Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Each Generation Is Worse Than the Last

We’re all doing the same thing as our parents. Only none of us knows it. We don’t want to believe it. And they can’t even imagine it. But it’s true. The only difference between us and them is the tools at our disposal. I remember when I was small and my parents could force me to go to church, there was this part in the service where they would stop everything and everyone would just turn to the people around them and shake hands and smile. This was my favorite part of the whole thing because it meant it was almost over. And I could be in the warm car speeding home toward whatever fun lay ahead. My dad sped. And my life was inexorably fun, provided I wasn’t in church.

And now I am older and more aware that I am alone and signed up to MySpace, YourSpace and just about any space there is in the social networking world. I add as many friends as I want. The routine is simple. I look over their profile, they’re not spam, and I add them. My new best friends are just like the people in that church. There was a real connection, for a few moments. A smile, a handshake, pat the head of someone else’s kid. Then you might see that person now and then on another Sunday, sitting in a pew across the way. You smile awkwardly. It’s great. Just like a quick blog post on one of your hundred and thirty best friends’ MySpace or a poke on Facebook. This is our society. But it’s even better than church because you can be Jewish and Christian and Muslim (did I leave anything out?) and basically all the religions you want, so long as you look at the ads and don’t make trouble. I suppose our parents, too, joined more social organizations than just church. But as to what they were, I wasn’t around, so you’d better ask them if you care. I know you don’t. Cause I saw you said on your blog.

Your parents should not be upset about how much time you spend online. They should be concerned with how you treat others while you’re on. When you’re online, you’re not just sitting there by yourself. Ok, yeah, technically you are just sitting there by yourself. But hey, you’re totally connected. Ask this question. When the internet suddenly shuts off because the damn guy forgot to water-seal the outside connection and it’s raining and they aren’t coming out until Monday to fix it, do you still sit there at the computer? No. You immediately get up and do something else. Like kick something. Maybe call up some friends. Go out. Come back home. Kick more stuff. Anyway, it’s not about the computer. It’s about the fact that you have a million friends all over the place and this is the best way to enjoy them all at the same time without having to get off your ass. Isn’t this the point? Isn’t this what we as a species have been striving for all along? We’ve finally reached the goal, and now our parents are trying to make us feel bad about it. If they only knew my gmail light is green, not red. They would be so proud.

My parents are obsessed with reputation and status. And for this, they have almost given up on me. But what they don’t know at all is: so am I. It’s just that for me that reputation is a lot online. And that status is, I suppose, not measured in the same way as theirs. I’d like to think it’s because I see the trends. I see where our nation (and world) is headed in terms of economic decline. I see a coming confrontation with overpopulation and overconsumption. And so I make a choice. Yes, I want status. But for me it cannot be a big house or a Hummer. It’s got to be something that can last a long time, and sustain itself (preferably without my having to work too many hours). My parents should not be upset that I haven’t had a haircut in so long and I basically look like crap and smell. If they only knew how much time I spend perfecting my avatars. And how much you appreciate it. Then they would understand.


Jake & Molly said...

dammit Bacon, you tire me with your endless ranting! But how I miss it on occasion. Like when there's nothing better to do, and when you can't bear to pay attention to 'the Bachelor.'

I am worried that you're not getting out enough. I mean, I hope you're able to, physically, but I really don't know. How are you, really? I ask not only because I admire you as a free thinker and innovator of web creativity, but because the long hair and 'smell' worry me. I mean, I'm lazy, but shit! (which is why I rarely poke me head into the fried pork realm that is, without saying, cold. I am a fair-weather Baconian.

Cold Bacon said...

wait. did the bachelor start a new season? oh my god...i have to, um, go take care of some important things... be right back. (check in-line comments for more)

Cold Bacon said...

Here is a comment by Kate with my responses built-in:

Kate: Because what does "status" mean in an online context? It's surely not sheer numbers of friends. Because that's not what it is out here. Out here, it's what those friends can provide for you. An entree into the yacht club. Sound legal advice. A rec letter for your kid to get into your tony private school. Isn't that what "status" is out here?

Cold Bacon: I guess. For you. And how embedded into the internet are you? How much time you spend or how much do you care about your online persona? I suspect not too much. i really should probably re-characterize my defendees in the above apology for excessive internet use as being a subset of young people, and not ALL young people. Because clearly there are plenty of young people who aspire to be just like their parents. i should acknowledge that. Ha ha. I’m teasing you. But seriously. My point is that perhaps you use the internet as an extension or tool of your real life, rather than an alternate life unto itself. These are the two types of people.

Kate: What does "status" in an online context mean? How is status different from fame, or knowability? Perhaps not different at all. It strikes me that enfolded in the definition of status is a sense of its life as a commodity.

CB: I don’t know exactly what you mean by “life as a commodity,” but I am supposing for some people “online status” is an alternative to “real world” status. The differences are extensive. The similarity is perhaps less obvious. Some people will find status, real or imagined, more attainable online, whereas it is perhaps more difficult offline. Someone who would probably just as soon be a rock star in real life, will instead take pleasure in being a rock star online. There’s much less pay, and probably less pleasure, but fewer risks. Anyway that is one way of looking at it. I would also like to propose the online lifestyle could be other than just a consolation prize for the majority of us who can’t get what we supposedly really want. It could be for some people there are real and unique net benefits to online adventures. So that it becomes more a question of how one wishes to spend one’s time rather than just some sort of mental pain pill for our collective modern anxieties. Of course the true benefit for each individual is certainly not predictable and clearly many people will make the wrong choice for themselves. The addictive properties of the internet and computers themselves are always a factor.

You also gesture towards another intriguing point, which is the notion of the online persona as distinct from one's self. A lot has been made about how those can be two entirely different entities. Less has been said hypothesizing about how different they really are. My online "persona," which exists mainly on the blog I would say, is nearly identical to my "self." Just a little nicer - my "self" is more prone to ad hominem attacks. Perhaps this is untrue of most people. What about for you?

Ok now I think this is a useful way of asking this question about what exactly is going on with people’s online versus offline persona, status, self-identity, etc. As far as me personally? I will have to think more about it and get back to you, although it is a perfectly fair question and could definitely attract a long answer. Let me tell you, at least, that I have been asking people this very question, and so far the answers have been great. I will look for patterns. If you would like to think in more depth about your own answer, please do, and get it to me. If it’s true that you’re almost the same in both worlds, this could be consistent with your generally limited online investment (compared with many others), and your relatively traditional immersion in the real world, in the pursuit of your happiness.


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