Tuesday, February 22

Consider That Now When Your Message-In-A-Bottle Hits The Beach It's Going To Be One Piece Of Trash Among Eight Hundred Thousand

Verne G. Kopytoff, "Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter". February 20

Roni Caryn Rabin, "Behavior: Videos of Self-Injury Find an Audience". February 21

Stanley Fish, "What Did Watson the Computer Do?" February 21

I DON'T know if I can go on; should this prove to be my final olde style "blogging" missive, I trust the Reader will remember me warmly, if at all, and not look for me on Facebook. Maybe--should I decide to go out in a blaze of glory--on YouTube, where I will, with luck, usher in the new sub-category craze, "Disgruntled Old Guy beating a random 15-year-old Twitterer with a VHS machine the size of a dorm refrigerator". Assuming I can figure out how to work the video on that execrable inch-square thing lax (or non-existent) American advertising laws allow Target to call a "camera".

Okay, so I wouldn't really dream of doing that. Fucking print on the camera instructions is too small. And the young are considerate enough to keep my Poor Wife entertained, though not often amused. Let's just say that while my belief in the Brotherhood of Man remains strong, old age has at least given me a fuller perspective on the elderly's historical willingness to use the young as cannon fodder at the least provocation.

And my interest, and today's opprobrium, is not specifically directed at 12-17 year-olds who are refusing to visit my blog out of some misguided sense of fashion, but, rather, the people who write about them as though they were not simply the latest in a long line of inexperienced, unlettered, easily-replaced and hormonally-mazed sub-adults with a disturbing amount of sexual vigor.
Blogs were once the outlet of choice for people who wanted to express themselves online. But with the rise of sites like Facebook and Twitter, they are losing their allure for many people — particularly the younger generation.

Now, yet again we might note that somehow to the mass-market media Our Children are remarkably prescient--harbingers of that better future Mitch Daniels is forced by his philosophy of naked greed to insist is right around every corner--provided their activities are sufficiently consumerist, enormously profitable, at least potentially, and don't involve synthetic marihuana. Compare, for example, the huge "social networks" revolving around the decidedly middle-aged fondness for scrapbooking and flea markets: not exactly awarded a lot of space in your newly-Middle-American-friendly Times, are they? You wanna know about either you have to tune to HGTV, where the former will be on at 5 AM, and the latter a place where young trendoids go to refill their remodeled houses after the annoying, screechy decorator woman throws all their old stuff out. Are these things less trenderific than Whatever Internet Thing Teenagers Are Doing This Month? No, they're just done by people print editors and teevee producers are less likely to secretly dream of fucking. Are they somehow less important economically? No, it's just that compared to computer software and websites, they're less amenable to a global takeover by some Harvard dropout asshole who steals other people's ideas. And so, less attractive to print editors and teevee producers who dream of being those assholes.

Thus the possibility of, say, Kobalt box cutters or Wilkinson Sword Blades getting behind the cutting-video craze won't change matters; such behaviors are supposed to elicit concern that Our Youth may be too self-destructive, too high, or too otherwise occupied to get with the latest consumer trends like they're supposed to, and before they become too old to hook. Or fuck. The distinction is easy to make; the article in question will either quote someone from a research group which stands to make a lot of money off it (Good trend):

Lee Rainie, director of the Internet and American Life Project, says that blogging is not so much dying as shifting with the times. Entrepreneurs have taken some of the features popularized by blogging and weaved them into other kinds of services.

or an Assistant or Associate Professor of Psychosociology from some made-up school in some made-up country who stands to make a lot of money "curing" it (Bad trend):
Stephen P. Lewis, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Guelph in Ontario and the paper’s lead author, calls the YouTube depictions of self-harm “an alarming new trend,” especially considering how popular Internet use is among the population that engages most in self-injury already: teenagers and young adults.

Y'know, just a couple generations ago any teenage craze was cause for alarm. Sure, the influence of religious nuts, overt racists, and sexually-frustrated grammarians has waned since then, but, like the deposed Freud, who used to keep diapered infantilists too embarrassed to run for reelection, we were ill-served to toss them out on deserved ear without considering a proper replacement. It's not that I fear for Twittering's effect on literacy: there is no literacy left to be affected. It's the fact that information naziism can now employ as foot soldiers brigades of twenty-somethings with unchecked cases of galloping nostalgia for high school.

