Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Digital rebels without a clue

Talk like National Public Radio's Dick Meyer and you might be a dangerous man.

"The 1960s was a symbolic turning point," Meyer said, citing the decade as a time when personal choice became more important than following tradition.

"It became much more important to make all these choices as a witting, conscious consumer of life," Meyer said of formerly tradition-bound elements like religion, where people live, whether they decide to get married.

"And deeper than that, there was a sense that if you did follow a traditional route," Meyer said, "you were an existential weakling."
MEYER IS AUTHOR of Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium, and he can't stand incompetence, indifference, rudeness and normative bad behavior. Or, at least, what used to be bad behavior before it became normative. His comments were from a piece accompanying audio from an interview on NPR's Morning Edition.

Meyer, NPR's new digital-media editorial director, also has a certain fondness for traditional community . . . and tradition, period. He thinks it wasn't bad to have identities other than the one you manufacture for yourself out of whole cloth -- a religious identity, an ethnic identity, a community identity.

He thinks those things can add real meaning to life.

IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN BETTER for Meyer, at least among some decidedly postmodernist combox warriors, had he advocated flying jetliners into skyscrapers. At least, with that scenario, those now hurling invective at poor Dick Meyer might instead be wringing their collective hand and wondering
"Why does he hate us? Have we done something to offend."

That, however, is not how Postmodern Man -- which is kind of like Socialist Man, only whiny and self-centered -- rolls when it comes to those guilty of thought crimes. Here's something taken from the comments on a Meyer thread at The BPP Diner:

This is either a joke or just pure provocation. The man is angry because the only place where he could be sure that the guy making his sandwich wouldn't forget the tomato has closed. The man is a self-hating trailing-edge boomer (see his bio) who yearns for the good old days of "community" where everybody knew your name. Well, they knew your name, but they were probably much more fond of calling you "hey nigger", "hey faggot", "hey dyke", "hey kike", "hey slut"...

AND HERE'S another measured response to the Meyer piece on NPR's Morning Edition:

"But I have no sympathy for "poor Dick Meyer". Appreciating civility and values is one thing. But there's a difference between that and wishing for things to be like the past. You know what, things aren't like they were 50 years ago. Get Over It.

"Seriously, you want a guy who thinks community is having the people in the lunch place know your name running digital media where in the present we are trying to build new types of communities?"

YES. Yes, I do.

If people don't care to know your name in the "real world," they sure as hell won't care to know it in the "new media" world, either. And if someone doesn't care that his sandwich was made indifferently and not-to-order by a couple of lazy morons at the chain eatery, he also just might not care whether your Internet content is created indifferently by a department full of morons.

And if folks think that a prerequisite for building "new communities" based on digital media is the neglect or outright destruction of real-world communities, wait until the power goes out. Or a bad storm hits. Or your house burns down.

Or, perhaps, wait till some future day when oil is no longer affordable (at all) and the economy runs out of gas in an energy-starved country. Can a "digital community" save us if our computers have no juice? Or if we no longer can afford to buy a computer?

Even considering all the potential online social media have, will computers or some "digital community" be there to help raise your kids, or have your back when life hits the fan . . . or make sure you eat when you're old and enfeebled, then wipe your ass when you no longer can?

NO, I GUESS things aren't as they were when I was born in 1961. In some ways, that's a really good thing -- being that I was born in the Jim Crow South, experienced segregated schools first hand and saw quite enough ugly before I turned 10.

In other ways, it's a terrible thing that things aren't as they were in 1961. The commodification of everything in society -- including people -- wasn't nearly so advanced as it is now. Folks had manners, for the most part, and while the barbarians might have been at the gate, they generally weren't running the culture.


Tradition is a funny thing. Religion, too. When they're functioning in a meaningful way, they can seem stifling to some people. We feel like we're unable to "create our own identity."

And sometimes, tradition for tradition's sake can grow incredibly stale and pointless. You can't ever lose sight of the "why" in tradition . . . or in anything else.

Thus, it's quite true that some traditions outlive their usefulness, if ever they had any. I don't know that many civilized people would argue for female circumcision, serfdom, intractable class structures or women being regarded as property.

On the other hand, when you start flailing away at the whole of "tradition" and the "old ways" with a broadax, you're going to find quite quickly -- as we now are realizing -- that we've just chopped down whole institutions and forces of habit that provided refuge from what sought to devour us. The unfettered freedom to "create our own identity" likewise gives a disordered and dysfunctional society the unfettered license to define us as mere pieces of meat.

What does a virtual community based on digital media do about that?

Really, isn't the craving for "new kinds of community" online just a case of humans -- operating on sheer instinct -- desperately seeking what they've just spent the last 50 years dismantling?

And some combox Nietzsches see poor Dick Meyer as being unfit to do his digital duty just because he, on some level, recognizes that?

Good God.

Oh . . . sorry about that invocation of a primitive belief structure. It's difficult being a troglodyte, you know.

Ask Dick Meyer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm new here, but I thought I'd chime in since it's about an interview with me. But The Might Favog defended me really well from the comments he quoted. Better than I normally do. So thanks.

Two points: the first comment from the BPP Dinner thread is so irate that it is hard for me to really be sympathetic. Yes, small, tight communities can be brutal to be people who are different. Yes, that was worse 50 years ago than it is now and, yes, the greatest legacy of the 1960s addressing that. Addressing, not fixing. That doesn't call for the didatic hostile attitude marked by the first quote.

Second point, second quote: If I didn't think there was some opporunity for community and intellectual life using the Internet and these machines as tools, I wouldn't write online. I do. That doesn't mean that "virtual" can replace or substitute for "real" community or human contact. Again, why so didactic.

Finally, I did talk about both of these points in deatil in the actual book. You folks are talking about an interview. But as I said, you words arebetter than mine today and it appreciate it.

Dick Meyer, the guy who wrote "Why We Hate Us."