a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Posts tagged “social media

“Putting my head in the toilet…would be a more cleansing experience.” —Emma Thompson

"Don't you dare 'like' me!"

“Don’t you dare ‘like’ me!”

Wow, tell us what you really think, Emma… Don’t be so Brit-polite!

The star of such literary fare as Much Ado About Nothing and Sense and Sensibility says she hates hates HATES social media, thank you.

Also, she HATES social media.

…And did we mention she HATES social media???

Though she’s publicly forgiven fellow thespian Helena Bonham Carter for having an affair with former hubby Kenneth Branagh, if she never met Mark Zuckerberg in an elevator something tells me she’d strangle him dead.

And then kick him in the jewelbag just for fun.

Asked in a recent Vanity Fair interview about joining Twitter, Thompson said:

I’d rather have root canal treatment FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE than join Twitter. That’s not my scene at all. I can’t bear the thought of being connected all the time. God knows what it’s all doing to us. I hope that everyone does realize that we are all just one giant human experiment at the moment. We are just a great big bunch of little gerbils on wheels.

But it didn’t stop there. The two-time Oscar winner thinks these recent seismic changes in how we live are dangerous to our mental well-being, and she’s serious—we are in danger of our whole civilization going down the tubes:

In about 25 years time, maybe, a sudden generation will just drop dead. Everyone will just die on the same day. And I’ll say, “Oh, what do these people have in common? Hang on.” They were connected every day 24/7, you know! And no one knew what it was going to do to them. No one knew! Because we didn’t bother to find out. Because we’re stupid! We invent stuff, we just fling it out there, we let anyone use it. A three-year-old could fucking be on Twitter. A three-year-old! And then they go on and on and on about everything that there is. And get reviewed every day by Facebook. And then we will wonder why, at the age of 60, an entire generation chucks itself off a cliff like a bunch of lemmings. 

When asked if she ever Googled herself, she replied, “Putting my head in the toilet and flushing it repeatedly would be a more cleansing experience.”

Yikes.

She goes on about how today’s Americans are too monied and as a consequence have nothing to do but dream about owning the latest gadget. She said she doesn’t know what to talk to these people about. It reminded me of a famous Tocqueville quote that in democratic societies each citizen is habitually busy with the contemplation of a very petty object, which is himself. Emma must be a handful—and I love her for it.

The day after her comments emerged in that Vanity Fair interview, an article in a San Francisco Bay Area newspaper pointed out  how app developers more and more are targeting young children—very young, as in one or two.

The Oakland Tribune story talked about developers who want to put smart phone gizmos in the hands of children who don’t really understand concepts like data mining or opting out, or even privacy. Some parents defend these apps—one family says their third-grader is reading at the level of an eighth grader, something I find hard to believe simply because to read at such a high level requires more than just early exposure to technology. It necessitates life experiences, not just being able to process larger batches of words than your peers, and these can’t be rushed along; they have to happen. How was it ascertained he was reading at an eighth-grade level? Who tested him and how? Is “reading at an eighth grade level” defined as just assuring his parents he “knows what the words mean”?

Besides, every parent believes their little puddin does things so much better than all the other tots. Remember, at Lake Woebegone, all the children are above average.

Read more about Emma’s rant here.

…And about the trend of apps for tots, which interestingly had its headline changed from an originally critical one to this more positive one, here.

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Mr. Bond doesn’t like gadgets

craig

Gadgets leave him neither shaken nor stirred.

It’s true. James Bond doesn’t care for all the electronica in today’s world.

And get that iPad out of the bedroom. It’s, um, distracting.

Daniel Craig says he doesn’t like today’s 24/7 Twitter-and-Facebook world.

“I don’t look at myself on the Internet. I’m so much happier.”

He adds, regarding the perception of his and others’ images across the blogosphere,  “You can’t win—that was a lesson in itself, how much of that you can fight.”

