Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Borg Perfection

Okay, so I'm gonna be geeky, and do a blog on the Borg, and the Voyager episodes that were on yesterday. I got to thinking, about the whole Borg storyline, and trying to connect it all together. And sure, this is the way to justify television programs with plot holes and seemingly unconnected events, but in this case, it makes sense. the Voyager episodes deals with 7of9's encounter with the Borg Queen. The social heirarchy of the Borg is one of an extreme pyramid. At the top, the Borg Queen rules everything, working the entire minds of the collective. Below this is the collective itself. This heirarchy is much like ants or bees on Earth.

What makes the episode interesting is the reasons that the Borg Queen contacted and persuaded 7 to meet with her. It was, she said, an experiment to see how a Borg drone would survive if cut off from the collective, and then was re-attached. Of course, it is every bad guys' intention to make everyone think it was his/her idea to make the good guys think he/she let them win. But if you think of it as a science-fiction geek would... it makes perfect sense.

The whole idea of individualism as a disease first occurred in the TNG episode with Hugh, the Borg. Go to Star Trek's Web Site to read about the episode. When Hugh was reconnected into the collective, the idea of individualism spread throughout the hive as a virus and ended up on a planet, seduced by Lore. Now, while the obvious plot hole is that before the drones were assimilated, they were individuals, but we won't concern ourselves with this. Memories can be erased, covered up.

The Borg Queen then decided to add to the race's perfection and eliminate the threat of individualism by seeing what effects it would have on a drone that was reassembled into the hive and then carefully controlled and examined. That is what 7 was supposed to accomplish. The ironic thing is that the Queen herself is an individual. It is this "fault" of hers that causes her to take such an active stance toward the destruction of the human race. She has been thwarted so many times by humans that she takes extraordinary steps to try and take over Earth. (That, and since we live here, it makes for better TV ratings.)

We can take this a step further (and you know I would), in seeing how Roddenberry's vision of the future fits in with the Romantic philosophy. In the Star Trek universe, society has been consistently viewed as a source of deception (thus the intelligence agencies of the Romulans, the Cardassians..etc), while the individual has been held in the highest regard. To the Borg, the individual was considered a great threat. And ultimately, it was the individual that was the Borg's undoing (either the Queen or Janeway.) Similarly, Star Wars had the same plot line, in that the Death Star was a weapon from an evil government, the Empire, but it was an individual, Luke Skywalker, that destroyed it.

I think that this, more than anything, is what makes science fiction so appealing, in that it is the individual that truly makes the difference (Fantasy, too, i.e. The Hobbit). The individual grows, learns, becomes more than what they ever thought they could be. Would that we could do the same, and grow beyond the society that we live in. It's a lesson that governments should learn as well: that individuals make more of a difference than numbers and demographics and the majority ever could.

It was just a brief thought, but one worth examining. In the Borg mindset, Society must be perfect, while it is the flawed individual that truly takes a race forward. This is why the Borg, for all their enhancements with technology (another topic to compare Star Wars, Star Trek, and the real world), and all their desire for efficiency and perfection, missed the evolutionary steps that only could come with one person making a flawed leap of faith. Without taking risks, they make no steps forward. This is why the Borg were ultimately doomed, because a society concerned with perfection and the grinding wheels of the majority, cannot anticipate the risks taken by the individual with the need to take a risk, the faith to try the unknown.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cynicism and Optimism

I found myself wondering about this just this morning, after making some cynical remark about something, capitalism, the moral ineptitude of the world, the glass being half empty... something like that. And I found it odd, that, for all my cynical notions, I would, at heart, be an optimist. I have a pleasant disposition, a usual very good outlook on life, even to the point of annoying the cynics in the crowd (not like a John Denver song, that's just too nauseatingly positive.) I tend to trust the customer, although I wouldn't say was too deceiving. I think this thought began when I was finishing up that last series of blogs, when I talked about hope even in the midst of a cultural revolution that might destroy the educational foundation of the country. Even in the midst of so many monsters being raised by self-gratifying parents, there are bright spots that lets me see the good in the world of gloom.

You have to think that way, or you become bogged down in the mire and the muck. According to Blake, you descend into the land of experience and see the world of the cynic, the downtrodden, and the deceptive. You can do one of two things: you can live with them, drowning in the knowledge that experience gives you, and the inability to do anything about it, or you can stand up and look beyond that, to what Blake called New Eden, to a place where cynicism is no longer needed, because the individual has banished it forever. Aristotle strove to always grow towards the greater good, which is where the eternal "forms" were. Thoreau, while he did show much cynicism in his work Walden Pond, nevertheless found much solace in the beauty found by the individual, and by the work that he accomplished alone.

