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The Hot Topic: Technology

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From the fevered minds of a loose grouping of self-appointed cultural commentators comes a weekly side-swipe at the issues of the day, providing a pithy and often heated debate on pop culture as they see it.

This is The Hot Topic.

Burning it up this week: Technology

From: Mat Brewster

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

At my place of employment we have a strict rule about not using the internet for personal use at your desk. We have set up several computers in the break room for personal use. Last week all of these computers had to be taken out for repair. It was as if the second-coming had happened all over again. Employees were furious, literally and physically angry. Like we had intentionally taken the computers away from them as punishment, and not because they needed repair.

The other day I was standing in line at the local eatery. A young man is standing before the cashier, chatting on his cell phone. The girl behind the counter attempts several times to inquire as to what the customer’s order might be. Cell phone guy gives her an impatient – what does this simpleton want – look and continue to phone conversate. The girl persists, and the man angrily tells the person on the other side of the phone line to hold, and then orders.

When I think upon these things, and others like them, I wonder when our lives became that important. It’s not like most of us are kings and queens, presidents of the free world. Lives are not at stake here. Yet more and more we behave as if reading the newest e-mail and answering our cell phones are all important tasks that simply must be done. NOW!

Ever been on the losing end of the battle between you and a friend’s ringing cell phone? There you are chatting about Arabian policies, the meaning of jacket’s in Tolstoy’s poetry, or the fine art of dancing with tuna fish and suddenly you are forced to sit politely – if awkwardly – while your friend laughs it up with his cell phone?

Where did courtesy go?

Now, I don’t want to sound like a technophobe. I’m no hater of the new, the technological, the lights and beeps of today’s age. Cell phones are a marvel. They have helped mankind over and over again. From asking the wife which of the six different types of pesto sauce she wants when sending the husband to the grocery store; to getting on the spot directions while in the car, and even saving lives cell phones can more than justify their existence.

I flippin’ love the internet. I have a broadband connection at home and use it daily. Without it I wouldn’t be writing this piece, wouldn’t have married my wife, and would have lost, and never found many friendships. Cyberspace connects the world.

Anyone, no matter how strange, no matter how different they feel, can find someone just like them via the internet. You’re a transvestive, lesbian vampire who loves cottage cheese? Come over here, joint our group and meet people with the exact same interests. Yet with all of this connecting of niche’s I wonder how much of the rest of the world is being left out. Could finding sympathetic souls who understand make us less tolerable of those who just don’t get it? Could connecting online keep us disconnected to our neighbors?

From: Bennett Dawson

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

Addiction, or passion? How much of our society could be summed up under one of these labels? The normal, everyday passions (great food at a tasteful restaurant, single malt scotch, live theater, a well directed movie, or a song that demands that you STOP and listen) are fundamentally different from the nervous dedication to a cell phone or internet connection, and should not be lumped together. One group is part of the creativity and enjoyment of life, the other is an addiction to being connected, and is one of the strange paths our world has taken. Is this a lasting phenomenon? Will our culture become ever more focused on immediate communication?

I don’t have a cell phone, and I may never get one. I’m one of those folks that has no problem letting the machine pick up a call, whether I’m busy or not. Real emergencies are rare, and most family conversations can wait a bit. Besides, there’s email now, and (no surprise) I take my time with the reply function. Why give anyone the idea that I respond quickly?

Cell phones are a mixed blessing to be sure. The example you site is outrageous, and I’d have been hard pressed not to fling a comment at the rude bastard. Driving and cell phone use is epidemic, and acts to reinforce the poor driving skills of my neighbors. If I lived in the city, where cell phone related mental lapses added up to serious congestion at an intersection that used to flow smoothly, I think I’d fall prey to road rage and high blood pressure.

