Medium, Mobile Technology, Louis CK, Hole in Chest

I have a Medium now, I guess. I’m told that’s what the cool kids do. Actually, I got it because I like to try new things. It’s kinda like with Pintrest. When I signed up for it, everyone was like “psh, why would you want that”. Well, it turned out that it solved an exact problem I was having: being able to clip, save and catalog cool pictures of like elves, goblins and space ships for future reference / inspiration. I’m not sure yet what problem Medium solves, but I’m eager to find out.

To be honest, it’s a rather strange… Well, medium, but not because of the technology and design aspect but rather the content which is best described as profoundly obnoxious. By that I mean, that it can sometimes be insightful and profound, but most of the stuff that shows on my dashboard (or feed, or whatever you call it today) is just god awfully obnoxious, self aggrandizing, insufferable, “I am success story, and so can you!” digital circle-jerk. So naturally I decided to ruin it for everyone by posting profound bits like How I taught a hobo to program in 7 days (and so can you). But this post isn’t about Medium though feel free to hijack the comment thread if you wish. That’s what it’s there for.

I mention Medium because it was through it that I stumbled upon a bastardized version of this article. Also, because intro paragraphs are hard. The linked post is actually kinda long, which is why it was re-cut and reduced in scope to fit on Medium. Either that or it was mangled by that extra polished post editor of theirs (when will people learn that no matter how hard you polish that WYSIWYG turd of a concept, it will never become any less shitty). Either way, the core of the piece is this video of Louis CK talking about smart phones.

Heavy stuff right? No it is not. It’s a comedian doing a bit on Conan. I have no clue when standup comedians have become the sage philosopher kings of the internet but apparently this is what we are doing now. This is how we do profound now. But fine, let’s run with this. Wisdom of the YaR and all that.

Comedy can be used to communicate profound and educational messages. Louis does make a few interesting points in this short video. I think that the most important bit was at top of his rant, when he humorously depicted how technology can potentially be a barrier for learning empathy. Everyone here is probably familiar with the another bit of comedy wisdom known as the John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckward Theory which comments on how anonymous publicity can alter online behaviors. Louis CK poses an interesting question as to what happens if this altered behavior becomes the norm? What if an individual never reaches the “Normal Person” status because of a digital barrier that has imposed public anonymity on them too early?

Greater Internet Fuckward

John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckward Theory

We are all born as self centered egoists, and only through socialization do we learn crucial civilization building skills such as empathy. Altruistic behaviors are learned, and they often countermand baser instincts such as self preservation. And yet they have allowed us to build thriving societies. But what if that socialization is retarded by artificial means?

You could say that my generation was raised by daytime TV and Hollywood blockbusters. The glass tube was the analog babysitter and information teat via which the neglected and under-parented masses learned their values. And to it’s credit, that medium actually tried to impart some values upon the younger viewers. Chief value was of course brand loyalty, but selfless hero archetype was strongly represented. So there was at least that.

What medium do the digital denizens of today get their parenting from? What is the automated babysitter of this generation? I shudder to think that it’s 4chan, reddit and the social media sprawl. What heroic archetype do these platform rise above all else? A smug, conceited internet troll perhaps? What if these kids become arrested at this stage of development, and never move on.

Are we rising our very own Vile Offspring who will in the future tolololo-loop our virch-spaces and erase our backups for the LULZ? Will post humans be weakly-godlike raging sociopaths?

The answer is no. Call me an optimist, but I think that while technology can be a barrier, it can also be a channel that helps to develop empathy. Face to face socialization is overrated. People make a big deal out of it, but the truth is that the only way we can even remotely approach getting inside of someones head is by reading their written word. When you read a personal account or a story, you identify with the author, or character. You become them, and you experience emotions through them. The internet gives everyone a platform to publish their intimate thoughts either by writing, or via visual media of different kinds. Push button, share thoughts. Push another button, learn how to be another. I would have been much less of a person if I did not have this digital connection to the world.

There is a limited number of people you will meet face to face in your life, whose personal stories will change the way you think. How often do you read a blog, or forum discussion, or even a Medium post that moves you, and makes you consider things from a new perspective. One that you would never discover if it wasn’t for a random link, or random click. The internet is a funnel for empathy. And the torrent is only getting stronger, as we discover new paradigms and ways to share our thoughts. Soon, you won’t just read or listen – you will feel and experience with the author. Our vile offspring will not stay vile for long.

As for the rest of his bit, I feel that it is an old riff on this old “chest-nut”:

Dresden Codak

Good old Dresden Codak “Hole in Chest” comic.

