Friday, February 29, 2008

File under “what was I thinking”

I was driving along Route 4 this morning, cruising in the center lane, bright and early, daring fate by going 56 miles per hour in a 50 zone. Two cars ahead, I noticed a sudden brake light and, in proper defensive driving mode, I started my own braking procedure (deploying the parachute wasn't necessary). Apparently some folk in the left lane weren't as in tune with their surroundings and the next thing I know, tires screech and smoke and one SUV ended up facing 90 degrees in the wrong direction. Just a side note – while I was horrible in math, I seem to have gained an appreciation for angles, especially as they relate to cars and accidents.

So anyway, the tires screeched but I think I mentioned that. The demolition derby came to life as a car stopped short (well, certainly not long), the car behind it fishtailed after hitting it and then was hit by the car behind it, broadside. The front car (whose driver was, by this time, getting his story straight) pulled over ahead, his left tail light broken. The other two rumbled to a halt and I, without thinking, pulled off to the side in between. I jumped out of my car (missing the middle of the Talking Heads' "Life During Wartime") and ran to each car and yelled "Are you ok?" All three were on the phone and all three indicated that they were fine. Relieved, I went back to my car, pulled in to traffic and continued on to work.

Then it hit me, and stop me if you've heard this. "What if any of them had actually needed some help?"

Now if you're a long time reader you know I have confronted something tangential to this a while ago, but this was no longer the realm of the theory – I was really on the side of the road, asking strangers about their feelings. What would have happened if one of them had said "I can't feel my legs" or "I'm feeling the urge to push."

Remember, I'm a not so glorified high school English teacher and administrator.

Would I have stood there and answered "No! I meant do you have anything you need proofread?" or "Sorry, I was just wondering if you were comfortable with your son's placement in his science section?" What was I thinking pulling over and trying to be all nice and what not. I made sure to get out of there because I wouldn't want some police officer asking me to be a witness and then looking at me with his suspiciously sun-glassed eyes and saying "What's the real difference between carom and careen?"

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Era of

I think we wait too long to name our eras. The flappers didn't think of their decade as roaring -- it was for others to name. And the decade of greed was seen as such in hindsight only. The "me decade" the "you decade" all those great names were given to a time period either late in it or after. The only exceptions to this are self christenings made by important people who have some sort of societally ceded right to have a world view and authority to pronounce "meaning."

I want to be that person so I've been paying attention.

A long time ago, and a lifetime away, I dabbled in radio. I interned at and worked at some big name commercial radio stations and found out some dirty truths. Secret numero uno -- requests are a tightly controlled and usually ignored commodity. While every caller's request was written down and counted, and the stations always wanted to know what people wanted to hear (or were buying at the local record stores) it was unusual for a station to suspend its corporate playlist and play some deep cut from a band whose claim to fame was that the drummer's brother was the road manager for an indy band that opened for 'til tuesday on a windy Thursday in 1986. While college and other stations played what the audience asked for (sometimes) the big boys hoped that what was requested was already going to be played so that they could at once validate their playlists and satisfy the masses. If a request wasn't exactly what was intended, another song by the band could have the caller's name attached to it, or the request could be taped and held until it was useful. Isolated time slots which were based on carefully vetted requests or singular moments where an off the page request could be inserted appeared but were not the norm. I have noticed that the world is changing.

What we have now is a universe where we thrive on having a personal control of things. We can carry a veritable radio station in our pocket -- an mp3 player loaded with our favorite songs, a video playlist closely chosen to cut across personal tastes and memories, an online music resource which can determine what we like and find more songs specifically in that direction. Our news can be auto generated based on what we want to read...websites are recommended to us based on what we look at. Product ads appear tailored for us and we can choose to turn on any number of filters to control exactly what we see and/or hear. Radio stations have to stop being about what they think we want to hear and more about letting us control what we hear. Niche marketing has moved us from mass communication to a world of stations designed for a single user. We are in the Era of Control. If you stumble across me online, you can find what I like in sports teams, music, news and other people. You can look at the MYspace page and see who I am. You can look at Itunes and get into my musical head. I can make my world, craft the environment and keep out the sonically undesirable. Technology has both driven us apart, as citizens in a world of one, and brought us together, giving us free access to whatever we can use to define ourselves and advertise our leanings to anyone who happens upon our digital billboard. We have learned to craft our personas and advertise our identities to the whole world in a measured a way as any PR firm. We have learned that we deserve to be accommodated and provided for, never having to wait for that favorite song or TV show, but get it on demand. We are both stripped naked and bare for all to see, and given the power to build ourselves up wrapped in virtual lies and be who we want you to think we are. We are open and honest. But maybe lying. We allow the world to make recommendations, but ultimately, we pick and choose for ourselves. Everyone has become a reviewer of everyone else's lives and tastes, but no one truly knows anything at all.

Spinning, spinning, spinning. The Era of Artifice. The Idecade. The "I'm OK and now you tell me what you think of me based on what I let you see" decade.

It was the rest of times, it was the first of times. The end of history and the beginning of the future.

I'll find a good one...