Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Internet is an Existential Place

This 58-second home video entitled, "Buhlud" has nearly 3-million views in its less-than-one-year existence on YouTube. If I say "buhlud" around a crowd of people at a party, chances are someone, if not multiple people will know to what I am referring. The popularity of YouTube and the widespread interest in amateur video as an extension of so-called reality TV has created a venue or medium in which a video of a young child in the initial stages of developing his speech can flourish as a video that goes viral. People discussed it, linked it, blogged it, forumed about it, submitted it, emailed it, IMed it, Facebooked it, and even Gmail Chatted it. They discussed it at parties, at the dinner table, at school, at work, and then probably watched it together. This is the world we live in. It used to be called "water cooler" talk, but now that water cooler is YouTube and everyone is standing around the same massive forum of information and ideas, exchanging opinions and attitudes regarding the video content of the website.

"Charlie bit my finger and it still hurts!"

Ten months ago a British man uploaded onto YouTube a 55-second video of an exchange between his infant son, Charlie, and his 3-year-old son, Harry in which the former bites the finger of the latter. Since then, this video has over 15.5 million views. From a recent experience, I am--by extrapolation--assuming that most of the views are by Americans; little children with high-pitched British accents are apparently not nearly as funny nor cute to the British.

Is YouTube supporting internet addiction?

There are many criticisms to be said of YouTube and it's encouragement of the web's demise of human-to-human contact; however, it succeeds in that it gives everyone and anyone a voice. Almost aware of their collective power to choose what or who is in the spotlight, there seems to be a tendency for many of the most viral of videos to be those that feature individuals who don't intend to reach the masses. In other words, the more clear that it is that the video wasn't made for YouTube, the more credibility the video receives from the community. Ironically, in a space widely-perceived as an artificial medium, the community seems to be most intrigued by the most organic of videos, those that feel the most authentic. Sometimes we may even forget that 15.5 million people have already viewed it, instead maybe feeling like we could have found it in some random person's dusty attic or basement, and we're checking it out in the VCR or the reel-to-reel for the first time in a decade or two.

How Did We (not) Communicate Before Facebook

Imagine you go visit your old high school buddy at another school or his or her new home in a different state for the weekend. It's your first time visiting since your friend has been there for 8 months, so he or she has made a lot of new friends whom you have not yet met. During the weekend, you go out to the local bar with your buddy and you meet some of his or her friends. You all have a few drinks, share a few laughs, a few stories, and then you head back to your friend's place and have a bad sleep on the smelly couch and drive back home hungover the next morning. When you get home, are you going to log onto Facebook and request those people you met last night, whom you will most likely never see again, as friends? Are they the type to request you?

What happened B.F. (Before Facebook)? The answer is that this connection would in most likelihood not come about. Facebook came along and changed socializing, fostering unprecedented, large-scale acquaintanceship among people. Connections that never would have been substantiated, people whom you would never have heard of or from again now become internet personalities, with pictures, interests, actions and walls that allow a virtual profile to come to life and represent a human identity.

I can't tell if Facebook is making us more or less awkward; in some ways we're forgetting how to talk to people in real life, but in other ways we are getting a whole lot of practice in having conversations with people we barely know because we happen to be friends on facebook and we are meeting by chance on the street somewhere. In fact, you may only be meeting someone for the second time in real life and about 98% of what you know about him/her is based on the assumptions you've made after looking at their profile when you were bored. You know he was in a relationship for 14 months but recently broke up, went to a Radiohead concert last weekend, enjoys martial arts, and is in the group I Love Rootbeer, but you can't interpret how he feels when he speaks with a certain tone in his voice or makes a particular facial expression.

In many ways, Facebook is fostering lifestyles in which individuals have many shallow, unfulfilling acquaintances, impairing much of their effort toward significant, deep friendships. Does Facebook's role in removing humanism from socializing render it evil, or are there some spiritually-profound lessons to be learned from it? Maybe the cynical view overemphasizes the dichotomy of real world and virtual world, failing to see the connection between the two. If enlightenment comes through seeing the connection between everyone and everything, wouldn't Facebook be bringing us closer to collective human evolution and spiritual transcendance? Have we reached another monolith in Time?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

An Abbreviated Musical History of Me; or, How Brandy and Monica are Cooler than Cool

"All these years, you’ve gone through the day without email like this in your pocket… or stock updates like this in your pocket… or internet like this in your pocket… and you survived. The question is… How?" (Or, see it for yourself)

This is one of the Ads in Apple's iPhone campaign. The commercial parallels the simple artsy image of the company's products both visually with close-ups displaying the product's cool new capabilities and musically with a simple, catchy instrumental jingle.