Ditto trying to have a meeting or a conversation with a friend that was interrupted by cell phone calls. Who needs that? Perhaps I lack the drive; the need to talk with someone for hours about meaningless details, stuff that doesn’t add anything to the relationship or my understanding of the world. Chatter, got some? It’s like, y’know, like cool? Echhh! My son does this on the phone with his girlfriends and I have to leave the room…

But I love the connectivity of the internet, the opportunity to sell stuff to folks in other countries, to access places like Blogcritics and NASAWatch. Before the net, there was no way to do many of the things we now take for granted. Want to know the answer? It’s a few mouse clicks away. THAT is cool!

So I guess I’m willing to ignore all the rest of the nonsense that has infused our society in this digital information age, as long as I can get at all the knowledge and photographs that are part and parcel of my personal areas of interest.

From: DJRadiohead

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I curse it one minute and hail it the next. I have had a lot of trouble getting my head around this topic because I found myself to-ing and fro-ing up one side and down the other.

I love the high-tech gadgets. I have owned five iPods. I have a home theater system. My wife has my old computer because I am typing this piece on my PowerBook whilst surfing the web wirelessly… you get the idea. I love technology. I wish I had more money for more gadgets. I have been able to keep up with people with whom I would have probably lost touch. I have been able to have conversations with interesting people I have never met. I have access to information and ideas and all kinds of shit I could never have imagined accessing- and it has all become so fucking easy.

Technology has made communicating easier but has it given us any more to say? In last week’s HOT TOPIC we discussed why we create. Technology has made it simpler and more efficient to air our creative wares. It has not necessarily improved them. It is so much easier to record an album today but is the music any better than it was 50 years ago? If so, is it because of the technology? In spite of it? Has it had any impact at all?

I think technology has sped the world up more than it has changed it. Technology allows us to better understand how fucked up the world always was. Technology, in the end, is just a tool. The electric guitar does not play itself and ProTools does not write dreadful songs- Jon Bon Jovi and Scott Stapp do. Cell phones are not rude. Assholes who do not know when and where to use them are rude. People have always sucked. Technology and the spread of technology have just given us new, faster, more efficient ways to suck.

I guess I sound a lot like one of the gun nuts. They say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” I say, “Technology is not bad, people are bad. And you know what? So are cell phones. Fuck them.”

From: Aaron Fleming

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

It’s interesting how technology (like so much else) can become ingrained into normal everyday activity, suddenly checking email, or checking the mobile phone for text messages becomes a regular thing.

Distracting maybe? I must confess that I waste (and I do mean waste) too much of my time sitting on the internet, aimlessly wondering around the same websites (“oh sitemeter, any new visitors? nope, aw well”), and I often feel quite dispirited afterwards (especially if it was an extra long session of nothingness). Not to say that there’s always a lack of constructive use of time, many a session on Wikipedia, or posting some new masterwork on the blog, or contributing to some fine discussion such as this here.

I guess it’s like DJ Radiohead says, technology is only a tool, and it’s down to those who use it. A good example of this, and one I’m vocal on often, is the use of CGI in film. I always slag the excessive use of CGI in film, usually with regards to crapfests like War Of The Worlds (the remake), or some other big budget flick where the only thing it has going for it is the effects. And as we know, no story, no film. Doesn’t matter how good the visual effects are, they are only a compliment (and can be a great one used properly).

And maybe we can see the pointless use of technology in cinema too. My main thinking here, and it’s one that’s humoured The Duke and I often, is the CGI deer in The Ring 2. They’re CGI! It’s not even hard to see, more obvious pixelation I’ve rarely seen. This is just laziness on the part of film makers.

Oh, there’s something else, does technology make people lazy?

Instead of travelling to someone’s house you can just call them on the phone. Then again, in this busy word, who has time for those types of shenanigans. Technology does have a rather dehumanizing effect, witness instant messaging. I use it often, and it’s great for keeping in touch with people you can’t see regularly, but I despise it. None of the natural human nuances come through in a box of text set within a computer screen. It’s very hard to be a sarcastic bastard, or to have that added effect that the like of hand gestures brings to communication.

