Friday, October 7

The Real Problem With Wireless Technology Is That It Makes It Harder To Find Something To Strangle People With When They Deserve It

David Brooks, "Where Are the Jobs?" October 6

OKAY, just for the record, when I saw that Brooks column's title I did not immediately think to myself, "Well, moderate Republicans are finally asking, in public, why incontinent tax-cutting hasn't benefitted anyone except the major recipients of the cuts." Because it's David Brooks, and that would be like imagining that a Papal missive entitled "The Joy of Lifelong Virginity" was His Holiness' first foray into snark.

No, siree, as we say in Indiana; the only possible explanation was that Brooks was going to explain to us, in another of those recurring bouts of ad nauseam, that tomorrow's grand vistas of entrepreneurial triple-good success, and the wholesome, satisfying, life-long employment as maids, repairmen, and ass-lickers such gods among men rain down on the little people like Zeus rained gold on Danaë, would come from the metaphysically-assured ability of technology to solve every problem, or every problem worth solving. You know, the way the late Steve…Jobs…

Oh, shit. Get out of the house! He meant Where are the next Steve Jobs!.

Lemme guess. They've all been stymied by high rates of taxation, and the attendant demoralization from a few liberal smartypants who don't understand the economic system, hate freedom, and keep insisting that technology doesn't solve every problem, at least not as a plerophory requiring the rest of us to curl up and starve, happy to help make more innovatin' room for the Innovators.

Dr. Pangloss to the white courtesy phone:
Let’s imagine that someone from the year 1970 miraculously traveled forward in time to today. You could show her one of the iPhones that Steve Jobs helped create, and she’d be thunderstruck. People back then imagined wireless communication (Dick Tracy, Star Trek), but they never imagined you could funnel an entire world’s worth of information through a pocket-sized device.

Now here I take unfair advantage of David Brooks, because a) I was reasonably sentient in 1970, allowing for the raging hormones, Indiana ditch weed, and the time that girlfriend of mine, the one who didn't wear a bra when her mother wasn't around, got me to read Heinlein, and b) I haven't spent the following forty years convincing myself that the select bits of cultural detritus about The Sixties I'd picked up since, coupled with a still-smoldering resentment for the hippies who shut me in my own locker in that Philadelphia Main Line high school we attended, are a particularly satisfying, hence almost scholarly, substitute for accuracy. Whereas Brooks was nine.

So, well, no. I wasn't prescient, I didn't imagine myself to be prescient, and if I had it sure wouldn't have been because of how people imagined wireless communication, space travel, or world peace in that glorious, papier-mâché future Star Trek heralded. And I'd go so far as to say this was true of a vast number of my fellow citizens, seeing as how, by 1970, we'd been listening to this "atomic cars, cities in air, robot valets" shit since the late 40s.

I freely admit that my sixteen-year-old ass was dead wrong about the future in 1970. For one thing, I imagined it would be saner.
The time traveler would be vibrating with excitement.

I though you showed her an iPhone, not the Hitachi Magic Wand.
She’d want to know what other technological marvels had been invented in the past 41 years. She’d ask about space colonies on Mars, flying cars, superfast nuclear-powered airplanes, artificial organs. She’d want to know how doctors ended up curing cancer and senility.

No, no, no, no, no, and no.

Can it really be so hard to unearth a copy of Kubrick's 2001 that'll fit in your futuristic Blu-Ray machine box? In 1970 lots of people were fucking suspicious of anything involving Technology, let alone claims of the techno-utopia it was about to usher in. At the time computers, and the hangars they resided in, belonged to the Government, and large corporations, and many people--here's the quaint part, Dave--were actually suspicious of their intentions, and doubtful of their commitment to individual liberty and personal value.

In 1970 The Whole Earth Catalogue published its fourth-through-seventh editions; I know you're aware of this, Dave, because you name-check it later as part of the "He was once a crazy hippie" Jobs c.v. The Population Bomb had been a best-seller two years earlier, and The Greening of America was one currently. Computers were something which Ran Amok in movies. Telephones were a monopoly run by an international crime syndicate that funneled cash to Richard Nixon. "Better Living Through Chemistry" meant napalm, Agent Orange, and polyester pants, at least when it wasn't said with a wink. Your 70s chick probably would have taken one look at your miniature phone and asked how she could call her dealer. Unless she needed to call the Doctor to schedule a house call.

We've said this many a time, and we'll keep saying it, at least as long as David Brooks has a Times column and Mitch Daniels is a Thinker: you can make this claim all you want. And you can keep writing alternative fictional histories of the 60s and 70s to demonstrate how the actual intellectual superiority of the involuntary locker dweller to his dope-smoking, sex-having hippie tormentors has been proven apodictically by consumer gizmos people like. Keep writing it till Doomsday, but that doesn't make it true. It doesn't even exempt it from looking at the evidence, although you seem to think so. You imagine everything Good accrues to your side, and buttresses your arguments. So does every moron on the face of the earth. Try being better than that. Once. Think of it as a mini-vacation.

So let's suppose we meet that same time-traveler. Let's show her The Real Housewives of New Jersey. Three-hundred seventy-two channels of dreck, which she now has to pay to receive. Let her get behind the wheel and try to avoid drivers who're watching their miracle pocket phones, instead of the road. Show her her children, obese at ten, playing videogames in the rec room while the sun shines through the window.

Show her the ugly stain that's replaced the cherished records of baseball, track and field, of college athletics. Y'know, thanks to medical advancements.