The Romantic philosopher, as well as the Libertarian politic, believes that society is evil and is constantly drowning in the quagmire of its own negativity. And this I can believe, since the media feeds it and the politic nourishes it and bends it to their own usage. But the individual is good, and if they strive to reach Aristotle's "greater good," and they mold their being around what is right and wrong, then they can rise up above the world of Experience and reach "New Eden," as Blake would have said it.

Hope has to exist in this world. If not, Darth Vader would have been truly evil, Pandora would have found her box empty, and the Yin-Yang wouldn't have those two dots inside the black and white swirls. Hope has to exist for me, because it's the only thing that is possible. If there is someone who is downtrodden, it is up to me to bring them back up. And it's a tragic flaw, because there are so many people that will take advantage of those who trust, who find the greater good in everyone of us. Brown dirt, white glove. But I think it's better to do good, and be hurt by those who would take advantage, than to do nothing and never feel the great feeling that comes with helping someone.

While writing my blog and coming down to the last paragraph, I knew it had to end on a note of hope, because Postman didn't leave any answers or any hope that things were going to resolve themselves. Not that he thought that the end of childhood was good or bad, but that the status in which the disappearance of Childhood leaves us cannot be good for the human state. And although there's really nothing that can be done to fix the problem on a massive scale, there is the hope that the individual, who knows right and wrong, can live his or her life for the sole purpose of making this life a little better.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

ESW, Pit Bulls, School Food, Another Tree.

Some observations on things I've experienced recently...

I've been delivering teacher appreciation week flyers to the people in the counties around Borders (if you know any teachers (current, retired, Sunday School...etc), tell them they can save 25% off most everything* in the store from March 22nd to the 27th.), and some of the things I've seen have been worth noting.

First, I've never seen more pit bulls in my life as I have the past week or so. While driving through some of the more socioeconomically disadvantaged areas of Dekalb County, I've noticed more people walking their pit bulls than I have in the 28 years prior. Whether it is a status symbol, or a need for security, or whatever, I'm not sure. If it is security, that has everything to do with crime and lack of self-discipline and morals...etc... see last post. If it is status symbol, well, then there is the issue of materialism as a status symbol. It's been well documented on the unpredictability of those breed of pooches, and yet they continue to be insanely popular. I don't understand.

Secondly, there is something undeniably wonderful about the smells coming out of a public school cafeteria. Now, before you think I"m crazy, let me tell you that my mom does not cook, and so the food fixed in school was good stuff, for me. Also, I've had the food at college, and I would much rather have public school food than I would the college food at GC&SU. The main reason being that with public school food, they take it out of the frozen containers, nuke it, and there you go. Also, the food is unmistakeably artificial, and you know it. It's supposed to smell like it does, taste like it does. You have no room for error or getting a bad whatever. With college food, you never know what your getting. There have been days I've sat in the middle of a college classroom and had this insane desire for a fiestada, one of those hexagonal pizzas. Wonderful stuff.

Also, Dekalb county has some intersections that are going to get someone killed. I get ready to pull out of a school, and look to my left. and there's this huge tree blocking my view of oncoming traffic, and then I look to the right and there's the top of the hill, and I have no way of knowing what's on the other side of the hill. And it's like that on more than one school. They need to make sure that where they put signs or trees or whatever is not in the way of someone trying to pull out, and that somehow it's evident when someone is coming over the hill. There was a private school that had that hill problem, and so they put a flashing red light that went off whenever someone crossed over the detector to let you know there was someone coming.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Future of Childhood. (Capitalism and the Internet) (Last One)

Okay, last one in this series... I promise. There's so much else I want to talk about, but the argument has to be taken to it's final step. The interesting thing about Postman's work is that, when he published the revised edition, it was only the middle 80's, and many things hadn't been invented yet that were as important to his theories as Television or the printing press. I want to extend the argument into the 21st century, specifically the effect that computers and the Internet affect the way that childhood is defined.