The original article I linked like six million words ago actually quoted Pascal and Tolstoy. I’m quoting motherfucking Dresden Codak , because the YaR decreed comedians as the philosopher kings of now, and I am not going to go against the grain. Also, Aaron Diaz makes a really awesome stuff, and you should follow him on Twatters and Tumbalors and whatnot.

As to the looming emptiness inside, lets do an experiment. Put down your phone, close your eyes and just sit there. What do you see? What streams fup from within? Is it despair? Let me try…

Ok, all I get is a river… A river of stars, cut up with luminous streaks of Busard engines. I see an armada, at the helm of which stands a woman with an ambition to wrestle the throne away from the True Empress. To that with she enlists the thrice cursed seventh legion, travels beyond the veil to forge alliance with the Banshees and entertains the notorious pirate prince at her court hoping to us his numerous troops in the final conflict. Shit, it’s to late for NaNoWriMo, isn’t it?

Wait, what were we doing? Oh, right. I was supposed to talk about introspection. About that emptiness within. I remember reading a very poignant quote one day. Something about the fact that we spend our entire life working to get closer to other people, but when the time comes we die alone. In that final moment, it is just you, and everything else fades away. Don’t remember where it was from so let’s just say it was from a standup comedy routine, so we don’t anger the YaR’lings. I remember thinking to myself “thank the fucking God, like all I need is other people coming in and ruining my death with their bullshit”. In my defense I was a teenager, and it was long before I decided that dying is way old school, and I want to live forever through some Kurzwelian miracle.

Introversion

Dear universe, please, please, please, kindly fuck off for a few hours. Kthxbye.

I guess what I’m saying is that while I acknowledge there is something to this notion, I can’t fully relate. CK is oversimplifying things, which is actually quite the norm for extroverts who can’t comprehend different cognitive makeups can possibly exist. I don’t have that hole. Or rather that icy swelling CK described in his video feels like a warm and cozy respite. When I’m driving my car, alone, left to my own thoughts I actually feel at peace. And it’s not that I’m a misanthrope of some sort. I just need to get the fuck away and be alone to get centered, and get my head straight. I’ve always been this way. Technology did not make me like this, and it also did not normalize me into an extrovert. Sometimes I fear I will end up like that guy from Zombieland who totally missed a Zombie apocalypse because he was kinda preoccupied and busy for a while. That if I don’t make a conscious effort to actually get out of my shell, socialize and explore, I will fall into some solipsistic black hole, forget how to interact with outside world, and what’s worse, be perfectly content that way and not give a shit that it happened. So there is that. Empathy is hard because not everyone fits into a neatly defined template. You can’t put my square peg into your round hole, and damn it, no it is not an innuendo.

Technology might be toxic in some ways, but then again what isn’t? It can be used as a barrier or a buffer to push people away. It can also be used as a bridge for social interaction. It’s all about how you use it. For every downside, there is a slew of wonderful benefits, and yet unexplored opportunities. Let kids embrace it, and find their own way with it. Guide them, but don’t hold them back. Be aware that human condition is a spectrum wider than you probably think. Not everyone works like you inside. In fact, few people probably do. We are all different. Technology is a bridge we are building. It is the best chance we have to truly get to know each other. Every man is an island, but now we have boats, and are slowly starting to figure out how to build underwater pipelines and bridges between us. If you reject this, if you shut it down, you bring that existential dread of a lonely death upon yourself.

Remember that you are the obsolete model. The children are our conduit to a brighter future. If you are lucky, they will take you along for the ride. But knowing how people are, most of the living will have to be dragged kicking and screaming across the digital divide…

Also, don’t get your philosophy lessons from a comedian. Instead get them from an internet guy with a blog, because blogs are journalism and therefore I am right.

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7 Responses to Medium, Mobile Technology, Louis CK, Hole in Chest

  1. Alex GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Linux says:

    Very insightful, thank you. I am surrounded by so many extroverted poeple that I sometimes get the feeling to be deficient is I dont actively fight against that. An incredible number of poeple find it ‘unhealthy’ and ‘not normal’. It is like they have to drug themself with constant input from others.

    Not having a lot of contact to like minded poeple really fucks you, takes your confidence away over time (having only contact to like minded poeple fucks you too).

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Alex:

    Yep. Extroverts don’t get it, but don’t let it keep you down. The thing about being deficient…

    I’ve been thinking about this lately: being deficient, means that there is some normal spectrum for human condition from which one would deviate. But if there is such a thing, then what is it, who defines it. and who gave them that right? Even in statistics outliers are not necessarily bad, they just are. By definition humanity is all-inclusive. It’s kinda messed up that we so often make people feel as if they were some inhuman abominations just because they don’t neatly fit into what is locally accepted definition of “normalcy”.