I suppose that at the time it was thought that normal adult humans could and would keep this sort of thing in check. In fairness, we used to have a much bigger supply.

For the life of me I don't understand the resilience of optimism. It's impossible for me not to wonder how someone can operate under the assumption that technology will, in every instance, come up with some means of cosseting them in old age the same way it has perpetuated their adolescence. Then again, like the man said, it's schools, not bookies and psychics, that hold bake sales. I'm still trying to figure out who green-lighted the "Watson" business on Jeopardy! ? Was it Trebek? Hey, I root for the man to go on forever, but he's got these fainting spells, and he's no programmer, assuming all the excitement he conjures up for all those "special" Jeopardy! weeks isn't shammed. I don't wanna watch Kid's Jeopardy! Isn't Nickelodeon still a network? Tell you what: I'll watch, if you ask them regular Jeopardy! questions, so that the whole thing consists of 22 minutes of smart-ass kids shutting up.* Put the little rat-bastards in their place. Teens I don't want to watch do anything. No, really, I mean anything. Twenty years ago a woman I knew asked me what celebrity I'd most like to fuck. My protestations that I didn't know the names of any, and didn't think that way wouldn't deter her, so I finally said, "Salma Hayek". And she said, "What would you do once you had to talk to her?" It is the rare one-liner which influences a lifetime's choice of pornography.

Ms Hayek, of course, has proven herself a genuine talent and a smart cookie, and we could well ask what she could possibly find to talk to me about, after the full five-minute version of The Riley Technique. But this is not the point. I'm sure my inquisitor had that one-liner ready regardless of my answer, and I wish now I'd said "Tracey Ullman," but I was aggravated. I was always more drawn to brains, and I don't say that just to earn Brownie points. It's because smart girls could appreciate a good attempt at pathos when they heard it.

Anyway, Jesus, guys, Paint Still Dries. Compelling fucking television, assuming you couldn't work the remote to turn it off. A complete waste of Brad Rutter and Ken "My Poor Wife's Dream Date" Jennings. Somebody call 1978 and see if it gives a fuck. The four-year-old computer I'm typing on can kick my ass at Scrabble once I set it to "Smart", and that's about halfway up the scale. So can the eleven-year-old computer it replaced. So could the eighteen-year-old that one replaced. You could come up with a pitching machine that could out-duel Sandy Koufax and Nolan Ryan in their primes, and it wouldn't take the millions IBM dropped on advertising this one to do it. And so what?

We had the thing on because there's no way my Poor Wife would pass up Ken Jennings doing anything. I fell asleep twice, and wished I had the third time. I kept rooting for one of the Two Greatest Jeopardy! Champions of All-Time to reach over and pour a glass of water on the thing.

And I don't know which was worse: the home-town crowd of IBM engineers whooping it up like Steeler fans, or the perpetual use of the Single Explanation for Why This All Means Something: Medicine. "Doctors will be able to use Watson to aid in diagnoses." I heard that eight times before I stopped counting. Like Doctors rank just above Grandmas on the computer literacy scale: "My diagnosis box doesn't speak English!" Maybe next time you can take a team of engineers, ten years, and 127 supercomputers and figure out how I'm supposed to pay the guy. Or make my fucking television smarter. Or come up with one that can say something useful in 140 characters.


* Except it wouldn't; if there's one thing we learn from the local, televised high school quiz bowl thing we watch every week in the hope that one day an urban school is gonna kick the ass of the rich private school fucks, it's that, given a question they have no hope of answering and don't believe should qualify as a question, such as the incontinent Boomer culture references**, or some piece of arcana your average teenaged "brain" considers the exclusive province of the Super-Brainiac†, someone will come up with a bit of self-conscious dumbassery that only his fellow juveniles--including, here, the guffawing Channel 13 weatherman who moderates the thing--would find amusing.

**And in fairness, they're right.

† Since there's generally someone on every team who can handle entry-level college math, this usually, and instructively, consists of history, geography, or current events question involving some area of the globe which is not the United States, or some fact about the United States which predates 1998.