At the very end of the book, Postman expresses optimism that the computer, in the state it was in in the mid-80's, would help to create a new need for childhood based on the idea that until a child could learn the computer, and the complex languages and programs it contains, that education would still be needed, that parents and educators would still be able to control the amount of information that was given to kids. Of course, this doesn't work, because Postman didn't foresee the inevitable invasion of capitalism into making the computer a user-friendly operating system. In fact, the computer put most of the world's information into the hands of children more easily. Today's youth were not afraid of the technology associated with the computer as some adults were, and so they learned how to manipulate the computer and its software at a faster rate than their older counterparts. Essentially, the children have become the adults. The opposite of what Postman wanted has happened. The internet has made childhood disappear even faster. Further, certain aspects of the internet have made this transfer of information even quicker. Briefly, here's what Postman would be cringing about.

The increase in download speed that accompanied the fiber-optic craze of the 1990's has made downloading anything incredibly easy. During dial-up speeds, it took about 4 minutes to download a meg of information (at least, that was my experience.) Most mp3 files being 5 megs, it would take 20 minutes to download a song. Now take burned DVDs that run 4 gigs of data. Because of the speed and convenience of cable or dsl modems, children can now download and burn almost anything. This, of course, brings to the hands of children offensive or mature music, mature videos, and violent viral videos that have saturated the net as of late. Children then (without self-discipline or the knowledge of right and wrong) will imitate those videos, and begin talking with the language found in most rap songs nowadays. The whole idea of withholding information from children until they have developed enough self-discipline and control to grasp these more mature ideas goes out the window. So does the feeling of shame when a child hears an offensive word or does something that the parental guardian says is wrong. Therefore, there is no childhood. As most of the time, it is adults that are performing these songs and acting in the videos, it is further proof that there isn't really any adulthood either.

Secondly, capitalism has found its way into the Internet and has taken a firm hold on controlling today's youth. From pop-up images to commercials on the edges (or the middle) of a web page, children are inundated with the impulses of capitalism. But these are so much worse than a commercial on television because these advertisements are interactive. They are games, screensavers, flashing lights and stimulation that catch even the smartest people off guard. A flame screensaver? Great! Except with it comes software that embeds itself inside your computer and keeps track of everything you do and sends you e-mails, pop up ads, and other more malignant methods of flooding your system with unneeded stimuli. And it's practically free, so there's no risk in doing it. If even one person invests in whatever it is they're selling, the flooding of spam is worth it. Of course, this is not even going into the keyloggers and other spyware put on systems by commercial advertisements that steal credit card numbers, passwords, and the like.

And speaking of Credit Cards, now with the invention of credit card gift certificates, children can order items online. Credit card companies market these to kids, knowing that they spend voraciously, and instantly become consumers , an untapped market that will make realators billions. It also makes it much easier to let kids buy items that they shouldn't be buying in the first place. Surreptitious buying of items also deludes the boundaries between childhood and adulthood. Like I said, they are now all just consumers.

So, to wrap this all up... Postman leaves his book open, without providing any solutions to any of it. Perhaps because when one is looking at how our society is constructed, you can't really place any ethical value on whether childhood (as defined) is truly necessary. If society has changed to the point in which having a childhood is no longer necessary, then we must look at how to affect the discipline and education of our young without setting the scaffolding of childhood that have clearly become antiquated. One of the main differences is that childhood has become a term of nostalgia for most older generations (while on the other hand, if you ask someone who is 25 or so, their opinion is quite the opposite. Middle school for me was a living hell.) And like most things that disappear, we try our hardest to hold on to them, almost to the point of being blind to the direction that our society is going in. If we are to continue embracing capitalism, and continue using visual media as a method of communication, we must accept the changes this has on the social structure. There will be no more childhood, and no more adulthood. The terms become irrelevant. This clashes with the moral attitudes of our society, which still holds on to the idea that children and adults are fundamentally different, and that children must be protected from violence, sex, language, ... etc... However, with the copious amounts of information that is exposed to children on a daily basis, this can hardly be expected to continue. There will come a point when the divisions fall away, and children and adults are treated exactly the same. Whether or not this is right or wrong, I do not know. Sociological questions such as these cannot be answered morally. There will be problems, and there will be benefits. Aldous Huxley said, at the end of the prologue of BNW, "You pays your money, and you makes your choice." (something like that.) We must take the consequences of following the capitalist structure we have naturally fallen into. We must accept the repercussions of communicating visually over the previous literal way, both bad and good. Our society has become one of instant, emotional consumers that will think little about the arguments of an issue or the practicality of an act. But perhaps that risk taking is a good thing, after all. It is the speed in which we live that will take us all, adult and child, to realize that we can reach our goals. A capitalist society is an expanding one, and there is nothing like expansion to bring about exploration, discovery, and above all, hope.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The End of Childhood; UUDDLRLRBA Start