    Which kinda feeds into that other thing you mention: surrounding yourself with only like-minded people can potentially create an echo chamber effect. It does feel good but it may lead to a sort of radicalization within the group, since everyone is confirming each other’s biases and no one is questioning the status quo. It’s funny because it works both on micro (personal circle of friends and relatives) and macro scales (ie. ethnic/religious majority getting trapped in mutual privilege circle jerks and unable to see past it’s own nose). It can quickly go from “yay for us” to “yay for us, everyone else sucks” to “this is the only valid way to be, everything different is wrong”.

    Which is why I think technology is a force for good. You may live an insulated, echo-chamber, but one day you will stumble upon a blog post or a video with a point of view you don’t agree with. But for one reason or another it will strike a chord with you – it will explain the subject just right, use the right tone and the right amount of humor that resonates with you, and suddenly your will have an epiphany of some sort.

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  3. Wikke BELGIUM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Long time ago since I commented…

    Luke Maciak wrote:

    Which is why I think technology is a force for good. You may live an insulated, echo-chamber, but one day you will stumble upon a blog post or a video with a point of view you don’t agree with. But for one reason or another it will strike a chord with you – it will explain the subject just right, use the right tone and the right amount of humor that resonates with you, and suddenly your will have an epiphany of some sort.

    I don’t think it works this way.
    People will only see, and agree to, opinions that matches theirs.
    If they would stumble upon a different view, they will be more critical. (me too, I admit)
    Think of this about yourself: If you encounter someone with a completely different view than yourself explaining something in his point of view. You tend to find all the errors in their logic and debunk them.
    On the other hand, someone with a matching opinion, you tend to agree with him while saying/thinking “He’s right! Everyone, listen to him!”.

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Wikke:

    Well, sometimes you don’t have strong conviction, but a weakly held opinion about something you don’t know much about. Those are easy to change by random opinion pieces that give very in-depth analysis. But I honestly think reading something can legitimately change even a somewhat strong conviction because it has happened to me more than once.

    Let me try to give you an example. Tru Story™ time:

    Back when I was an undergrad in college I took a class that was labeled as “Mythology”. It was supposed to be an overview and analysis of ancient to modern mythological systems, myth creation mechanisms, cultural factors, etc.. As it often happens with this sort of random electives the professors research interests often dictate the overarching “theme” of the course. At least at my alma-matter it did. For example when I took Honors Lit 3 the chief theme was reflections on colonialism in western and non-western literature. When I took a random philosophy elective it ended up to be an in depth study of religious existentialism as seen through the works of Kierkegard. I never minded, because I was learning things I wouldn’t even think about otherwise. Except this one Mythology course in which the overarching theme was feminist theory. It basically traced what we would now call common tropes relating to gender roles in popular stories starting with oral tradition and ending with modern urban myths and pop culture phenomenons.

    After about two or three lectures I decided the class was complete bullshit. Few of my buddies dropped it, and the ones who stayed would hit the cafeteria with me after class where we would loudly complain how the crazy feminist lady is totally sexist, and how we are probably gonna fail the class just because we are men. Or how she always shoots us down when we try to valiantly explain to her how hard it is to be a man and how patriarchy doesn’t real and etc. This was before the conservative pundits coined the term “feminatzi” but if it was around back then, I’m fairly sure we would have used it to describe out professor.

    Long story short, I got an A+ in that class, because the professor wasn’t actually sexist, or hate men, the course was designed well, the requirements made sense, the assignments were fine and she graded fairly. But for years I would always tell people about that one time when I “beat the system” and somehow managed to pass this crazy feminist lady’s class without actually internalizing any of the “toxic man hating stuff” that she was indoctrinating us with. I just thought she was misguided and feminism was mostly obsolete and reactionary and that equality already has been achieved.

    Fast forward years later and I was randomly watching videos and I stumbled upon Nostalgia Chick’s review of Labryinth in which she called the protagonist “the loneliest LARP’er”. That and few other throw away D&D gags and dick jokes cemented it in my mind that this girl was cool. She was “my people”. So I decided to watch more of her videos. As I discovered she was a quite outspoken about feminism, but this time around, because I already mentally filed her under the “cool people who get things” category I listened. Some of that stuff actually got through, and planted seeds of doubt. I figured that maybe not all of the feminism is “bullshit”. Maybe it was just those “radical” ones that were bad.

