Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back in my day... / Gimme now!

Could just be the thirtysomething in me talking, but I was listening to Adam Carolla's podcast today and in the course of conversation he made a remark about the intersection of youth and modern technology that I instinctively agreed with:

(not a direct quote but close enough)

" You feel a little bit sad for our kids growing up now, that they'll be able to watch How The Grinch Stole Christmas in August, and that they won't give a shit about it"

It's really true; there's a certain balance between escaping the needless inefficiencies of the past and the ever-increasing accessibility of the present and near-future and in the end I'm not really sure what is ultimately better.

Back in the 80s and 90s when I did most of my growing up in a world devoid of recording technology there was an air of excitement when CBS rolled out the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special. You saw the commercial announcement sometime earlier in the week and mentally marked your Transformers calendar, making sure to speed through dinner on the day of the show in time to plant yourself in front of the TV on time so as not to miss a minute. All bathroom breaks had to be handled during the allotted commercial time; any moment you missed being absent from the TV room would be one you'd have to wait another year to see.

During the golden years of the Simpsons my appointment in front of the TV on Sunday nights at 7 pm was pretty much non-negotiable.

Same thing in the water-cooler Seinfeld era, one of the more prominent last signifiers of the "collective media experience"; if you missed out on the popular show of the moment, you forfeited opportunities to enjoy it the next day a second time in discussion with your friends / coworkers.

Sure, it was all incredibly inconvenient when you look at it from afar - adhering to Entertainment's schedule instead of Entertainment bending to fit your life. However, the introduction of DVRs, iPods (from which I admittedly do enjoy tremendous utility on a daily basis) and all have removed the concept of delayed gratification from the entertainment equation and weakened the sentimentality and sense of occasion one can feel toward a particular experience.

Not going to be home to catch 30 Rock? Just set your Tivo to record it. Forgot to do that ? Just go watch it on Hulu....I suppose this could be a slight caveat as I think Hulu posts new shows a day or two after the original air date, but still a world away from "oh well , see you next year Charlie Brown".

Anything is in reach at any time, which is great to the extent of not being robbed of the chance to enjoy something meaningful/humorous/special but at the same time strips any media from truly belonging to a time or season, a moment in which you feel a bond however slight with a particular community.

Accessibility is a wonderful thing, no mistake - as one example I know that I'm more educated and enriched from many more possible sources than I could have known ten years ago, as a result of new technology's subservience to my go-go lifestyle: I load up my iPod with podcasts and listen on the way to, from, and at work about business and money matters from NPR's Planet Money team, general how-to (from the How Stuff Works guys), and get entertained by the likes of the aforementioned Adam Carolla, Kevin Smith , and others.

So having what I want when I want it or when I can access it has its share of good too, but I realize both its worth and its drawbacks based on my having grown up in a world of relative "without". My son and everyone else in his generation will grow up in an environment where on-demand media is the only existence they will know; telling Adam about my days in footy pajamas waiting eagerly in front of the (analog) television, getting a palpable charge of excitement (then, and even now the tremors swell from deep within my memory banks) from the sights and sounds of the announcing lead-in....

....will be a completely alien concept to him. How do you now effectively explain and instill that value of how having to wait for something, despite its short-term downside, heightens the overall mood of a moment and in the end typically makes for a greater overall experience?

In the end I'm sure this will just be my turn at the "in my day things were better because...", same as how LP records are better than CDs (another innovation of my day that will be an extinct relic before too long), Carson is the funniest late-night host of all time, and so on. I guess my generation is no more exempt than any of the preceding that maybe, this time, what's unfolding in the new landscape is detrimental to the human experience.

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