The End of Childhood, The End of Adulthood

If you read the short story, "The Pedestrian" by Ray Bradbury, you see a very familiar scene, one that I often witness driving through my neighborhood at night. The lone walker, taking a walk through the city, is faced with window after window of lit Television screens. He is stopped by the police (a robot) and eventually, after it is determined that he is a writer (unemployed), and that his behavior of walking is abnormal (because no one walks anymore), he is taken off to a mental hospital. The story is only a page and a half long, and is easily found on the Internet, I'm sure, so I'll wait while you go read it.

Okay, now relate that to Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and you'll see a frightening vision of the present day world. The recent news made by the record breaking lottery is a prime example of the government ruling (and gaining money) by providing games and entertainment. And this also is a prime example of a need for instant gain, instant gratification. Those that are found to be independent thinkers, such as the protagonist of BNW or the walker in "The Pedestrian," are taken to be imprisoned. The minority in this case are the people who think differently than society. And rather than people labeled today as offending minorities (pedophiles, homosexuals...etc), the offending people in these stories are independent thinkers. I think it is safe to say that in today's society, these type of people, for whom self-actualization has actually occurred, are shrinking in numbers. And where the government would control people through pleasure, with intellectualism being discouraged, people that can think for themselves would truly be offensive.

Going back to my prior blog, I left off with the idea that adulthood has disappeared as well as childhood. Instead, they've both been replaced by the consumer. In BNW, the children, once born, grow quickly, and with the education already placed in their head by technology, they have no need to have an education, apart from the schools of pleasure that the children attend. They are born consumers and grow and develop as such. Capitalism today has produced the same type of people. The only education that a child needs is that which is given to them by TV. And parents will gladly supply it with Television shows such as Sesame Street, Barney, and other PBS shows. Beyond that, they get the cultural intelligence that only MTV or BET can give them, and so at a very early age, they are stuffed with mature content, commercials galore, and an insane need to consume, to become a part of the capitalistic society that they have witnessed since the very early years. Then they go out and consume. They have not learned self-discipline, logical thought, or right and wrong. Instead, they go to college, skip their classes and line up in front of those credit card people.

But wait a minute, you say, what about all the bookstores, like Borders, that are doing so well? It's true, we do a good business of selling books. But if you take a look at the books that are generally sold, you can see through the rising profits of bookstores that would seem to refute the idea that we are no longer a literal society. Books that sell well come in several different categories. Business books sell very well, especially those that have some idea of getting you rich quick. Usually have the word "Millionaire" in the title. Related to this are the self-help books, which promise you love, happiness, and sex; quick and painless. Everything's Okay, they say. These books come out of the need of society to get around the things that take too long. Earning a living by working daily isn't what a capitalist society wants. They want quick and easy so they can consume and buy and live "happily" in this world. Thus the mania over the recent Lottery drawing. Sure, there was like a one in a billion chance of winning, but people lined up in gas stations waiting for their ticket. As if it was going to get them to Willy Wonka's factory. People are willing to read a book if it meant that they could find some Konami code that would make them instantly rich.

For the children, Graphic novels are popular, insanely popular. There needs be no explanation about this. The books are great to read as long as you have the pictures that go along with it. Visual stimulation, with minimal literal and logical thinking. The books even go backward, as they do in Japan (which has nothing to do with anything, I just think it odd that for centuries, Western Civilization has read books going from right to left, and now, in just a few years, the new generation has adapted to books that read oppositely.)

Lastly, books that are very popular are those that, if you watched them on TV, would only be shown on erotic stations. These books, with titles like Thong on Fire, are read only to satisfy base biological desires. Instant emotional response, along with arousal, are the main things these books are read for. This is not to say that all erotic literature is bad, nor is a recent event. DH Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover is meant to be erotic (the fact that the Playboy Channel showed it on their network proves that the book can easily be made rated X. ). And there are some very good works of literature with sexual scenes in them. However, most books now like this are without plot or characterization, and are written mainly for those instantaneous emotional responses. And we pay gladly for this. Such is the work of capitalism. Graphic novels are upwards of $10 a piece, and they take 30 minutes to read. And the fastest way to get rich is to write a get rich quick book. The ironic thing is that the most successful books are those that are on Oprah, queen of television. Most of the time, Television tells us what to read.

