Welcome to the Hegeldrome?

It's been about 3 weeks since I got my iPhone, and as I forecasted in my last post, my life is already completely changed! I have designed a custom ear-piercing so that I can implant a Bluetooth headphone DIRECTLY INTO MY EAR! No, just kidding! Megan talked me out of that one. But really:

We have entered a brand new age of digital literacy!

Or, at least I have. I have discovered that since I last spent a lot of time online, there are many great sites that provide an RSS feed, eliminating all the flashy business and most of the ads, so that I can have direct access to the text. With the help of Google Reader, a RSS managing web app, and the Google App, I can now see the updates to interesting sites in small, bite size pieces, from which it is easy to "hyperlink" to the full article!


This is, nothing less than a Darwinian leap forward for web content. All the dodos (YouTube, hopefully... what a horrible GUI! Not even its own iPhone App can save it!) will be hunted down and killed by Portuguese sailors. Metaphorically, of course. Those who adapt their content to the proper form will move forward, and I think that this can only be a good thing. Why? Because those who properly form their content sites are those with the better content.

I know this sounds like a strange, digital age argument for classical forms, but think of it the other way around; rather than rely upon the time-honored forms of literature, we are now going to be pushing forward to more innovative forms, and, more importantly, not just innovation, but innovation that is found to be useful and more conducive to its content.

Take YouTube, for instance, that I just bashed. It has been heralded as a synonym for Google, not only in ownership, but in the epoch-defining titles that pundits love to trumpet, hoping that they will be known as the soul who coined the term. But no one will ever be the YouTube generation. Here's why.

The site is: a very convenient means for sharing videos, that was made even more convenient when they made it possible to embed video in your web page. Your blog/social site/web page doesn't support video, or you don't know how to make it do so? Bam. Now it/you do.

The site isn't: a video Wikipedia. Enough said. The search tags are awful, as is 90% of the content. If you're looking for bullshit, you found it. If you're looking for the "Glittering C-Beams" speech from Blade Runner, then okay, maybe you found that too. But say, you want to find specific Congressional Testimony, then perhaps not. Why? Because nobody uploaded that video. The bottom line is, if you don't want to weed through the crap, you shouldn't even bother.

Now, I'm not saying that there is a web site out there that will give me something good about any subject, all the time. The internet is all about the search and link. Even a great search engine like Google only gets you about 30% of the way to a nebulous concept, the rest is up to you.

That's why I really like the RSS business. Now I can program 10, 100, or 1,000 different content providers into my little heirarchy, and then search those trusted sources for what I need, or what I might need, but of which I'm not yet aware. For example, in my "Theory" folder, I get the most recent updates from The New York Review of Books, The Anomalist (a review of parascience sites), Erik Davis' Techgnosis, and the journal N+1. In the "Comics" section, I read Dinosaur Comics and The Comics Curmudgeon, and in my "Associates" category I have updates from my friends and colleagues blogs (see the sidebar for their links). Now I have my own little newspaper, made of the sections and contributors I choose, all updated 24-7 and prepped for my mobile device, or computer viewing. Amazing!

And you can make your own, and share articles like how Dad clips out columns for you. Cool!

One of the articles I just happened across was from the New York Times Book Review, called Online, R U really reading? See how they made the "R U" just like you were writing online? Isn't that clever? The article asks the question that Luddite babyboomers would love the answer to: "Is this crazy internet fad going to make my children into porn-addicted, illiterate nerds?"

The answer, clearly, is no. The fact that people like the author of the piece forget, is that there are many more people than Luddite babyboomers in the world. What I mean by this, is that not only are there people in the world that don't have a healthy respect for To Kill a Mockingbird, and other falsely-attributed "classics" (ME, for one) there are also people who although they have the ability, do not read at all, or only read tripe. This was occurring long before the internet, and will occur for long after. 90%+ literacy is a relatively new thing, and the fact is that most people, even in our culture, have no desire to pick up any book at all. So a teenager wants nothing more than to write fan-fiction and read online celebrity gossip... fine. S/he probably wasn't a Jr. Proust anyhow. Not that they shouldn't be prodded towards have a bigger view of the world and culture than is on YouTube, but I think we should look elsewhere than your modem for the problem.

