Think about how often you find a table at a restaurant with everyone looking at their smartphone instead of conversing. Technology certainly has its advantages, but something is clearly wrong with this picture. The concept of identity creates a different perception for everyone. In today’s culture, much of what constitutes a person’s identity may be channeled through social media. The problem is that some people put so much time into their digital profile that their real-world life suffers.
Undergraduate students in my mass communication class this semester have found one way to combat this. They turn going out to eat into a game where all cell phones are stacked at the end of the table. The first person to reach for his phone pays for the meal. Simple enough, but it gets at the heart of a larger concern. Are we struggling to keep our real lives as interesting as our digital ones?
This week, media scholar Douglas Rushkoff, along with PBS, released an excellent documentary called Generation Like. The film details how current teens create online identities and also shows how they are monetized. Some YouTube celebrities like Tyler Oakley have been able to turn social media followers into dollars. Other users remain simply nothing more than super fans content with millions of followers that justify their hours online. Teenagers today are the first generation to grow up with a fully digitalized culture, and we are seeing more signs of that every day in how they define themselves.
Was Hollywood working with Hitler? Based on decades of research from many historians, the consensus is no. However, Harvard University’s junior fellow Ben Urwand claims otherwise in the already infamous book titled The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler. Urwand’s publication follows Thomas Doherty’s Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 that contextualizes prewar Hollywood as a business-centered industry where only profits mattered. Hollywood and Hitler provides useful cultural context to Hollywood in the 1930s, without which, it would be easy to misinterpret. After reading both Doherty and Urwand’s books, it is clear that Doherty has the superior study.
Urwand’s book, The Collaboration, claims to break the news to film historians that Hollywood was part of Hitler’s evil empire. The book’s subtitle, “Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler,” says it all. Urwand argues both Jack Warner (of Warner Bros.) and Louis B. Mayer (of MGM) both altered or stopped films on request of the Nazis. Urwand uses these claims to illustrate an alliance between Hollywood and Hitler. Urwand uses the word ‘collaboration’ because that is the word the studio bosses used. However, they meant collaboration in a business sense. Urwand is interpreting the word ideologically. With Urwand’s study available only a few months, scholars and critics have come out in hordes to trash it in major publications ranging from The Hollywood Reporter, The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and many others. Things have gotten so heated that questions have been raised of Harvard’s credibility, as well as Urwand’s dissertation committee members at Berkeley.
This chapter in Rushkoff’s book is perfectly subtitled “the short forever.” In the previous section I gave my own personal example of trying to get everything accomplished in an unrealistically short amount of time. When we try to accomplish such impossible tasks we fall victim to another form of Present Shock.
This weight on every action – this highly leveraged sense of the moment – hints at another form of present shock that is operating in more ways and places than we may suspect. We’ll call this temporal compression overwinding – the effort to squish really big timescales into much smaller or nonexistent ones.
We’ve seen this regularly, and most of us suffer or have suffered from overwinding. A great example is how cleaning out your inbox can give you a “clean feeling.” However, how important is this really? Is it worth the time spent? And what are we actually cleaning? Most working professionals get enough legitimate email and junk messages to spend all day, every day dealing only with email. The problem is that email is a communication tool and most of us have jobs that require actions outside of the email loop. To fight overwinding, spend a minimal amount of time in your inbox. Reply to what needs attention, ignore the rest and get on with your day.
Do you understand how media works? If not, it might control you. Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s last book, Program or Be Programmed, took on this question about media and our comprehension of it. Without a working knowledge of how information systems work, Rushkoff argues, we run the risk of being easily duped. This is a common problem and one that is easily battled with a drive towards media literacy, something I teach my students about in undergraduate mass communication courses. The battle does not end here, however, because even if we have a strong grasp of media systems we are not immune to yet another pitfall.
Just about everyone has come across it, even if you don’t quite know what it is. That feeling you get when you sense there is never enough time and obligations are coming at you from every direction… that’s a piece of it. The good thing is we can fight back and Rushkoff has the tools we need to take control of our lives. In his latest book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, Rushkoff addresses the problem with our “always-on” digital universe. Without a doubt, technology can lead to intellectual and psychological illness, usually in terms of addiction that can ultimately become destructive to every aspect of our life.
As post-election hangover sets in, we continue to witness incivility rolling like a tidal wave through this great nation. Much of this is due to the culture war, which grows more intense every day. One should wonder, is it worth fighting anymore? Or, has it already been won?
The answer lies in our ability to find reality amidst an amalgamation of data constantly coming at us through our television, computer, and smartphone screens from untrustworthy media outlets. A highly mediated and politicized culture has many challenges and it is up to us not to get sucked into the machine.
It is becoming more and more difficult to decipher the truth through a nonstop stream of information. Today we see an increase in what Daniel J. Boorstin referred to in 1961 as “pseudo events,” which are a close relative to propaganda. In The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America, Boorstin writes, “while a pseudo-event is an ambiguous truth, propaganda is an appealing falsehood.”
Ambiguous truths behind words like “forward” (to where?) and “hope” (for what?) and “change” (from what to where?) can easily join with propaganda that appeals to those eager for convenient falsehoods. Boorstin continues, “propaganda oversimplifies experience, pseudo events overcomplicate it.” The mess that is our current state of politics begins to make more sense when considering Boorstin’s model. What we have today is an oversimplification of rhetoric and an over-complication of hidden meanings.
Every Wes Anderson film creates a world of its own. Movies like Rushmore and The Darjeeling Limited take familiar people and situations and drop them into the unknown. This is Anderson’s genius; he transforms familiarity into hyperreality (or unreality in some cases). Arguably, the best genre filmmakers are able to build unpredictability out of familiarity. Anderson’s latest, Moonrise Kingdom, draws from numerous genres such as the summer camp comedy, family melodrama, and the adventure film in order to create a unique experience.
The film takes place in 1965 on a New England island called Black Beacon Sound. This narrow, 16-mile-long strip has some general residents as well as Camp Ivanhoe — home to the Khaki Scouts led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). One of the scouts, Sam (Jared Gilman), takes it upon himself to sneak away during the night. Another young islander, Suzy (Kara Hayward), also ran away from her parent’s home around the same time. The island police (Bruce Willis as Captain Sharp), whose headquarters is a small shack at the end of a dock on the ocean, are promptly alerted and a search begins.