It sounds like I'm being cynical. It sounds like I'm bashing the books that I sell. This is hardly the case. There are still people in this world that enjoy an intellectual challenge of a good book, that enjoy the prolonged and intensity of a good romance or mystery/thriller, that take pride in bursting into tears at the height of a good novel. And there are authors that write books to make your soul swell with emotion, your brain fill with thoughts that change your outlook on life, your disbelief suspended and a thousand images filling your mind, instead of the ones glaring from your television. It is to these people that we sell to, authors that we gladly fill our shelves with. It is the "fluff" that makes it possible to sell the other books. We would have no business if it weren't for the get rich quick schemes, the erotic trash, the comics in book form. I would fill the store with meaningless garbledegook if it meant that the independent thinkers in this town could come to a place and find the books that they would want to read. It's where capitalism benefits those of the academic circles. Capitalism, above all, disapproves of offending anyone, of leaving anyone out. It's the reason why business are at the one hand very conservative (financially) but at other times liberal (socially). Academically, those people who think literally, logically, benefit from the inclusivity that capitalism provides them. We at Borders sell books on all subjects, with all points of view represented. It is up to the reader to read what they want, and not to read books that offend them. In a world where people haven't learned right from wrong, where self-actualization is never realized, and where independent thinking is obsolete, it is often the preachers, the media, and others that tell us what to be offended about. Even God gave us reasoning skills. We have to figure out for ourselves what to believe and what not to, and no other one person or organization can tell us otherwise. It is this point where capitalists and the world of academia agree. Capitalists love to sell us whatever we may want, and the world of academics will fight for our ability to buy it. Quoth Voltaire.

I've gotten off the subject. But that's okay. A blog is a representation of the thoughts in my head. Stream of Consciousness. Think of it as a rough draft for any number of books I could write, if I really wanted to. But since Postman has written it already, I'll let him reap the benefits.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The End of Childhood: Visual Media and Manners

So far, I've connected visual media and the ideas of Neil Postman to capitalism, showing how the idea of thinking visually, with an instant emotional response is so much more beneficial for capitalism than the older way of thinking logically, in a manner more suitable for reading. And for Politics in the Television age, looks and short quips and attack ads are much more effective than talking about the issues (something Bush might want to consider).

Now I want to consider how visual media, and the cognitive states that go along with it, affect parenting and the overall issue of manners. Lynn Truss, who wrote the amazing book Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, which talks about punctuation in society. (As a side note, before I read the book, there was an article put out in the New York Post which showed the late Saddam Hussien in his underwear. Criticism was flying about the inappropriateness of showing a dictator in his undies. I was aggravated, but not because of that, but because they used an apostrophe in the headline when it wasn't needed.) Truss wrote another book, Talk to the Hand about manners. Her idea is that, from a very early age, we are taught that there is a private bubble around us that no one has the right to invade. Which is true, for the most part. However, because that bubble is there, people have begun to use it as an area that they can do anything in. Especially where excess sound is involved, this can get really annoying. The main gripe that Truss has (and I agree with her) is the usage of cell phones in public places. I've heard more things said to someone on a cell phone that should not have been said outside of a private place, but people seem to think that they can talk about anything, anywhere. Truss gave examples of people talking about love affairs they had, or schemes of counterfeit money that they were doing, and talking about them on the subway where everyone else could hear what they were saying.

This relates back to the example I gave of children playing with and destroying books in the kids area at Borders. As I've talked about in prior blogs, children see these objects, once they have a hold of them, as theirs, and they can do with it whatever they want. This is proved whenever a parent tries to take away a book that the kid has been playing with for a little bit. They yell and scream, "MINE!!," as if they really believe it is theirs. And in a since, to them, it is, because they've had it in their private bubble for long enough, they actually possess it.

Children have been taught this way because they are highly influenced by the ideas they see in commercials on television. Things on the shelves are meant to be taken, because, as the TV shows, the toy or grocery in question is automatically theirs. There is no scene in a commercial of the parent buying the item, or of the child buying the item. It magically appears at home, as the solution to some problem, or the ultimate toy having fallen out of the sky. And since commercials illicit an immediate, emotional response, "MINE!!!," it is that response they give when the parent realizes it costs $50 to buy and says "No." Of course, if the child had been taught self-discipline, this would not happen.