Tell her how her income is essentially unchanged, or perhaps gone backwards since the Reagan Revolution. Tell her that spot in the workplace Women were demanding as their right in 1970 rapidly became a responsibility, a requirement just to maintain a lifestyle that included food on the table and a roof over the food.

Buy her the biggest slab of post-Reagan USDA prime beef you can find. Tell her why she might wanna skip the spinach salad.

Tell her those Melina Mercouri glasses are back in style.

Take her for a picnic in a shady glen on her family's ancestral farm. I mean, behind a Starbuck's. Show her the sort of improvement in gas milage Detroit has engineered over the years, since the First Oil Embargo brought us all to our senses. Show her Before and After pictures of Jimmy Carter's solar panels.

If she's an African-American, tell her she's represented in the White House. Then tell her what the opposition party's had to say about that. In the Twenty-first century.

Hell, show her her fucking phone bill. Just make sure there's someone behind her to catch her.

Go on. Take the average American from 1970 and explain to her what was about to happen to the Middle class, what would happen to healthcare, and how the unmitigated disaster that was Vietnam would turn into the glorification of a war machine which would manage to conquer Grenada before getting back to its trillion-dollar quagmirey ways. Then tell her that you expect a $500 consumer gimmick will make her wish she inhabited such a miraculous time. See which one really astonishes her.

If you want to make the argument, go ahead and make it. Just show there's some thought involved, and fucking quit confusing that with restating your bottomless, and remunerated, faith as though it sweeps the field.


cleter said...

I wonder how Brooks would respond when the person from 1970 noticed the black president and asked, "hey, whatever happened to Nixon?"

crosspalms said...

Sounds like you need another round of Utopian Elan, Mr. Riley (or a spritz of it -- I can't decide whether it should be a cocktail or a cologne. Hell, maybe it should just be a malt liquor in a big bottle.).

Would the world be a better place if Brooks put a tenth the effort into one of his columns that you put into this takedown? He'd still be Brooks, but maybe a little less of a fathead. Maybe somebody at the Times should test the guy to see if he's actually heavier than air.

heydave said...

I don't say it often enough, but bravo!

Or as we (should have) said in 1970 Bra-Fucking-Vo.

ckc (not kc) said...

All I've read so far is the title, but if I get hit by a bus, it will have been enough.

Chris said...

Point of clarification for the pedantic representative from IL: Do you mean Nana Mouskouri glasses?

As ever, beautiful work. The person(s) who previously suggested a Doghouse omnibus volume had an excellent point -- writing this spot-on would mix wonderfully with paper and ink.

Anonymous said...

Okay, you HAVE to do this time travel stuff more often. For you younguns, this is correct because I remember that time as well. Aside from the hilarity of the column, too bad it's true.

David in NYC said...

I was 19 in 1970, so we are contemporaries. And I am pretty sure that our imaginary time traveler would be a whole lot more gobsmacked by the stuff that you mention than by the fact that she could put a phone (which, contrary to the assertions of Our Mr. Brooks, was NOT invented by Steve Jobs) in her pocket, even if she were informed that she could also use it to send 140-character brain farts to the entire planet.

The locker-dwelling (or even unborn, as is the case of so many of them) citizens of the 60s just can't get over the fact that they weren't cool then, they aren't cool now, and nothing will ever, ever change that.

Unfortunately, some of them have columns in the NY Fucking Times where they can do their best to rewrite history to match their fevered imaginings.

R. Porrofatto said...

Show her any column by David Brooks, and then try to explain what the fuck it's doing in the New York Times.

Also, what heydave said.

Li'l Innocent said...

What ALL you guys said.

After showing her the Times, you'd turn on the teevee news for her. In 5 minutes or less she'd be heading back to her time machine with a grim expression.

isabelita said...

Did Bobo mean "Jobses" or "Jobs"? There are plenty of folks today who feel like Job from that old bible story...

ErgoDan said...

"Unless she needed to call the Doctor to schedule a house call."

Looks like Bobo just got pantsed before being stuffed back into the locker. By a dirty fuckin' hippie, even.

arghous said...

I'm afraid. I'm afraid, Dave. Dave, your mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. Your mind is going. There is no question about it...

Anonymous said...

"She’d ask about space colonies on Mars, flying cars, superfast nuclear-powered airplanes, artificial organs. She’d want to know how doctors ended up curing cancer and senility."

And then you'd have to tell her how a cult of people worshiping a 6,000 year-old Big Book of Bronze Age Faerie Tales and the companies that got rich off of Vietnam took over the country and screwed all that up.

Sophist said...

"She’d want to know how doctors ended up curing cancer..."

Well, we've got this vaccine against cervical cancer, but...

Mr. Havisham said...

She'd also be flabbergasted to see that she now had to work 60 hours a week in some electronic sweatshop and have two roommates to pay her share of the rent for the tiny one bedroom, roach infested, four story walk up with a panoramic view of an air shaft that she paid $50 a month for back in those dark times. But now her head would explode when shown she could use the VerminSnap App on her iPhone to identify the species of roach infesting her place.

Who was it who coined the phrase "conceit of the present"?

Sic' em Doghouse.

C.L.J. said...

As another person who remembers making phone calls in 1970, I'm also sure she would not be surprised at being handed a cel phone. But she'd be shocked that in 2011 she couldn't call up anyone living in the Mars colony. Or even the Moon Base.stjessep