Craig is among those who feel that he Internet robs life of its mysteries and randomness. He says he thinks of the pre-Internet age as a “sexier time,” before the world was “full of leering smartphone cameras.” They were present in the moment. There was a distinction between the real and the virtual, something that, I agree, seems to be disappearing.

“Certainly, when I grew up, what everybody else was thinking was not what I wanted to think,” Mr. Craig said. “Lou Reed didn’t worry about what people were thinking on Twitter when Lou Reed was just the coolest human being around. Or David Bowie. They cared, but they cared in a way that was so ahead of the curve because they weren’t interested in what people were thinking. And to now have this whole thing of being completely worried of what everybody’s thinking. Even people who are not famous, they’re worried about what their followers think, what their Facebook people think. It’s just, you’re chasing your tail. And the creativity, I think, just gets stifled.”

Publishers and agents believe writers should have all manner of social media accounts. I have to wonder why. Not why you might want to—that’s fine—but why you have to? Are you, dear reader, really not going to read some book of mine, that you think you’ll like so much, as perhaps you liked the last one, because I don’t tweet at you, and then read a book you like less because that writer does? (Note later: Actually, Yaaho CEO Marissa Meyer got a ton of people to at least say they’ve switched their homepage to Yahoo just by tweeting back at them, so maybe some people are that starving for attention. Or maybe they’re just pulling the wool over Ms. Meyer’s eyes.)

To Craig this social obsession is hurting the arts more than it’s helping.

“With studios—I may be completely wrong, and I don’t care if I am — but so much credence is being given to what is being said by a relatively small group of people that studios keep on making huge mistakes. They think they’re making a movie that’s going to be hugely successful, and it’s a failure.”

As I said in another post, the ubiquitous nature of technology means plot twists and spontaneity—both in fiction and in real life—are going to get harder and harder. Imagine how this will change if Google Glass catches on. (I’d rather not.) Should life be a 24-hour live broadcast like The Truman Show, a 1998 movie that turned out to be eerily prescient? Do people really enjoy this, being “on” constantly, broadcasting themselves at 140 characters at a time?

We used to have layers to our lives, layers people only penetrated after effort and examples of understanding, faith, love and loyalty. Your public face, your face to your relationships and acquaintances, your deeply private face you only showed to a few friends, and maybe the one you only showed to your spouse, or yourself. Now people break up over text, fall in love over Facebook, put tapes of themselves having sex and confessing to homicide on YouTube.

Perhaps it should be called the Too Much Information Superhighway.

Welsey Shaw doesn’t like gadgets either, largely because she’s a prisoner of them, never able to disconnect into freedom. So many people seem to crave this; she does not. (Careful what you ask for is one of the themes of the novel.) She says at one point that if she knew people would be watching her movies on a four-inch screen she would have acted differently in them. Once upon a time there was a difference. Television had one aesthetic, big-screen another, radio another. This has gotten blurred recently and I’m not sure that’s good. Most movies look like TV shows nowadays. And that’s intentional.

Movies, TV shows and even books now believe they have to hook you on the first page or in the first minute or you’ll be distracted. Anything that takes an attention span, even a modest one, is rejected, because they’re afraid a tweet might intrude. Recently Harper Collins held a contest to find their Next Great Novel. The criteria? Submit the first three sentences of your book. They’d judge solely on that. I’m certain consultants told them people only look at three sentences before moving on.

If this is what gadgets do to us—give us the attention-span of a flashcube—then I’m glad I’ve never really be seduced by them. I don’t even have a smartphone. Don’t want one, either.

But I must say, I’m a bigger Bond fan than ever now that it turns out 007 doesn’t like gadgets. What delicious irony! But he always was a bit of a rebel.

More about Mr. Craig’s unconventional thoughts on technology, and the new production he’s starring in of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal—a play that’s all about secrets—here.

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A famous author’s take on our age

The concentration, the focus, the solitude, the silence, all the things that are required for serious reading, are not within people’s reach anymore.  —Philip Roth

I can’t even complain from any point of superiority.  I too am guilty of spending too much time in the frenetic world of the Internet and electronic communications.  Look what I’m doing right now, instead of reading the book I brought along in my bag.