The idea of self discipline comes out of three distinct feelings. One, when the child is young, the knowledge that if an action is taken after "NO" by the parent, some sort of punishment (such as pain with a spanking, or whatever), will result. The appropriate action taken as a result of the punishment. Secondly, and most importantly, a sense of shame (Postman's idea) that if a wrong deed is done, that somehow it has made that child look bad in the microcosm of his or her world. This is most often used after bad language, supposed sexual immoralities, eating all the ice cream in the box...etc... Postman says that this idea of shame is one of the key definitions of childhood. As adults, certain knowledge (vocabulary, sex, violence...etc) is felt as not being good or appropriate for children to partake in. This is actually parabled in the Eden mythos. Adam and Eve, having taken from the fruit of Knowledge, felt ashamed and hid themselves in clothing. God found out and banished them from paradise. This is essentially the attitude we take with children. As children grow up, they live in a certain state of innocence, or so the Romantic philosophers would have us believe. To give them the knowledge of grown up existence, it would force them to see the world through cynical eyes, essentially, banishing them from the world of Eden and into one of the real world. This is the philosophies especially used by William Blake. That children grow up and pass through the state of innocence (Eden) to the real world, one where violence and injustice take place. But the positive note to this, one that occurs when a child grows up, is that by living in the real world, one has the ability to do something about it. One of the key ideas of Eden is that, while innocence is bliss, it is also impotent. A child has very little ability to do anything about the world in which they live. However, as an adult, there is responsibility, there is power. Adults that raise children generally want to give the realization of this power to children in a guided manner. Thus, education. In a controlled environment, children learn the knowledge that they need to exist in the world and slowly sink into the adult world (the image I see is one of going into the shallow end of the pool, and walking (as you mature) into the deep end, where the water slowly rises until you must swim or sink). In the past, when all knowledge about the world came through books, through the idea of literacy, children were generally unable to grasp more complex ideas until they were actually able to read about it. Take an ancient copy of the Karma Sutra, one with only words. A child could not come upon it and find out that it was about sex until they were actually able to read it. But now, with the world of visual, audible media pouring information into children currently, there is no reason why a child of a very young age couldn't find out about something as adult as sex. This has been currently shown during the Clinton impeachment trial with reports of young children asking their parents what oral sex was.

The third origin of self discipline is the understanding of morals and ethics and choosing right and wrong and standing on those principles. It is very likely that children are not at this stage until they are nearly grown, and indeed, some people never reach this stage. It is this that Postman mirrors in his book The End of Childhood, when he shows that not only is childhood disappearing, but adulthood as well. I used to have a saying, that the older they get, the more immature they act. And while I didn't have it completely accurate, what I was trying to get at was that for the most part, older teens and young adults don't seem to become more mature as they age, and so the gap between how they are acting and how they should act grows wider. Postman atests this change in adulthood behavior today back to the ideas I've already stated about Television and the need for instant response. With the growing need for an instant response, self-discipline goes out the window, and with it, the manners to talk quitely while on the cell phone, the patience to see if a coach and develop a team rather than firing him after one or two seasons, the repose not to skip to the last page or the last scene in a movie. And because self-discipline goes out the window, so do manners, which is where Truss' book comes in. While I can't directly blame the loss of manners in society today to Television, the underlying way in which society thinks is due to the change in the way society expresses itself, from literal, to visual thinking.

Monday, March 5, 2007

The End of Childhood (Part 2a, Addendum) Instant Gratification Applied.

The ultimate of ironies about instant gratification and the affect it has on kids and their parents is that, working as a merchandising person at Borders, it is my specialty to take the stock we have and present it in such a way that instant gratification is needed. If the kids don't yell and scream that they want a book or a coloring book or candy, I haven't done my job. It's the knowledge about capitalism that makes it easier to do what I do. Just as in any job. Take a Bankruptcy Lawyer, for instance (my mom works for one.). To do his or her job correctly, they must know the tricks of the creditor as well as the downfalls of the debtor to help them do their jobs. And it's not that they want their clients to do things to make them go further into debt (and therefore, need their services), but without those clients, they don't have a job. And while we're on that subject, it seems interesting to me that just as the whole idea of instant gratification and instant credit is at it's peak, the Federal Government, with the backing of the creditors, would make it more difficult to get a bankruptcy. Which is as it should be, actually. With no one teaching anyone self-discipline, it shouldn't be easy to get out of debt. Which too is ironic because the instant gratification makes it much easier to get into too much debt. It's a vicious cycle, one that has been formed by capitalism with the help of visual media such as Television and the photograph.

