Here Thar Be Monsters!

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Musings On Media

The piece on FarceBook and Twiddle seemed to have hit a nerve, with a number of folks weighing in on both sides, but the one that struck me the most was from long-time reader and contributor Robert, to whit:

Hello Bernard:
Often times reading your blog is like reading my own thoughts, and usually it's during those moments when I am feeling quite alone with them. Timely is your blog because lately my  cognitive dissonance has been about the recent IPO offering of Tweeter TWTR as being a product of a kind of mass hysteria. At an earlier time I felt this way with the release of the Facebook IPO FB. It reminded me of when I was a kid and we had the old crank wall phones. The problem for those phones was that they were on shared lines and people could listen in making it a source of gossip. Mable could spread the word that Sue was in a family way, and such. After watching a Zuckerberger video my suspicions were confirmed that gossip was the very reason Facebook was invented. Facebook legitimized gossip making it a kind of art form. But gossip isn't all, you can stop being a nobody and share your vanities with a million other vain folks.  And Mable has become the NSA gossip queen that gathers it all. But the sequel IPO, TWRT astounding me even more since it has no substance whatsoever. Now everyone can not only be a legitimate gossip monger and vainglorious asshole they can also be Internet imbedded objects of commerce too.

I suspect that the ghost of Edward Bernays visited Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberger and told them, "Hey, I can show you how to get $billions from nothing if you simply kiss my hand and the Wailing Wall. You now have two generations that grew up watching moving pictures on screens, so if you put moving pictures on their cell phones their psyches are already so conditioned you can name the price and they will pay it. And if you rewrite the software and add more memory every few months they will go out and buy the same thing over and over  thinking that its new and improved. You can get the Chinese communist to put their slaves to work manufacturing the Ipods and Iphones and Ipads for pennies on the dollar. Pretty soon you will have more money than General Electric, Halliburton and Exon put together, and the public will have their texting, tweeting, twittering, gossiping, and snitching with moving pictures.

Best wishes

Yep, a lot of folks were mystified by the who IPO hype, which even now I suspect a lot of folks are buring out on, simply because there's no substance to any of it.  Folks don't post insights or poetry or utilize the medium as a tool of exploration and enrichment.  

Rather it is a compendium of people's minutia and public jabs at others who may have offended.  Much of it is vicious and the balance is mindless drivel.

Robert's point about the old phone system was exactly right, and for those who don't have personal memories about those old phone systems, it went like this:

Back in the Stone Age, especially in rural areas where the Great Phone Expansion was just reaching out its nefarious tentacles, there were things called party lines.  Any number of homes were all wired to the same circuit, which was wired to a central switchboard with a real live person physically plugging one circuit into another to complete calls.

Each household on a circuit had its own ring tone.  Yours might be two longs and a short to let you know the call was for you, but you would hear all the ring tones for all the phones on the circuit, and consequently the infernal contraption made a lot of racket during peak hours.

To place a call, you lifted the earpiece and cranked a handle on the side.  This created a series of electical pulses that would ring a bell at the switchboard to get the operator's attention.  To call cross-country, your operator would physically plug the circuit into a central line, which would initiate a series of folks plugging copper wires into other copper wires until it reached the circuit you were calling.  This laborious process led to the ubiquitous idiom, "Hold the phone," as you waited for all the plugs to be set just right.

Each circuit had a name.  The one we had when I was a kid was JACKSON, followed by three or four numbers to cue the operator which ring tone to use to get your attention.

The consequence of all this was that each phone on a circuit could hear every other phone on the circuit.  In some cases, housewives would all just pick up the phone at a given time of day and jawbone with each other.  This had the additional result of making the operator (Mabel in Robert's note) the queen of gossip, since she could hear what everyone was saying to everyone else on multiple circuits.  Thus was born the NSA.

Back in the day, you were privy to anything said on your circuit.  If someone had momentous news (a death, birth, etc.), it was only a matter of minutes before word was all over the county.  On party lines, someone was always listening.  Heck, some folks would just sit there and listen for hours at a time, perched on a stool next to the phone box on the wall.

In a vastly more complex way, that person sitting on the stool listening to the party line for hours is what FarceBook and Twiddle are all about.  It's a form of voluntary surveillance where you willingly publish your most intimate details on the party line while others sit and watch for whatever reasons.  It's a kind of sanctioned voyeurism where people post the minutia of their lives for others' entertainment.  We've all become the Town Gossip and the Town Peeping Tom, and our obcession with it is worth US$1.6 billion and change, apparently.

It's sick really that a select few insiders should make so much money off of people's most base proclivities.  But seeing as how they are monetizing just about everything else - air, water, carbon-based lifeforms - I suppose it is only inevitable.  Not that you've probably noticed, but pornography usually leads the way into new communications technology, followed closely by gluttony, greed, envy, and the rest of the seven deadly sins.

And so a core group of greedsters sit back and make a kajillion dollars off of people's baser instincts, while at the same time compiling all the intimate details of ourselves that we freely share with the world into phychological profiles, which themselves can be sold to marketers and spy agencies, bringing in an additional kajillion dollars.  Every twit and status update makes someone incredibly rich.

As P. T. Barnum famously said, "Every crowd has a silver lining."