Harvey

You see, science has overcome time and space. Well, Harvey has overcome not only time and space — but any objections! 

Elwood P Dowd, Harvey 

Facebook exists outside of time. It’s like the past and present are one. A story ten years old will be posted and commented on as if it’s happening right now. Yesterday I saw a thirty year old story that people assumed was new. I politely pointed this out. The commenters didn’t see the point. Thirty years ago or now, it didn’t matter. Forget it Jake, it’s Facebook time.

I keep seeing hoaxes and urban myths reappear. They  invariably are believed, often by the same people who knew they were hoaxes years ago when they went around via email. But email was a different universe. Different laws of physics. Time was sequential then. Email was how we communicated on the Internet, and the Internet was virtual reality. It followed the rules of reality. There was a then and a now, and what was then could not suddenly be now. People noticed.

People don’t notice now. And even if they do, they don’t care. They just hit the Like button. There’s time and there’s the like button. Liking trumps temporal reality every time. Facebook is becoming a whole other reality, devoid of linear time, devoid of objective truth, devoid of any standards of accuracy whatsoever. People will believe anything they see, and whatever is posted becomes reality, though only in Facebook. You repeat a Facebook story at a party and somebody will go to Snopes and make you look stupid. Someone else will go to Wikipedia and make you look stupider. There’ll be an orgy of smartphone fact checking at your expense. You’re not on Facebook anymore. Reality is harsh, real time is linear, and people can be rude, cruel and brutally sarcastic. They laugh, you turn red and retreat into the security of your iPhone. At Brick’s party, you post, surrounded by a**holes.

Sometimes I think that the Internet made people much more informed than they had ever been, and Facebook is rendering us all stupid again. But then again, Facebook is nicer. Pleasant, even. No one  trolls, and no one’s an a**hole.

Years ago my mother used to say to me, “Elwood, in this world you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

Elwood P Dowd, Harvey  

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Just go with the flow

Though not a specialist at all, when I was working at a large entertainment consortium I spent about five years in the internet security department (full of supposedly reformed hackers) and then another eight working with the people who specialized in data mining and selling profile data. Totally ruined me. Instead of the dawn of a new era, I tend to see the ugly, scary side of the Internet all the time.

I’m not saying that’s a good thing.

But being old enough to have lived most of my life in an analog world I have piles of books and records and folding maps and videos and cassettes and boxes full of typewritten and hand scrawled writing full of white out (remember sniffing white out?) and passages scratched out but still visible. I have photo albums, a dozen photo albums, stuffed with pictures that exist nowhere else but in that photo album. I have old flyers I made cutting and pasting. Cutting with a scissors and pasting with Elmer’s glue. The glue would get all over your fingers and make a helluva mess. Glue sticks were a revelation. The slightest invention made things simpler. A glue stick then was like an app on your iPhone now, a silly assed little thing that made life easier. But now it makes the virtual easier, while, back then it made the real less sticky. I remember thinking my Mr. Coffee machine was the greatest thing ever. A Mr. Coffee machine. Imagine how much simpler existence was then if a Mr. Coffee machine was a life changer.

I found a folder full of service manuals, all of which are available online. Things were tactile then. You could feel the paper on your fingers. There was glossy and non-glossy. I look at onion paper now and can’t remember why anyone used it. Onion paper. Typing paper. Note pads. Graph paper. All kinds of paper. Construction paper in a zillion colors. Even xerox paper in various colors. Paper filled up manila folders, stuffed file cabinets, could never be found when you needed it. Paper cut down whole forests, spotted owls and all, and left ugly scars across entire mountain sides.

And things like this, what I’m writing now, remained in notebooks, real paper notebooks, never seen by anyone, and when you died they were stuffed in bins and taken to the dump and no one ever knew. Now we write them in blogs for anyone to see.  Anyone.

That’s the scary part, that anyone. Who is that anyone? I write something, think that anyone could see it, and that anyone might be someone, somebody, Somebody. So I delete it.  Were I thirty years younger that would never even occur to me. Or else I wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t know that everything I did online was part of the vast, inchoate internet, an internet that could conceivably some day reach across the entire universe, and it wouldn’t concern me a bit.  If I were thirty years younger I’d read that paragraph above about maps and photo albums and hand scrawled writing and not get it at all. An ancient clouded time, primitive, sad. Not one with the body.

But in thirty years all my age will be gone, and so will memories of black and white television and the smell of freshly mimeographed paper. Of green stamps and paying cash for everything. Of 8 tracks and writing thoughts out on lined paper. Of terrible percolator coffee and how long it took to cook things before microwave ovens. Of checkbooks. Playboy centerfolds. Reaching for a dictionary or a thesaurus. The complete set of the Encyclopedia Britannica,14th Edition, Revised, that sits ignored behind me in a corner and fed my autodidactism for decades. Those memories will be all gone.

And in fifty years the people who remember us remembering these things will be gone. People will think back to lives a hundred years before and wish they lived then, back in the 1950’s and ’60’s and ’70’s, without realizing just how much better it will be by then. They will re-create virtual versions of us doing things, fun things, mostly, but doing things. Driving our own cars. Cooking our own foods. Being hippies or punks or beatniks or fighting in World War Two.  Reading books and making music and having sex in person. They’ll look at these virtual representations of you and me and sigh and wonder and wish.

But those people won’t be nagged by the memories of the days before the internet. And privacy. And things that were corporeal and real and tactile being better than things that are virtual and imaged and electrons. They won’t look at photos of themselves tagged and profiled and commented on by complete strangers and sometimes weird out. They won’t remember privacy, and long for a time when they weren’t on a zillion databases everywhere. They won’t fear the internet. In fact, they might not be paranoid at all. Maybe paranoia itself will die out, and acceptance will soothe them. Zen has long been the balm of those trapped in lives they can’t control. Don’t fight it, people will say. Just go with the flow.