The "classical" element of culture has always been the minority, and probably always will. And I think most who consider themselves part of that culture would like it that way. I remember being able to flash my Philosophy Department credentials in order to get in a standing-room-only lecture by Zizek in New York; imagine if I had to go up to Yankee Stadium (by then, renamed the Hegeldrome) and buy $150 scalped tickets just to watch that lecture on the Jumbotron!

But, what about the internet? Is there any goodness in it for us high and mighty, classical-culturally inclined? Of course! Did you not just hear how I made my own custom newspaper with a few cut-and-paste's in five minutes FOR FREE? The nation's newspapers are going out of business? Fuck 'em! As long as there is online advertising to be sold, there will be more than enough knowledgable opinions online to sort through. And after all, newspapers aren't going to disappear; they are only going to lose some weight, long over due. For those who read them, you will never beat a printed sheet. You can quote me on that. But if the NYT stopped printing it's society pages, I know I wouldn't mind.

The internet is not a dreamland, however. There are censorship issues a plenty, and I'm not (only) talking about the government. But that is a theme for a further post.


The Age of iQuarius

I have a terrible confession to make:

I bought an iPhone.

And not only did I get one, but I got one the second day they were out. I waited in line for two hours to get it. And the entire week prior, I was scanning the internet for rumors as to what it would be like, because I was so damn excited to get one.

"What?" you say. "Adam, who so typically eschews anything hyped, anything deemed 'the next big thing', has fallen into lockstep, and not only that, but signed a two-year contract?"

Perhaps. But what is this blog if not a long-winded apologia for everything I have ever thought, said, or done? So, in this spirit, let me tell you exactly how world-shatteringly important it was for me to get a new iPhone.

This, really, is nothing less that the future. Ten years ago, if someone told you they were getting a laptop, you would say to yourself, "Why does s/he need a laptop? S/he isn't a business person, so what use could s/he possibly get from a portable computer?"

Now, times have changed. To have a desktop is to be anchored, permanently, to a desk. That isn't a "computer" as we have come to know it; rather, it is an appliance. You don't bring your microwave out to the coffee shop anymore than you bring your car to bed; an appliance or a piece of machinery fills a task in a particular place or time, to have it outside of that context is non-sensical.

So what in the context changed? Well, you could say the internet has proliferated. Web 2.0, mp3s, MMUDs, blah blah blah. Also, WiFi has grown, so that having a "plug" for a computer to be useful isn't as necessary.

But this is the key: WiFi hasn't grown just to reduce our use of cords. It has grown to web almost all major cities on the planet because what one does with a computer has changed. Computing has become a lifestyle. Actually, it has joined, grown, and insinuated itself into many different lifestyles. Computing isn't something that you do anymore--its something that helps you do other things.

This is more than being "jacked in" to some kind of net. That happened with the Walkman. All of a sudden, you could be linked to another "dimension" via a portable electronic device. Mp3 players just upped the ante on a technological development that was 20 years old. So you can plug in, and have your attention drawn to something other than the world around you. I see people who read books while walking, hell, while driving! Some people don't even need that, wandering out into traffic while plain lost in thought. Being distracted from the "real world" is as old as the "real world" itself.

What is different is that a dimension is unfolding that is not just alternative to the "real world", but that is intimately bound to it. In fact every day, this dimension gets a little bit more hyperlinked, "digg"ed, and posted into where the old, "real world" used to begin and end. Of course, as the good, semi-Marxist semiotician that I am, I could argue that literature does nothing different. And I do. Literature is an extension of consciousness, a material building-outwards of our psychic material into the world, like rickety scaffolding from a dock out into the ocean.