And how are you supposed to do that thing where you look at the person you’re in discussion with and nod your head in affirming expression? Or motion towards an attractive lady and form a favorable countenance at that beheld before you?

From: Mark Saleski

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

To avoid coming across like a neo-luddite (which, believe me, may be unavoidable by the end of this bit), let me say that technological advance (or innovation) is not intrinsically good or bad. It just is. Where things go wrong is in the area of application.

On the good side, look at the world of medicine. The modern physician’s diagnostic capability via technology is simply amazing. The software engineer side of me has been involved in the development of some of these machines and, even right up close, the wonder and import is not diminished.

On the bad side, there’s technology for technology’s sake. Let’s face it, just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. Refrigerators that keep inventory and automatically email orders to the grocer. Computers in your car that schedule appointments via the internet to the dealer. Heck, even food that’s specially constructed to be ‘conveniently’ cooked via the microwave. Convenient, yes? Tasty…NO. Oh, and here’s one of my big pet peeves: laptops at business meetings. I come across as captain luddite at meetings because I’m the only one there with a notebook and a pen. Everybody else is clacking and clicking away, supposedly taking notes but, let’s be honest here…they’re continuing the work they were doing before the meeting started, sending & receiving email, etc. They’re not mentally present. This doesn’t feel like innovation to me.

And then there’s the Internet and cell phones. Again, there’s no denying that both technologies have provided positive impact. But there’s also the negative social consequences that Mr. Brewster brought up. As much as these things bring us together (and I am just jazzed as all hell about the fantstic collaborations, The Hot Topic surely being one, that this fascilitates), they also put around us a weird buffer of sorts. Ever see two kids driving in a car, both of ‘em talking on the phone? How about a couple at a coffee shop, both staring into their own laptops?

I suppose this is some sorta new social construct that I just don’t ‘get’. So be it.

From: Eric Berlin

To: The Hot Topic Team

Re: Technology

Technology, in the end, means change, doesn’t it? In 2005 what we’re seeing, I think, is change driven into our hearts and homes and minds and spirits and functional utility personal space amplifiers (or what some like to call the “soul”) at an unprecedented rate. Change can be good or change can be bad, it’s all how you roll with it is how I see it.

But let me posit the bright side of the technology onslaught, if I might. Sir Fleming brings up, and very rightly so, some of the downside of instant messaging a friend whereas, say, as little as 10 years ago one might take the extraordinary step of utilizing human-powered machine-units called “legs” to “walk” to a friend’s house, perhaps, in an act know in some quarters as “dropping by.”

Be that as it may, technology has recently brought about new universes of communication and community theaters of the mind that were not possible even in the days of cassette tapes and space shuttles and Lee press-on nails.

Let’s take as an example this little band of souls we have right here, bandying and waxing and milking back and forth, straining wit off the muse and considering apocalyptic visions and ideas set forth with worthy visions of producing new understanding and meaning and social synergy.

In other words: we write about shit from disparate parts of the globe and collectively form and argue and forge new understandings about all manner of stuff, without (in most cases) ever having met one another. Which is pretty fucking cool, in my e-book!

So technology allows for people to find one another out there who wish to enter the digital fray for a little sparring and virtual grog swilling. The Duke a good while back said it very well in relating that there’s no longer any shame in meeting a nice young lass online these days. What are the odds of walking into a bar and meeting a chick that liked ska punk records and, importantly, could put up with your idiosyncratic and moody and oftimes megalomaniacal crap?

I got lucky there, as Fate would have it, but pretty damned low, I’d say.

Anyway, technology now allows for an easy and efficient and cheap meeting of the minds from all points of the planet. So for that, if for nothing else, I can put up with the asshole screaming into his cell phone at the head of the line to pay for whatever.

That, and deliciously imagining beating his ass with a metal pole over and over and over again.

Cling to the clang!

And Happy Thanksgiving!