Photography is something I haven't talked about, but it is as important, in some respects, than television is to the idea of thinking visually. Case in point. If you've ever looked at a Denny's menu, you will agree with me that the photographers and photo editors of that menu should get some sort of award. No food should look that good. But it does, and you absolutely have to order whatever you can find on there. However, the food doesn't always taste as good as it looks. The stomach is so often deceived. It was an instant emotional response to the picture of the food, and whether or not you actually looked at the description of the food is irrelevant. Of course, it's interesting that the restaurant in Milledgeville, Brewer's (which I loved) closed at some point after I graduated (I absolutely have to get the recipe for their Tomato Soup!). Its menus were all descriptions and words.

I've seen more kids today yell and scream over wanting something...anything.... books, candy... whatever, and while it annoys the heck out of me that they shouldn't be wanting something that instantly, and that their parents should be putting more of a sense of self-discipline into them, they don't. And that's good, cause we get the benefits of that need. And it says that I've done my job.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The End of Childhood (Part 2...TV and Instant Gratification)

How does TV fit into the scheme of things? The anti-technologists will blame the TV on everything from ADD to the war on Terror to global warming. Others will acknowledge TV and the Internet for providing instant knowledge and education, a bridge of communication that has made the world flat (Thomas Friedman's book), and become an indispensable part of world culture. And for the most part, they're all correct. Television (or in other words, electronic, visual media) has been as important for the change in the culture of the world as Gutenburg's printing press was back in the 1400's. The main reason for this is that it changed the way that people communicated with each other. It changed the need for education, the way people learned, and even changed the way people think in themselves, with neurons firing in a completely different method than they did before hand. I said previously that post-Gutenburg man thought in the way that people read. There is a sense of logical, literal thought, just as your high school teachers taught you how to write an essay. Topic sentence, corroborating facts, concluding sentence. Also, there is a certain need for self-discipline when reading. You can't just go to the last page, or read the last paragraph of the essay. The joy of reading is suspending your belief, contemplating and testing the arguments or plot lines in an essay or story, and thinking through everything. There is nothing instantly gratifying about reading something. It takes time. And I find this ironic, since the majority of ADD people, like myself, have the ability to read a book for hours on end, when their whole make up would suggest that taking that much time and using such self discipline would be impossible to do.

Television, on the other hand, is a visual stimulating medium, where news stories take 30 seconds and commercials take even less time. Nothing is connected to anything else, and everything is meant to be taken immediately, with instant belief in whatever is being said. There is no time for doubt or analyzation of what is being said or done. The plot line can have holes big enough to drive trucks through, but that's okay. News shows can go from Murder to the war on Terror to weather to sports to someones kitty being in a tree, and they all get the same amount of time. Everything is meant to be taken in immediately, with a clear emotional response, but not so much that whatever is being said actually means anything to the person who is listening. This carries over to the newspaper, where what is being said now has very little to do with what's going on in our lives.

With society changing from one of self discipline to one where instant gratification is needed, where the emotional response to an argument outweighs the logical reasonings, many aspects of society itself were affected. For instance, Presidential debates were once spectacles of debates on the issues, and many people swarmed into an un-airconditioned room to hear two older men argue back and forth on issues, with speeches that have survived even today. But now, with Television broadcasting the debates (which can only last two hours because they have to be done before the next episode of Lost), it is much more about entertainment, and the looks of the candidates rather than what they are actually saying. Nixon or Bush wouldn't have stood a chance with someone like Clinton or Kennedy around (and didn't, obviously.) Kerry might have one if he had had Edwards looks. Unfortunately for him, his wife was uglier and therefore had a negative impact on his campaign.

In the area of business, instant gratification has shortened the commercial, heightened the need for children to get candy or need this or that, and the persistence to bug the adult for it. And it is usually successful, because the adult, who has also need of instant gratification would rather buy the item to keep the kid happy than deal with the consequences of having a misbehaving child in the store. While this also has to do with Materialism as an aspect of Love (see earlier blog), the whole idea of getting something now and being happy is a direct influence by Capitalism and it's drive to take advantage of the instant emotional responses elicited by Visual Media.

