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SMCD 01.09.11: Razing the Digital Wasteland

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The views and opinions expressed herein are those solely of the author and may not necessarily reflect those of the rest of the human race.

I’m flippin it, rippin it, whippin the lunatic, shine everyday ‘cause you know we be doin’ it. Thanks for stopping in and welcome. Or welcome back, as the case may be. I can already see a word of explanation is in order, so let’s take care of that straightaway.

What you’re reading is the newest iteration of a column that has evolved steadily since 2004. It started as a weekly News Review piece for 411 Music, where I spent nearly seven years doing this in various forms. of course, I left there (miss those guys) to parlay my craft here in August of last year. After I did, I begged and pleaded the Editors of this fine site to let me revive this beast and give her some new life. And here we are.

Now that we know how we got here, it’s time to figure out where we’re going. Sunday Morning Coming Down, is billed as the “hangover music news report” because it goes live every week The Morning After The Night Before and will probably force you to think, because we have a mean streak here sometimes. It will also cover one particular story that happened throughout the past week and break it down to its very last compound. It may not be the “big” story of the week, mind you. If you’re looking to read about which pop starlets have beef this week or who Justin Bieber pranked this time, you’re in the wrong house. The stories here will be more along the lines of what you’re about to read starting with this quote:

For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination – we learned to talk.
– Stephen Hawking, from Pink Floyd’s “Keep Talking”

That’s a rather important milestone in human development, you know. Especially notable, because USA Today doesn’t think we’re doing nearly enough of it. In fact, the particular article linked (released right before New Year’s Eve, natch) suggests that 2010 was the year we stopped doing it altogether.

Sharon Jayson at USA Today suggests that, between iPhones, Blackberrys (berries?), Facebook, Twitter, and all sorts of other means of digital communication, we’ve lost the means to actually call one another or have face-to-face. Of course, all manner of experts weigh in on how we’re too busy checking our Facebooks (on our phones, of course) at dinners and plays and other social situations to actually pay attention to connecting to the humans right in front of us.

Of course, much of the same thing was said when the telephone was invented. And the cell phone. And when the internet was discovered, all bets were off. The William Gibson and Phillip K Dick fans poured out in to the streets, decrying that their heroes were right and how the planet would turn the bastard child of 1984 and THX-1138 and we’d all have data input receptors implanted right underneath our skulls within half a decade.

That was several decades ago. No one’s packing a behavior chip quite yet, at least as far as I know. However, that doesn’t stop technology and pop-culture pundits from using end-of-the-year neo-nostalgia to basically give the internet hell.

Take Patton Oswalt, for example. Admittedly, what Oswalt did here took some nuts – using a noted geek platform to call for the action of destroying geek culture in order to rebuild it. The problem is, with nuts came very little brains, as Oswalt used the platform of the internet to complain about the internet. In his eyes, everyone having access to everything at any given moment has eliminated the feeling of having and holding that special album, movie, or comic and being able to call it your own. The geek culture of otaku is dead; long live nerd culture which, by Oswalt’s reasoning, should be rebuilt in a digital post-apocalypse wasteland resembling Steve Jobs and James Cameron starring as Mad Max and Eli in The Book of the Road Warrior. Available on Amazon Kindle.

There’s a metric ton wrong with Oswalt’s argument. Some of it will be totally deconstructed elsewhere. The agonizingly obvious irony aside, has Oswalt not noticed that he has this completely backwards? Granted, he’s spot-on about all sorts of info being out there about anything you might be interested in. There are also all sorts of people out there interested as well. Oswalt sounds like a bitter old man who had to walk uphill in ten feet of snow, both ways, and kill a grizzly bear with his loose leaf notebook on his way to pick up his bootleg copy of the Star Wars Holiday Special as a kid with all of this “my daughter won’t like David Bowie like I liked Bowie” talk. What Oswalt doesn’t realize is that, while he had his group of outcast buddies back then, so will his daughter.

Oswalt laments everyone being able to find a special slice of pop-culture and learn all about it (which sounds baffling in and of itself), but what he may not realize (or choose to realize) is that, with that, comes the ability to find others interested in the same a lot easier than when he…hell, I won’t lie…we were younger. Connecting with others with the same outside-the-norm interests who also have a really hard time fitting in to “normal” society is a lot easier and goes a long way toward building some self-esteem in knowing that maybe you’re not so weird after all. By the same token, though, it’s not like fitting in is that easy. If I had a blank stare for every time I broke out a trade collection at work so I could catch up with the last few years of X-Men stories, I’d have enough to buy Marvel outright. (Although Disney would probably make me sign over my first-born to do so.)

And on a more personal note to Mr. Oswalt before I move on…”I’m not a nerd. I used to be one, back 30 years ago when nerd meant something”? First of all, if you’re not a nerd, what gives you the right to denigrate the current culture? Secondly, “when it meant something”? Because being an outcast is so much tougher in a much more politically correct environment that looks down on anything remotely differently and loves throwing around much worse words like “creepy” to describe anything they can’t understand? Wake up and smell what you’re shoveling. Not my fault that Kevin James was the breakout star of “King of Queens”. It was his show, after all.

On top of these examples, a lot of the usual “the internet made it easier for piracy to kill the music industry last year” articles made their usual rounds. Rick Carnes at the Huffington Post, however, took it a step further, declaring the recording artist dead. And I have to say here that Tim Geigner at Techdirt already has a great answer, pointing out how comparing a lot of modern acts to the Beatles is like comparing Star Wars to Battle Beyond The Stars. Aside from that, there’s only one more thing to add to that…

Has Carnes looked at the internet to find music for more than five minutes? If he had, he’d discover that hundreds of artists are using the internet to release their recordings without missing a beat. The fact that many don’t spend several thousand dollars to book time at Abbey Road is, in many cases, by choice. The technology that allows for that freedom is a blessing, not a curse. All it takes is a little effort – which, I realize, probably turns people like Carnes off to the idea because then they have to step outside the comfort zone of an iTunes or a Best Buy – and there lots of artists producing excellent music. The industry has been throwing the old model out the window for a few years now (those that have read me for a while should have known I’d be linking those!), and people like Carnes need to realize that.

The trend of denigrating one of the best sources of information and connection feels like sour grapes. Or the complete lack of anything really notable in 2010 to write about. Or the need to feel “controversial” to gain attention. Or a combination of any of the above. Their opinions are theirs and they’re more than welcome to have them. That’s what freedom is about. It just doesn’t make sense that several writers making a stink about the internet don’t realize that the internet is what gives them that freedom to be heard.

It doesn’t have to be like this. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking
– Stephen Hawking, from Pink Floyd’s “Keep Talking”

And that, kids, will do it for me this week. Thanks for checking it out (again, if the case may be) and feel free to come back in seven days for more music and fun. And if you’re not careful, you may learn something before it’s done.

 

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