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About Mat Brewster

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    10 Points for me for managing to work last week’s HT into this week’s HT. We are going to become our own version of Seinfeld what with all the self-referentialness. Saleski is Newman.

  • Nancy

    I have to agree with Mark: just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Most people (myself included) can’t be trusted to walk & chew gum at the same time, let alone drive & talk on a cell phone at the same time. The difference is, a few of us recognize that. Also, some of us were brought up to believe that we are not Pavlov’s dogs when it comes to answering the demanding summons of a phone, thereby ignoring persons actually in our presence in favor of those calling on said phone.

    I spent Thanksgiving at a very nice restaurant with another person; but I swear to God, it’s the last time, because this fool got a call on the cell phone, answered it, and then spent the next 20 minutes chatting away & ignoring everyone else at the same table. I wish I had given in to my impulse to pick the goddamned thing out of her hand & fling it into her gravy. The rudeness was (to me) appalling & unimaginable. Since when are we at the beck & call of machines!?

  • Bennett

    Right on Nancy! You should have tossed her phone. This is a social problem, and the sooner we set the standards for accceptable behavior, the better.

    11th Commandment – Thou shall not talk on the cell phone in other people’s presence.

  • Nancy

    Yeah, but as Ms. Natalie keeps admonishing me, that would put me down at her level. But I WILL say something to her about it, nicely the first time, and less so the next, if there is a next.

  • http://www.midnitcafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    It really is a problem. When did we forget common courtesy? And I’m guessing that this person’s cell conversation wasn’t all that important. That’s probably what drives me even more crazy. It is bad enough that you are rude enough to answer the dang phone, but then to sit there and talk about absolutely nothing, that’s just too much.

    My wife, who teaches at university has told me some of her students will chat on the phone during her lectures!

  • http://swingbatterbatter.blogspot.com Greg Smyth

    Nice work guys!

    Technology has certainly advanced communication exponentially in the recent past and there’s a whole ream of stuff that’s good about it but let’s accentuate the negative for a change.

    More communication doesn’t mean better communication. In fact, the easier it is to text/email/call the more likely that you’ll be smothered in an avalanche of increasingly pointless and bothersome communication. And to the point where the signal to noise ratio of these new modes of communication could render them almost useless.

    Time was, you’d get a letter. That involved some degree of forethought. Even if you responded immediately, the medium had an in-built timelag so that it’d easily be a week before you got a response to your reply.

    Now it’s instantaneous. That means people don’t even necessarily have time to figure out what they want to say.

    More communication means less useful communication.

    As for the internet, as Sir Fleming quite rightly says, it’s a thoroughly effective procrastination tool and, personally, I don’t need any more reasons to do less.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    newman?!!!! gees, thanks a lot.

    i’d have more to say, but i’m on my to michigan with a truckload of recyclables.

  • http://www.midnitcafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    That’s a good point, Greg. In high school I used to write and receive a letter or two a day. It was a lot of work to do so too. I took a lot of time thinking about what to write, and being creative with them. But it was such a joy to receive a letter back in the mail too.

    Now e-mails are zapped back and forth without much thought. I get over a hundred e-mails a day and I never get excited about them. But to get a real letter is a lovely thing.

  • http://www.midnitcafe.blogspot.com Mat Brewster

    If Saleski is Newman, I wanna be George and emsconce myself in velvet.

  • http://www.genericmugwump.blogspot.com/ Aaron Fleming

    Haha, can I be David Putty?

    “You got a question…you ask the eight ball!”

    “That’s right.”

  • Mary K. Williams

    OH I am SO with you guys on this stuff. I have written about Technology in the past, but to re-post it here, might be redundant?

    So, there’s this whole love/hate thing going on – but like so much other stuff, it’s really all relative.

    If you all let women in to this mini-cabal, I can do a pretty good Elaine. Got the ‘shove’ thing down pat. : ) “Get OUT!”