Wednesday, January 26, 2011

More Mental Chaos

OK, so lately I've discovered things that you've known for some time now. I'm a little slow. But I read this article about how nobody can touch Apple selling "apps" because nobody else has iTunes. So I opened up my iTunes for the first time in maybe a zillion years, and wow is it overwhelming.

I mean you can listen to radio stations from all over the world, and you can buy TV episodes and movies, and of  course I already knew you could buy songs. But how the hell do you sort among it all? And what about cross-platform compatibility? And how do you know what's available on one platform or format which might not be available on another?

Chrome, the browser, has just introduced apps too - well, OK they might have done it years ago, but I just noticed. And the line between a browser-based application and a machine-based app now seems entirely blurred. It's confusing! I can read the New York Times via my browser, or I can read it with an app, and I can't even tell which one is more like the "real thing" or even what the real thing is like anymore.

Sometimes I see an article on the print version and can't find it online and vice-versa.

But get this! We - royally we - just bought a superannuated and thus discounted Blue-ray player. It plugs into the Internet. It has apps! OK, so not nearly so many apps as iTunes has, but way more than my Windows mobile phone. You can rent movies one-off from Blockbuster, or if you don't like their scant collection, you can find any number of other venues, each one claiming to have more than the others - newer and out faster and with higher definition.

You can buy it on your TV and watch it on your smartphone if you have the right smartphone which is almost always the iPhone and almost never the Windows mobile phone, but sometimes it is. Now if I only knew what I wanted to watch I would be able to find it, but you know I like to browse, and when I browse, I like to know that the list is reasonably comprehensive so that I'm not making my choice from among mediocrity.

Browsing the apps on this Blue-ray player I found one for USA Today and I thought "oh!" so I can get my print news right on the TV.Weird, but OK let's see - and I found articles from months and months ago. I'm thinking this is one delivery medium that never quite took off. I had a sad thought about that one person somewhere who actually is depending on this source for "news."

Days were when I would and could listen only to the local radio and watch the local TV. The boundaries around the possible were vaguely comforting although I couldn't have known it then. Now I might listen to any number of university stations, but without affinity why would I want to? I don't feel a whole lot of affinity to any of my various alma maters, although they all stalk me for it like a Google mediated ad for something I never did want but only wanted to look at and now it won't leave me alone.

What's really annoying is that there is no easy way - although my phone handles podcasts just as well as the next guy - to find a podcast via iTunes and then listen to it on my Windows phone. But yeah why would I want to? I can't even imagine sparing the time to listen to podcasts. When I'm in the car, which is as seldom as possible these days, I find the NPR station and feel reasonably reassured that I will at least know if the world has melted down and what are the main topics on everybody's mind.

But people do listen to podcasts, and I suppose they mostly follow the path of least resistance and get the Apple branded product because it just works. Although they don't seem to get Apple TV all that much. Other products are more highly rated. And free still has some draw to it. But who can sort out the copy protection schemes and the Digital Rights Management schemes, and since when did the US of A get all high and mighty about not copying someone else's copyrighted stuff? We invented the concept.

It's hard to know when the obstacles are a matter of law or a matter of manufacturers and publishers trying to maximize profits by opening or closing off various avenues to corral your interest or affinity. I mean, you just know that Microsoft doesn't want you to inter-operate with Apple all that much, or is it the other way around? And Google just wants to take over the world again now that a younger guy over at Facebook is the IT I.T. innovator.

I wonder what it feels like to even be a contender at that level, and why can't you just let it go and be on the top of your game. It must be that being the king of the hill that way is a special kind of drug whose high just keeps on giving.

But, since my thread these days is about consciousness, one thing I'm pretty sure of is that these top dogs - the Jobs and Gates and Pages and Zuckerbergs and the rest of 'em - aren't any more "conscious" than you and I are.

But what if I'm missing stuff that everyone else is aware of? Every time I turn on PBS I think Oh Yeah I really should pay more attention to all those wildlife shows. It would be as though I'd actually traveled the world, and I could understand that much more about how it works. Or the shows about how the brain works. I really should watch T.E.D. more often too.

I could be just a troglodyte mind in a thoroughly modern civilization, you know, but on the other hand I do typically spend a lot of time reading books. And when there's a really good movie out I've been known to buy a ticket. Live theater sometimes. You know, the good stuff. Yesterday's movies feel so yesterday, and you're all alone watching stuff that everyone else has already watched.

Driving around SoCal it seems the popular way to live now is in big desert-block condo developments which look for all the world like big hotel complexes. I paid a visit to OpryLand once with my daughter - you know that massive complex of stores and restaurants and rooms all overlooking what's inside the superdome-like enclosure. They're attractive, these housing complexes, and they seem squarely aimed at middle-class people who can't afford a house even with depressed real-estate pricing. It's gotta make you feel special though, living in a convention complex 24-7-365.

I imagine they get all these apps and video choices and consider them cheap compared to what they'd pay in an actual hotel room. I'm guessing they play video games and listen to what smart futurists say about how video gaming will actually save rather than destroy us. But you know I'm also guessing that if you do enough of this by the end of the day there's not really a thought in your head. You're as conscious as a drunk or a doper who can't summon the energy to organize all the raw data streaming into your head.

It must feel really good, but I guess it always feels good to kick back and stop all attempts to organize. Watching movies, getting drunk, blowing some dope (do people still talk about it that way?). It's no way to live an entire life.

But you don't have to do all the organizational work alone! You see, we're all conspiring to play an epic game together, and there's this really powerful narrative behind it -  the greatest story ever written, say - and if everyone plays his little part, blogging up the stuff they're good at and not knocking down stuff just because they don't understand it, then with the magic of the Internet, all this data will self-organize and resolve itself according to quality and depth metrics.

Consciousness expands!

There is a change afoot. How could there not be? When we are or can be, to various degrees, aware of what's going on in most if not almost all of the world. We can get images and we can get sounds and videos, and of course all of it is subject to the pre-ordering of the various editorial and profit-making processes which bring it to us.

Sure those processes are as likely to omit by virtue of motivated over-emphasis as they are to include by an abundance of generous spirit. Thinking that we're in touch with the whole world might leave us a little less well in-touch than to be certain that we're not. but who really wants to go back to being limited by our local paper anymore? Who wants only to be able to witness the local amateur opera?

What we get to see or virtually experience is powered by politics and marketability and our own disposition to oogle and satisfy various levels of curiosity, informed or not.

And still I prefer books. There are all sorts of assumptions about the power of the technology which brought us the printing press - that it brought down the institution of the church and replaced it with freer thinking autodidacts who could read the Word themselves.

And now there are analogies being drawn between those cataclysmic times and these, when Blogging and picture and video sharing technologies allow each of us to try his voice in the public square. Sure it's chaotic, but it seems we've - most of us - managed to remain reasonably coherent.

As always, we pick and choose among the stuff swirling around and about us. We form a narrative thread and make rhyming associations. We pick our way forward, and wonder how it is, eventually, that we will or won't manage to find a way collectively to keep our heads about us.

Some stuff we pay attention to and some stuff we ignore. We give over to the commons that part of our thoughts which we feel comfortable giving over, and we keep to and for ourselves that part we need to call ourself by name. And it's all good or not depending on how it all comes out. About which we can know almost precisely nothing - except that if we don't participate, it won't come out well at all.

Back to reading . . .

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