Mr. Roth, author of Portnoy’s Complaint and the new Nemesis, believes the demands of modern technology diminish our ability to appreciate beauty and contemplation. (NOTE ADDED LATER: The link to this article is already gone, which is another unnerving aspect of turning our lives over to the Internet: information often comes and goes about as quickly as our fleeting attention spans. Paper, ironically, turns out to be far more permanent.)

Mind you this complaint about our hurry-up lives is hardly new.  Alexis de Tocqueville discussed the phenomena in the 1830s, and another writer from around the same period, Basil Hall, stated that he was astonished how Americans slurped and gulped their food, never taking their time over meals, conversing very little with those around us.  We have always been in a hurry.

But today it seems we’re on steroids.  I’ve talked to people recently who’ve admitted they hate reading long texts on a computer screen.  Yet they’re buying eReaders and eBooks.  I ask about that and am told they’re only uploading “short books,” books you can read in half an hour.  A four-thousand word work does not qualify as a book in my, um, book.  Imagine Dostoevsky in the age of tweets.  Or Philip Roth.

“It’s a shame.  It is also what is happening and there is nothing at all to do about it,” Roth says.  He’s probably right, but something will be lost because of it.  Sure there will be the occasional Franzen, turning out thick, heavy books with sweeping narratives.  But they may well be rare exceptions, like the lone beautiful snow leopard in the world of bulldozers and deforestation.

Is technology the culprit, or only the accomplice?  In the 1950s and early 1960s, with professional-grade film equipment getting lighter and less expensive, a generation of young, brash filmmakers gave birth to the French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, and the New German Cinema, and such lasting works as Bicycle Thieves, Jules et Jim, and The Marriage of Maria Braun were created.  An even bigger technological revolution has swept across the landscape recently, and the result is largely eight-minute YouTube slasher videos, rip-offs of the garbage young people soak up today from TV, music videos, and torture-porn films.  Why such a shallow pool for inspiration in this media-rich era?  “The concentration, the focus, the solitude, the silence, all the things that are required for serious reading [and viewing] and understanding, are not within people’s reach anymore,” Roth says.

They are, actually.  You just have to control and apportion your attention span.  If there’s still time in life for taking walks, playing sports, watching sports, flying radio-controlled helicopters, eating chips and guacamole and kissing on the couch, there’s still time for reading.  And listening (to music longer and more complicated than verse-chorus-verse-fade out, that is).  And thinking.  In short, appreciating stimulation longer than 140 characters.  Technology reflects us.  We are not slaves to it, contrary to the oft-repeated cliché.

The other night I was in a local cafe featuring live jazz.  It was the first time this venue had ever featured any sort of live music, which made it a bit of a special night.  But after each number, the musicians were met with resounding silence.  It wasn’t because they weren’t good; the were very good.  But as I looked around I noticed that everyone had their noses buried in computers or was playing with their “smartphones” (an oxymoron if there ever was one).  Many of them weren’t even aware that the piped-in music had stopped and they were hearing live performers, performers who ten years ago could likely have gotten a record contract but were now playing into a vacuum. Updating online statuses was much more important to these people than interacting with human beings present in the room.

During intermission, these musicians walked through the cafe to the sound of dead silence, past tables of downcast heads, each one bathed in the glow of his own personal screen, busily posting to his 700 virtual “friends.”  Everyone was oblivious to the wonderfully creative sounds that had just soared across the room.  I tried to imagine what could have been so compelling about those thumbnail photos and short, staccato-y sentences that would cause people to be so rude, so indifferent, so isolated, but I failed.

(UPDATE 11/2011: And it must be noted that this cafe no longer offers live music or movies or any other sort of social events, because people would rather be with their personal devices. They even tried turning off the wifi during shows, but the outcry was overwhelming and the defections massive. For the sake of business, they had to guarantee Internet access all the time.)

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