Of course, you cannot have a discussion about instant gratification without the mention of credit cards. In college, credit card people line the walkways, urging you to get a credit card (for a free hat, or T-shirt!!! WOW!!) with the promise of being able to buy anything that you want. And of course, it works, and now this generation is in mountains of debt because they have seen commercials of delectable foods from Applebee's, and then they credit card themselves to a full stomach (among other things.) The commercials of fake foods and fancy advertisements will get your stomach rumbling every time, and that's exactly what the credit card people want, as it is now so easy to charge a Big Mac as it is a computer system.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

The End of Childhood (Part 1)

Lately I've been reading a book by Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood, and I found the theories in it amazing! It was the glue that fit everything together, from Lynn Truss' Talk to the Hand to Huxley's Brave New World . It explains the messes in the Children's section of Borders, my difficulties in teaching at Hell... I mean... CMS, and the puer additudes of some employees I know. Postman's overall theory states that TV, and most other electronic media, has changed the way that people think and live, and in his opinion, for the worse.

The interesting thing about Postman's theories is that it was written back in the 1980's. The book uses dated references and says little about Video Games, the Internet, Cell Phones, and all the other new Media that have infiltrated our lives. So it will be interesting to take his suppositions and apply them to today's world, which will explain so much. So first I need to briefly explain what Postman is talking about, and then apply his theories to what I witness on a daily basis.

To see where Postman was coming from, we have to think Metacognitively (or in other words, thinking about thinking.) In other words, we have to determine how people think. And what Postman suggests is that society forms thought based on how it communicates. And this makes since, because you form thoughts in preparation for communicating them somehow. Usually. people communicate through talk, or through writing, or, more recently, through TV programs, images, photographs, etc...

Lets go back and review how people have communicated over the ages, and compare that to the educational systems that existed during those times. After the Ice Age, when man lived in caves (such as those in France), they communicated orally, for sure, but also through images on the walls. Society then was Visual and Oral, but not Literal. There was no need for education, other than how to hunt and grow things, because there was no knowledge to be preserved through writing. Another example would be the Greek or Roman civilizations, where literacy was common, and authors wrote their ideas in scrolls that were housed in libraries such as those in Alexandria. Platos and Aristotle, as well as numerous playwrights, essayists, speeches, historians... all still survive today in their communications, written down in paragraphs, stories, and thoughts logically processed.

Think of how this differs, then, from the way stories were communicated during the later Medievial times. Bards and other story tellers told stories of bravery and adventure orally, usually in larger get togethers in inns or pubs. It was a social event. Compare this from the way books are normally read, when stories are told through writing. It is done alone, an anti-social event. Reading books takes longer than a story told orally. It must be taken in slowly, with self-discipline to keep you from skipping ahead. Processing languange and thoughts, arguments and the like takes a logical progression through information, reading left to right, top to bottom, sentences, paragraphs... etc.

What Postman does with this information is to parallel this with the treatment and values of children, as well as the value of education in each of the historical eras. He takes into consideration the writing of Pediatric and parenting books after the invention of the printing press in the 1400's. He explains how, with the expansion of the written word to the lowest socioeconomic levels of society, schools were founded for everyone, laws were passed protecting children from unsafe labor, and childhood was formed, unlike the Medevial times, when children worked aside their adult counterparts, listened to the same stories in the pubs, and took part in adult activities.

But instead of trying to relate the educational, literacy, and definitions of childhood to each time period and culture, I'll just take a look at a couple that relate to what I've said in previous blogs.

The 1700's in Great Britain were an interesting time in the development of the modern definition of childhood. The Industrial Revolution had made literacy unnecessary, since it takes very little reading to operate machinary, especially ones in a factory. It also takes very little education to work in the coal mines. One of the characteristics of childhood is that parents actually care about their children (something that happened not as often in older times, for the main reason that since not every child survived infanthood, parents didn't always become as attached to them as our society does now). Without the need for an education, and with children becoming acceptable as an expendable work force (such are the pulls of capitalism, which would eat its own young for a buck (see my blog on the balanced calendar.), children became just younger adults, able to do the same things as adults, much like in medevial times.

This time in history is exactly opposite as now, but for totally opposite reasons (let me explain.). In 1700 Great Britian, childhood was almost non-existant, and children were handled as young adults. But the reason for this was that they were actually needed in the work force more than ever. With such an expanding economy such as they had then, with so many factories opening up, children had to be drafted into working because there was no one else to do that work. In today's society, childhood is disappearing, but the work force now is increasingly not needing them to have jobs, such as ones that children have when they turn 16. The reason for this is that there are no expaning job markets here, but rather, there is such a potential work force having graduated from college, that high school workers are not needed. Of course, one might also argue that the spots that high school students would use are now taken up by immigrant workers, but since I have no proof of that, I won't go into it.