet Coke, eating Cheezits, and interviewing Real Live Celebrities on the phone! Best job evah!
Twice a month I had to show up in New York, and more often than that, I had to be in Los Angeles where I had to interview Real Live Celebrities in person and go to functions like the Oscars. Believe it or not, this was actually boring and depressing. The Oscars are not the fun fest the television cameras would have you believe, and Real Live Celebrities quite often look and behave like ferrets.
Though I was an Early Internet Adopter, I came late to smartphones.
I can remember tromping around downtown San Francisco in the early oughts and wondering about the epidemic of schizophrenia that seemed to be hitting well-dressed young professionals in their mid-20s to mid-30s. They all seemed to be rushing around the city talking to themselves.
Took me a while to understand they were actually talking on tiny phones.
I had an enormous clunky portable phone that I hardly ever used.
I’d gotten it because I was away from home so much, and I needed it to keep communication lines open with the family in case something went wrong.
Eventually, I got portable phones for the kids, too.
One day, Max and RTT ambushed me. “We hate these phones! We want iPhones!”
I resisted. For a couple of hours.
I was shocked/shocked/shocked by how much I loved my iPhone! Chiefly for its camera and texting functions. Texting on an iPhone took me right back to my haydays on the Well when I would write screens and screens of the most brilliant, ephemeral elucidations!
It still shocks me, though, to walk down a street and see that no one is paying any attention at all to the world around them. They’re all scowling and focusing on that tiny, tiny screen in front of them. Like that wonderful scene in the movie Her when Theodore walks into a crowd of people, just emerging from a subway, each immersed in the phantom world their personalized operating system has crafted for them.
Though, of course, I’m one of those people who makes eye contact on the subway.
I’ve been torrenting for years – information wants to be fr-e-e-e-e-e! – but it was only a year ago that I signed up for Netflix and Hulu.
Nielsen says the average American consumes 3.5 hours of entertainment programming every day, but I’m quite sure the actual number is higher than that. Nielsen’s representative sampling includes cats, right? And dead people.
I have no idea how much entertainment programming I consume in the course of any given day, but the figure is quite high. I know more about Reza and the unresolved issues that drive him to use Liquid Ass than I do about just about any human being in my – ha, ha, ha! – real life. And Jon Snow’s journey reveals itself to me with the Technicolor clarity of Stations of the Cross.
I think I should feel bad about this.
But actually, I don’t.
If it makes me happy to be a voyeur spying on the intimate lives of imaginary people, who's to judge?
And who’s to say that Reza or Jon Snow aren’t more "real" than four-fifths of the “people” on my Facebook “friends” list?
Only George “1984” Orwell and Aldous “Brave New World” Huxley?
They got it wrong.
The real future is the future of E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops.