Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Times They are a Changin'

(Hat Tip to Dad/THB for the Dylan title.)

Back when I first started blogging, I spent quite a bit of time getting all nostalgic about things that were changing with technology. In September, I bookmarked this article (surely from twitter) about 50 things that the internet is slowly but surely driving to their death.

I'd like to take this moment to ramble about my feelings about some of them. I won't go through all 50, though you're welcome to. On your blog. Which I may or may not read. I'm cruel like that. (The Telegraph's text is in bold.)

1) The art of polite disagreement: While the inane spats of YouTube commencers may not be representative, the internet has certainly sharpened the tone of debate. The most raucous sections of the blogworld seem incapable of accepting sincerely held differences of opinion; all opponents must have "agendas". It does seem to me that the internet is full of warriors that are so comfortable saying things that they would never ever dare to say to someone face to face (unless they're talking to your dear blogger when she's in her animal control uniform). The bravado and rudeness is stunning. The exception to this seems to be twitter, where everyone is basically talking to themselves, outloud, and most of us are pretty polite when talking to our imaginary friends.

3) Listening to an album all the way through: The single is one of the unlikely beneficiaries of the internet – a development which can be looked at in two ways. There's no longer any need to endure eight tracks of filler for a couple of decent tunes, but will "album albums" like Radiohead's Amnesiac get the widespread hearing they deserve? I feel ambivalent about this, as well. Everyone who knows me or has been to my house knows that I'm obsessed with both CDs AND my ipod. I almost always listen to my ipod on random, but I still buy CDs, to support artists, and because I can't help it. I know that I'm becoming an anachronism, but I want to know what the artist is thinking, whole picture. I will miss CDs, and maybe I'll be like one of those hipster who still collects records. Or something.

5) Punctuality:Before mobile phones, people actually had to keep their appointments and turn up to the pub on time. Texting friends to warn them of your tardiness five minutes before you are due to meet has become one of throwaway rudenesses of the connected age. This is such a relief, especially with work and my mother. I feel like a giant weight has been lifted off of my shoulders!

8) Telephone directories Why do they even deliver phone books any more? I throw them straight in the recycle bin. RIP, 18 bajillion acres of forests.

10) Watches: Scrabbling around in your pocket to dig out a phone may not be as elegant as glancing at a watch, but it saves splashing out on two gadgets. I stopped wearing a watch long before I got a cell phone, but it's nice to have a phone/watch/thing. It does help with #5- I'm more punctual than I would be if I didn't have one at all. And that alarm thing is handy.

11) Music stores: In a world where people don't want to pay anything for music, charging them £16.99 for 12 songs in a flimsy plastic case is no business model. This kills me. I love record stores. Mod Lang was one of my favorite places to hang out, though it's still around, it moved farther away, and I even loved Tower (RIP). Cough it up, folks, local business is the way to go.

12) Letter writing/pen pals: Email is quicker, cheaper and more convenient; receiving a handwritten letter from a friend has become a rare, even nostalgic, pleasure. As a result, formal valedictions like "Yours faithfully" are being replaced by "Best" and "Thanks". I'm so guilty of this one and so sad about it. I have boxes and boxes of mail I used to get- I LOVED writing and receiving letters. Mail time was one of the best parts of the day. And I recently got a letter and started to write back to it- it's still sitting on my desk. Too complicated to find out how much postage to mail to Mexico. Lame. Question- do prisoners still get mail in jail or do they email, too?

13) Memory: When almost any fact, no matter how obscure, can be dug up within seconds through Google and Wikipedia, there is less value attached to the "mere" storage and retrieval of knowledge. What becomes important is how you use it – the internet age rewards creativity. I guess I am not sure that the internet rewards memory in this way. I'm sure it is killing memory, what's left of mine is not being stretched by the internet (thank dawg for crosswords), but it sure is nice to supplement my memory of the bash brothers with the internet so I can remember lesser stats about Gallego.

14) Dead time: When was the last time you spent an hour mulling the world out a window, or rereading a favourite book? The internet's draw on our attention is relentless and increasingly difficult to resist. Although I still read and definitely still space out- (you've noticed?) I have noticed that almost no one reads on BART anymore. They're all doing something or other on their phone. And no one walks without their phone, and basically, you have to be multitasking on useless things.

15) Photo albums and slide shows: Facebook, Flickr and printing sites like Snapfish are how we share our photos. Earlier this year Kodak announced that it was discontinuing its Kodachrome slide film because of lack of demand. So true: who makes photo albums anymore? I mean, there's that whole scrapbook section in Target, but I always wonder who DOES that. I've talked about photography and documenting, and how it's changed, and why we do it, but it the internet has definitely changed it. And Kodachrome and polaroid are gone, but people still want them- I think it's for the nostalgia and "coolness" factor, more than the true awesomeness of the product (maybe both, I admit, I recently caved to the instant trend).

18) Authoritative reference works: We still crave reliable information, but generally aren't willing to pay for it. Does anyone else feel guilty when they use Wikipedia? I do, and I still use it. I yearn for the days of the complete set of World Book Encyclopedias.

25) Aren't they dead? Aren't they gay?: Wikipedia allows us to confirm or disprove almost any celebrity rumour instantly. Only at festivals with no Wi-Fi signals can the gullible be tricked into believing that David Hasselhoff has passed away. Love this and hate this (Dad hates it- the dueling iPhones racing to find the info quickest, at the dinner table): no need to argue over the facts when they're right there. No need to own the complete set of World Book Encyclopedias, either, or to wait for the Yearly Update to come, either.

27) Knowing telephone numbers off by heart: After typing the digits into your contacts book, you need never look at them again. This one pains me. As a cell phone serial killer, I need to know these numbers. I hate keeping an address book AND a cell phone, so I'm perpetually losing people. And it seems I'm not alone. How many times have you gotten a text or email that reads "I've lost/broken/had my cell phone stolen, and don't have your contact info any more."

30) Geographical knowledge: With GPS systems spreading from cars to smartphones, knowing the way from A to B is a less prized skill. Just ask the London taxi drivers who spent years learning The Knowledge but are now undercut by minicabs. Also mourning this one, though I've yet to succumb to it. I have to know my city to do my job, and am stunned that some of my coworkers use GPS to get around. How do they do that? I use maps for everything, except occasionally when I'm walking and don't have one, I'll use my phone GPS which inevitably trips me up and causes me to walk backwards. Same with printouts from google maps or something. AAA free map service is my friend.

31) Privacy: We may attack governments for the spread of surveillance culture, but users of social media websites make more information about themselves available than Big Brother could ever hoped to obtain by covert means. It's true- I'm not so worried about Big Brother, or the gov't, because I play into it, and if I don't want my stuff out there, I shouldn't put it out there. On the other hand, I *want* to be out there, to a degree (blog, flickr, twitter, etc) but I don't want my picture out there, etc. And yet I'm not that careful. Can't have it both ways.

Dear reader, #35 is concentration, and I fear I've passed the limit on blog length. However, I'm unwilling to blame the internet for anybody's lack of concentration. You've either got it or you don't. You either use it or you don't. Now, go read a book.