And this is where this amazing new techology fits in: it is aiding our ability to read and write. "What?" the aging pedagogue retorts. "The internet age had caused a decline in reading! The young people are too busy sucking Facebook to pick up something as important as literature!"

Well, think about how many people used to read the classics up until this century. Almost none. Except for the academics, of course. So then we entered the age of literacy, and penny-novels sold like penny-candy. Now people read crime dramas and celebrity tell-all novels, and... read internet sites about celebritites, and watch online videos of crimes!

Don't get me wrong, I will rant against bullshit attempts at cultural enrichment until the day I die. But get this: there is an iPhone app planned that will let you read any book in Project Gutenberg in eBook form, for free! Amazing! Now when I'm out and trying to think of that first line from The Confidence Man, I don't have to run home to my meticulously kept library, I have it in my hand. Literacy, 1: ignorance, 0.

I don't mean to imply that the downloads of this app (I believe it is called Stanza, but it is not available yet) won't be hugely dwarfed by downloads of Super Monkey Ball. But this is always the way that things are. What technology is doing is changing the way that we can interact with and manipulate literature in our daily lives. Literature came out of the monasteries with Gutenberg, it was delivered from the corporations by digital printing. It was finally released from its chains of material, destructible (need I mention, burnable?) hardcopy by the internet. And now, it has been rendered universally accessible throughout the "real world" by the mobile web.

So this is the importance that I see in the iPhone. This is the beginning of a new epoch; one approaching the era of cyborgs: when our technology will seemlessly link our consciousnesses to the real world through interface. The mind-body debate will fall away, because our minds will be as fluid and disjointed from reality as our bodies are. When you can feel as much information about how your ligaments are functioning as what your current mood is, then you'll believe me. It is important to get in on the ground floor with this; we all need to be understanding the transformation as it occurs. Matrix-like transformation are only uncanny if they suddenly replace your established reality. If they grow on you, it is no different than growing older, or learning. Also, this way we can make sure we, the users, control the technology. Love your local tech-nerd, because one day he may be the only one who can unlock, or "hack" your proprietary bowel software so you can take a shit when you want.

Just one thing that I've already noticed about how mobile web will change the way we think about the world and the internet:

A big gripe about the iPhone is that it doesn't have Flash support. People want this, considering how many slick websites are all Flashed out these days. But, on the other hand, think about the last Flash site that you visited. It looked all snazzy, but wasn't it as hard as fuck to navigate to what you wanted? Especially if a particular function wasn't written into the site? You had to let all the cool clothing fly around the page just to look at the next shirt in the catalog without returning back to the orbiting "men's section". How annoying!

On the other hand, if you are accessing the web through a mobile platform, you are automatically at a disadvantage because of screen-size and data transfer speeds. Hence, no Flash support. What you do have though, are "mobile oriented sites." If you don't have mobile web, go here for an annoying video that lets you see what it looks like. It is basically bare-bones: limited pictures, relevant text only, small page span, large links. And... OMG! no ads on a Google site! Shh... don't let them know I noticed.

But this is an evolutionary trend: the useless (Flash heavy sites that are the equivalent of 400-page glossy magazine/catalogs) will be left by the wayside for efficient, well-designed means of data transmission. Of course, data transmission will only get better, and I bet we see Flash on the iPhone in less than a few years. But still, this evolution will continue. As the web-surfing public becomes more mobile, there will still be a need for efficient, well-designed sites and apps. (And from my brief survey thus far, Google looks primed to take the lead. Their Search, News, RSS Reader, and Chat web apps are currently available in mobile form, and all are amazingly useful and well-suited for the iPhones data and interface capacities. Still waiting on Blogger!) And of course, there will always be a place for Super Monkey Ball, just like there will be fashion catalogs until the last printing press rusts away. But those of us who are interested in information, in literature, and in improving our interface with the world will be the true winners. The fashionistas and salon goers will still be chasing their tail through the epochs, no doubt.