Davis X. Machina said...

It's not that I fear for Twittering's effect on literacy: there is no literacy left to be affected.

We're requesting pre-clearance of this quote for potential use on the upper left wall of the pronaos of the Doghouse Riley memorial.

The masons work slowly -- featherbedding, union slackers to a man -- and we calculated that we have to begin carving the inscriptions before the building actually goes up.

Christopher said...

"And the videos are popular. Many viewers rated the videos positively, selecting them as favorites more than 12,000 times..."

This makes them roughly twice as popular as a dog riding a turtle but about one third as popular as a cat jumping around in a cardboard box.


RobertB said...

You knew that IBM wasn't going to roll Watson out there to get curbstomped. There was no way it wasn't winning big. Winning at Jeopardy, given that most of the contestants are actually pretty good at the trivia, is mostly about the buzzer. Even Brad and KenJen timing on the lockout button doesn't make them faster than Watson's solenoid.

And while they're pitching it as The Next Big Advance In Medicine, who it's really aimed at is front-line support. You think some doctor is going to let his ass get sued back to the Stone Age because he took "What is leg" seriously? Joe Blow on the phone to Sprint, however, has no choice.

RobertB said...

Having said that about the buzzer, I'm actually not in the "of course it won, it's a computer and is 10,000 times faster" camp. That it could actually understand enough questions quickly enough to win is the real accomplishment.

Unknown said...

Just because this is kind of my field:

1) There are more biomedical papers than any person could read in a lifetime already; the demand for technology to automatically gather information from them is real and huge. Actual medical doctors participate in research like Watson.

2) "That it could actually understand enough questions quickly enough to win is the real accomplishment." - absolutely; of course, they had to use the equivalent of like a diamond hammer of +100 smiting or something to do it. It made me wonder what the CO2 output was of just cooling the damn thing.

Overhyped? Sure. This is IBM we're talking about; they have money to make. But the technology is real and important, for a given value of important. Just not that unique.

D. Sidhe said...

As to the young people and their choice in reading material, their loss.

But consider: in terms of culture these days, they're basically subject to a great deal of reconstituted and rehydrated crap from the eighties, as though anyone who'd missed My Little Pony and The A Team the first time around was somehow deprived. It's like a vaguely sociopathic experiment to feed Bonfire of the Vanities into their veins via Twitter.

I was feeling sorry for them, having been dragged by my partner to see "I Am Number Four" (Like "Twilight", with aliens), until we stopped at the electronics store. Where I was confronted with the fact that Justin Bieber had had himself a playdate recently (I assume recently, since he's barely just fallen off the cabbage truck) and he and all his little friends were singing "We Are The World", a song that had little charm then and none at all now. So then I thought, "Fuck 'em. They deserve the new Dallas. Salt the earth, man."

I mean, the sixties may have been a whirl of Little Houses made of ticky tacky and seriously questionable fashion choices, but at least some worthwhile stuff got accomplished. Nostalgia for the eighties is like wishing Ronald Reagan would come back and make us feel virtuous in our bigotries all over again.

wv: redos. Ayup.

R. Porrofatto said...

Even if you're a sucker for their sketchy survey data, these overinflated Times analyses of trends read no differently than a Rupert Murdoch publication might have reported Anna Nicole Smith's breast augmentations on any day in the 90's. So we get exciting quotes like "Lee Rainie, director of the Internet and American Life Project, says that blogging is not so much dying as shifting with the times" even when, belied by the very PEW data they are using, blogging is neither dying nor shifting, nor all that big a deal in the first place.
According to the Pew surveys, the percentage of people blogging, always relatively small compared to all other online activities, is actually increasing. The only cohort showing a decrease in the past 5 years is teenagers, 12-17, which seems easily explained by how much easier a Facebook page is for a 13 year-old than a blog. Besides, the percentage of people, including teens, reading blogs has also increased across the board. None of this is worth what I just typed about it, but it always galls me when they link to data that belies their own reporting -- something Brooks does on a regular basis -- which leads to conventional veritoids like "the primary concern of the vast majority of Tea Partiers is deficit reduction."

PS. If you wanted more 12-17 year olds you'd have to stop this post somewhere around the word "warmly."