    I mentioned Aaron Diaz above, who makes one of my favorite web comics of all time. I read his blog and tweets and he would also often speak about sexism, inequality, and gender tropes. He was also someone whose work and opinion I respected. So I listened.

    Then I saw same kinds of opinions very eloquently explained by people who were “really awesome” and “really got it”. People who were straight up worshiped by nerds like me: Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon, etc… It was a common thread I noticed that a lot of the people I really respected identified themselves as feminists. Bit by bit my opinions were changing. Maybe maturing also had something to do with it, but a lot of it was just reading things with open mind and going “huh, did not think about it this way” and starting to question conventional “bro wisdom” I grew up hearing everywhere around.

    Probably the last straw was when I was hanging out on reddit, and stumbled upon some dude-bros crying about evil feminists from SRS ruining everything forever. So, driven by morbid curiosity I went to check out the most hated, most derided den of evil, man hating misandrists who want to burn reddit down to the ground… To my surprise, folks there turned out to be both witty, and extremely friendly and considerate. This was around that time I had a sudden epiphany and finally realized what that Hark! A Vagrant comic was about. I’ve seen it dozen times posted in various places, and I never really fully understood the joke. These bad, radical, evil man hating feminists that show up in popular culture didn’t really exist in real life. That feminism was not some monolithic machine aiming to misandrer as many men as possible but a very fractured and divided movement that is struggling with its own internal problems (like lack of intesectionality for example). I realized that sexism wasn’t other peoples problem, and that the issues feminists were trying to address affected not just some other people, but everyone.

    Looking back at my college days, I actually regret being a complete tool – especially in that Mythology class. Finally, many years later I get what our professor was trying to teach us and have a new-found appreciation of how she structured the course. She was pretty much doing what Anita Sarkeesian is currently very successfully doing with video games – but she was doing it with ancient mythology, urban myths and popular culture. Mostly though I’m kinda ashamed of how long it took me to figure it all out, and kinda annoyed that I allowed myself to live in a cognitive bubble, while at the same time considering myself an open minded and enlightened person.

    So yeah, bunch of random internet articles, videos and forum discussions completely changed my view on feminism. Sadly there was no one in my social circles who could have taught me these things directly (or that I would have listened to without immediately shutting things out). Worst part is that most of my life I have always tried to be open minded and sensitive to social injustice. And yet, this was below my radar for so many years.

    The beliefs I hold now are pretty much opposite of what I believed back when I was an undergrad. And most this was participated and catalyzed by the technology that allowed me to randomly or semi-randomly stumble upon opinions different from my own, but presented in a language I could understand. The seeds of this change were planted by people who I never met.

    It’s kinda funny how we always say “real life” and “internet” as if those were separate domains of existence. But we live connected lives now – all the experiences are part of the human condition, and all of them are valid.

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  5. Max NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox OpenBSD says:

    I agree that technology can help you understand other people and their positions. I’ve begun to understand feminism in a somewhat similar way as you, Luke.

    Also, that video is meant to be funny? I find it annoying. I got unreasonably angry at this quote:

    And sometimes when things clear away, you’re not watching anything, you’re in your car, and you start going, ‘oh no, here it comes. That I’m alone.’ It’s starts to visit on you. Just this sadness. Life is tremendously sad, just by being in it…

    That’s why we text and drive. I look around, pretty much 100 percent of the people driving are texting. And they’re killing, everybody’s murdering each other with their cars. But people are willing to risk taking a life and ruining their own because they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.

    Or maybe it’s just that humans tend to underestimate common risks and overestimate their competence and if they had no smartphones they’d read newspapers instead? Nah, can’t be true, that doesn’t sound deep! Also, I haz had a sad while driving a car once. But seriously, if you can’t drive a car without working through a minor existential crisis, then you should hand back your license. I mean, driving in a highly emotional state is dangerous too. (If that means extroverts can’t drive anymore, then that’s too bad ;) But I don’t think all of them are delicate little flowers like that.)

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Max:

    Yeah, people have been doing reckless things while driving long before text messaging was even a thing. I once saw a guy read a novel while driving. He had like a real paperback book spread on his steering wheel.

    Plus I think the texting while driving sometimes is more of a “shit, someone just messaged me – this might be important” rather “omg, I have a sad”. As a rule I ignore the phone when I’m behind the wheel. If it is something really, really important the person on the other end will probably know my schedule and realize I’m en-route and call me instead so I can pick it up on my car’s Bluetooth. Otherwise it can probably wait 30 minutes or so it takes me to go between my house and my work.

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