Saturday, July 31, 2010

I'm eating Cheezits right now! :-)

Of course, the new hotness in media is Facebook. Every advertiser seems to want to abandon all their other channels of message delivery (TV, radio, print, outdoor, web, sky-writing, sandwich boards, branded T-shirts, complimentary pens with their logos on them) for Facebook. Facebook will change civilization as we know it. There's even a pompous new movie coming out about the birth of Facebook, The Social Network, marking it as the greatest invention since...well...ever. People just didn't know how to connect with each other until Mark Zuckerberg showed us the way.

But I'm old enough to remember the advent of the last medium that was supposed to change everything; e-mail. And the medium before that, cell phones. Hell, I was even alive (barely) during the early days of TV when it was supposed to replace print and radio and movies, but did none of those things. I even remember two cycles of 3D movies before this one, when 3D-ness was supposed to change everything. None of those revolutions were that long ago.

And yet nothing that much changed or replaced anything. Print is still here (in fact there are more magazines being published now than before the Internet). TV's still here. Radio's still here, and booming. Direct mail, which seems more voluminous now than ever.They're all still here. Even e-mail. The geological strata of communications technologies just keeping piling on.

But there is one critical piece of communications technology that doesn't seem to change, though. It's not man-made; it's biological. It's the human brain. This old hunk of protein hasn't changed much since the last Ice Age. And by noticing the content of Reality TV shows, one could argue that it's actually devolved.

The brain is still a highly sophisticated processor of information, and only dimly understood.

Unfortunately for all the nifty new ways to transmit information, the receiver is still operating the way it has for the last 35,000 years...give or take 3 million. From the invention of being able to use the mouth to talk face-to-face to each other, all the way to the invention of technologies where we can "talk face-to-face" to millions of people all over the planet, the same receiver is doing the same processing work it did back when mile-high glaciers were grinding over New York. The inexorable advance of transmission technology doesn't seem to make much difference.

And what have we found out? That basically, human beings, given the power to broadcast their thoughts to the world, aren't very interesting. Like some Neanderthal grunting  "Food goooood," we see that people are still telling us they're eating food right now, or staring out the window, or getting ready to go to a party, or drinking a Machiato Misto. It's depressing that people aren't any more profound, by and large, than my dog, Bob; another highly sophisticated transmitter-receiver.

If Bob had a Facebook account (which is not beyond the realm of imagination since many dogs do--though I suspect they are ghost-written by humans), he would tell us several times a day that "I'm eating right now :-)," "Chewing on a rawhide :-)," "Scratching my back on the rug :-)," or "Squirrel!!!!! :-( "   It would, in other words, be indistinguishable from 99.99% of all the other Facebook posts. Only he doesn't need Facebook to tell the people he cares about of these profound observations. He has highly efficient software to do that; it's always on, never has to search for a WiFi connection, and never needs booting (well, rarely needs booting).

So here's the point (there always has to be one, doesn't there?): It doesn't matter what the transmission technology is--Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, TV, sky-writing, cave-paintings--if the message is dull, it's not going to get through. Look at those cave paintings, for instance. We ooo and aah over the human connection we share with people 35,000 years ago--people not so different from us--and realize that, like us, all they were really concerned with was eating. In their case, eating red meat on the hoof.

Big deal.

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