The advertisement concludes with the brilliant affirmation that yes, you the viewer are evidently still alive since you are hearing this statement made; and, further, how did you accomplish not dying without our fancy device complete with internet and stock updates? It was a damned good question, and so I began to look at how I, in fact, did not perish despite not having the latest technological product.

I got my first Walkman late in my childhood. It was quite a while after the AM.FM radio/tape player device reached an affordable price. Most children my age had some portable means of music by this point in time.

One day cassettes entered my life and I became the proud owner of the Shoop/Whatta Man Salt-n-Peppa cassette single, as well as the I Swear All 4 One single.

By this time, those people that insist on buying the cutting-edge technological advancement as soon as it is released were long in possession of CDs, CD players and even the coveted Discman. Even some of my friends were getting familiar with these futuristic, shiny discs. The buzz was all about the clear, crisp sound the discs provided.

The social pressure for a self-conscious 12-year-old must have gotten too overwhelming to continue carrying around a bulky Walkman, for I finally packed it in the junk drawer.

Again, I was a technologically late bloomer for CDs. My family had just bought a CD player for the living room. My brother and I entered the future, formally, one fine day at the music store when we bought the CD single of the song that was blowing our little minds at the time: Brandy & Monica, The Boy is Mine. We pondered the implications of this product and the evolution of music as my father twisted in the copper coils and clipped them snugly under each appropriate switch. In what must have been our fascination with the new product's digitalness and the resultant ability of us to navigate through the song with ease, we decided that it would be pretty great if we went through the song, copying down the lyrics line-by-line; what followed is obvious- hours of practice in order to not only sing the song, but to actually act out the conflict of the music video, Brandy versus Monica. I think I was Brandy, but it's hard to remember. Those were crazy times.

It was not until I was making preparations to leave for Kiribati around one year ago that I finally got a Discman, and went portable. MP3 Players were quite plentiful, but I did not feel it was time. Kiribati lacked USB ports, hence I needed something that took batteries. I came up with a system, which ultimately amounted to a primitive MP3 player. By burning all of my MP3s onto MP3 CDs and cataloging each one by paper playlist I could bring my music with me. Although it took up an entire 50-CD wallet, I felt like I was taking a step into the future again, and I know the Kiribati people must have thought so as well.

I have a friend who uses a similar system, refusing to enter the world of MP3. He says he likes the setup, it makes him feel cool. I can't help but to agree. You heard it here first: bulkiness is the new compact.

A month ago I entered Apple's world of sleekness- I got an iPod. It is quite handy to hold your entire hard drive of music in the palm of your hand. As I wind around the touch pad and look down at the patented white ear bud cord hang across my body I can't help but both feeling a little cooler for owning it and looking a little trendier because of the accessory's sexiness.

As I futilely attempt to fill up the iPod's copious hard drive, I wonder if Apple has succeeded in filling a technological void in my life, as they suggested in the ad. I've lived without an iPod for all this time...and I survived. The question is... How?

I understand that this Ad possesses a bit of intended irony, but mostly it is pretentious. I survived with Brandy and Monica, and I didn't even need a lyrics website to prove the boy was mine. I cried with All 4 One when my so-called friends unwound the tape from its innards and it was rendered unplayable. I'm quite sure the world was a better place at a time when my friend would invite me over to listen to the new Warren G feat. Nate Dogg Regulators cassette single over and over. There was something special in the struggle to toggle with the fast forward and rewind buttons to find the beginning of the song that the winding motion of the iPod cannot fulfill.

Apple's products are shiny, artsy and stylish, but they can never achieve the same level of cool as its predecessors. Well, that is until something new renders it "obsolete."

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

My host Aunt Raaua and I dancing at the Farewell Botaki