Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I almost joined the Mile High Club for bloggers.

Man, I love to blog. I love it so much that after nearly a week away recently, I started fantasizing about what I would blog about the first time I was able to get back online again. Last night, I even had a dream about it. I do not find this in any way dysfunctional.

I have to confess to having mixed feelings, however, upon learning that AirTran, my airline of choice because of its high-quality travel accommodations, was set to become the first airline to offer WiFi during its flights (in a predictable move, Virgin America, Delta, and other airlines are following AirTran's lead). Soon, I thought with anxiety, there will be no respite from the onslaught of technology. Soon there will be no place in the country where internet access is not readily available.

That was what I was thinking on the flight out. By the time I boarded the plan to return to Boston, I needed a blogging fix. It was only the Cheapo McCheaperson in me that impeded my intentions. (Why pay $9.95 for something that, as Jon Stewart reminds us, is free?) Instead, I listened to what I believe is the best Bonnie "Prince" Billy album, "Master and Everyone", on my iPod.

We sure do worry, don't we, about the invasion of technology into the spaces of our everyday lives? We're nostalgic for the days of coffee and the morning paper in a breakfast nook. We miss books you could touch, music that scratched--or, if you're a little younger, warbled or skipped--we miss Must-See TV that everybody saw. Those were the things, we are wont to say, that made us a culture: that made us cohere.

And this isn't all. We still tend to think of engagement with media as a passive experience, akin to watching too much TV or spending all night trying for the high score in Pac-Man. (Interesting, by the way, how staying up all night reading a book, which is in many ways far more passive than playing a video game, doesn't get the same dismissive eye-roll--or maybe the time of scorn for engagement with the printed word has passed out of collective memory.)

But a large portion--maybe even the entire portion--of engagement with new media is generative, civic, creative in nature. For all our anxiety over drowning in an ocean of stuff, it does appear that for people in possession with a certain set of dispositions, "getting online" is not drowning but waving.

Clay Shirky talks about the phenomenon of "cognitive surplus," moments of cultural shift so drastic that they rearranged our relationship to time, such that we had more cognitive energy than we had places to put it. Shirky says the sitcom was invented to handle this surplus and that during the industrial revolution, gin served this same purpose.

If Shirky is right in this, then he is also right that we are now finding ways to deploy our mental energies toward collaborative knowledge-building and collective meaning-making. What to some resembles watching hours on end of "Perfect Strangers" and "Full House" is actually something more akin to pitching, casting, and producing the shows themselves--no, even more than that, collaborating on reshaping the sitcom altogether. We don't yet know the outlines or boundaries of what the internet and social media will afford, and every time someone gets online our culture gets a brand new opportunity to edge a toe toward the outer limits.

Which is pretty neat, if you ask me.

No comments:


All content on this blog has been relocated to my new website, making edible playdough is hegemonic. Please visit and update your bookmarks!