Posts Tagged With: human interaction

Misanthropic Asshole

I posted on Facebook earlier this week that I often have to struggle between being a compassionate, humanistic person on the one hand, and a misanthropic asshole on the other.

Studying history can provide inspiration to be both: you can look back and find examples of people helping each other in dire situations, and you breathe in deeply, feeling compelled to go and help make your world a better place.  But then you read another document and find out that it was another group of people who actually created that dire situation in the first place!  So, then you’re deflated and you just want to go punch a baby, or kick a small, cute fuzzy animal.

I guess it all depends on that damn metaphorical glass, and if it’s half full or empty.  Honestly, I’d rather just drink the whole thing and not wonder if it’s empty or full (especially if it’s a Jack & Coke).

This week, I’m definitely a misanthrope.  I want to go back to Georgia, find the middle of our 400 acre farm and never see another living soul.  Except when I had to go to the library for books.  Wait, there’s Amazon for that.  So no, I’d never have to see anyone again. Ever.

I just don’t see how people can be so damn self-centered and just plain-ass ignorant.  Everyday, I tell myself: Don’t be judgmental, don’t be egocentric, appreciate difference for they are the different fabrics that make up the human quilt, blah blah blah gag.  I do appreciate difference, but (un)fortunately, stupidity spans the human species, so I don’t have to respect or appreciate it as a cultural difference.

Everyday I go into the bathroom in the library (my second home), and see toilet paper and paper towels scattered all over the floor…even though there are two trash cans in the tiny room.  The urinals are never flushed, so I’m greeted with the odor of stale piss.  All of this…at a university library.  We’re not talking about a preschool here!  The people that are doing this are at least 18 years old.  Jesus, don’t they think about the people who will have to come in at the end of the day and pick up after them? It blows my mind.

And then, this morning, I was on the subway, heading to school, when the train couldn’t go any further because there was some type of technical difficulty.  The conductor eventually found out that something was wrong with one of the doors and it wouldn’t lock.  Therefore, as a safety precaution, the train wouldn’t go without all of the doors secured.  After spending about 10-15 minutes on the radio with headquarters, trying several different things, the conductor announced that there was nothing more he could do, and we had to wait for a technician to arrive.  You should have heard some of the responses that people yelled at the man.  “This is bullshit!”  “I’ve got to get to fucking work!”  One lady (and I use the term loosely) actually called the conductor an asshole.

I get it: it’s annoying, frustrating, throws the rest of your day off.  We all get it, people!  But getting mad at the conductor?  Calling him an asshole?  Really?  As if he sabotaged the train himself so that you wouldn’t get to work on time…as if he loves being yelled at, mocked, and ridiculed….as if he himself doesn’t find the whole damn ordeal aggravating as hell.

And don’t even get me started on how no one around here can take an extra 0.75-1.5 seconds out of their day to hold a door for another human being.  I’ve watched little shit-heads let a door slam in the face of another person whose arms were full of stuff.  It’s simply beyond my comprehension.

Are we really in such a hurry, engrossed in our own lives, Tweets, and iPod tunes, that we cant look up from updating our Facebook to have some genuine connection with other people instead of letting a pane of glass or slab of metal slam in their face?

So, after a 45 minute subway ride that should have only taken 12, I walked out of the station and got on a bus and headed to campus.  Side note: the delay usually would have put me in a bad mood, but it didn’t for some reason today.  Maybe it’s because it was a break from the monotony of daily life: wake up, read, write, sleep, repeat.  I kind of wanted the brakes to malfunction, leaving us hurtling towards the end of the line while the conductor and I (because my historical training would be so very useful) tried to find something to do in order to save all of the elderly women, veterans, priests, and orphans on board.  Oh yeah, and the family of cute baby animals on the last car.

I guess they live on the train…

But, what ended up happening was that the technician came, over-rode the security feature, thus allowing the train to continue even though the door wasn’t locked.  I was not quite as exciting, but we didn’t stop at any more stations, so maybe the people on the platforms, who were watching us going flying (again, I use the term loosely) past them, thought we didn’t have any brakes.  All the while, the supervisor was holding the door shut with sheer physical strength…aka, he was jamming it shut with his shoe.  Riveting stuff.  

Anyway, I got on my bus, trying to keep my mood from bottoming out, so I got into a conversation with the bus driver.  Believe it or not, we discussed German philosophy (she had just finished reading Kant’s Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime during breaks on her route), the Holocaust, and her ancestry.  Then she picked up on my accent and asked where I was from.  As it turns out, she lived near Eufaula, Alabama (Google that shit) for several years….Which is just 25 minutes from my home town (I’m from GEORGIA by the way – not from Alabama! Heaven forbid…)  So, we spent the rest of the time talking about Piggly Wiggly, pecan pie, mosquitos, chiggers, and fried catfish. It was nice, just talking to a stranger and finding out a little about them.  Made me think humanity might not be so bad after all.

Of course, we didn’t get around to the fried catfish until we were at the bus stop, so I stood outside the door as she held up the bus until we were finished talking. So, I’m sure there were some folks on the bus with their earpods crammed into their brain, wondering Why is she waiting to talk to this guy?!  What the hell is taking SO long (25 seconds)?!  Don’t they realize that I have class soon?  

But I didn’t care.  They can all take their half-empty glass and shove it.


Categories: Humor, Random Info | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Our Media, Ourselves: Are We Headed for a Matrix?

by , NPR, February 20, 2012.  Link to original article (to listen to the story) here.

Design Within Reach? The cool sterility of 2001: A Space Odyssey is just one example of how pop culture expresses an anxiety that's seemingly about technology, but may be as old as time.


When Hollywood imagines the future, from Logan’s Run to Avatar, it tends to picture living spaces as sterile and characterless, without any cultural clues to the person who lives there. No record library, no DVDs, no Hemingway on bookshelves … often no bookshelves.

And here we are, catching up to that vision of the future. Sales of physical books dropped 30 percent last year, while e-book sales more than doubled. Sales of DVDs fell during that same period, while online streaming rose. And in 2011, for the first time, digital music downloads overtook sales of CDs. It’s as if we’re deciding en masse that when it comes to the arts and entertainment, we can do without the actual object that is the object of our affection. Who needs real-world clutter in an age when everything streams?

In short: “Welcome,” as Morpheus put it in The Matrix, “to the desert of the real.”

In that film, as you’ll recall, people interact in a reassuringly cluttered but virtual reality. Actual reality is barren. No stuff at all. Nothing physical to establish that one person is different from another. It’s a horror story in which humanity has abandoned all of what makes us human.

This fear of losing ourselves as we lose our stuff — is it just a product of our experiences with technology? Well, if you look at science fiction from the past few decades, you’d certainly think so. In the 1950s, the newness of television inspired Fahrenheit 451, where TV substitutes factoids for information and books are outlawed. A decade later, early spaceflight prompted the sterile domain ruled over by the computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The gene-pool experiments of the ’90s prompted Gattaca, where genetic purity is mirrored by a brutal architectural purity.

But the computer age didn’t invent that fear. British author E.M. Forster had these same thoughts more than a century ago. In 1909, right after writing A Room with a View, he penned a story about a cave without a view — a sci-fi story called “The Machine Stops,” written almost pre-technology, in an age of gaslight and pianos in the parlor. Here’s a bit of the story’s beginning (read on-air by Jennifer Mendenhall):

Imagine if you can a small room, hexagonal in shape like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no musical instruments, and yet this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk — that is all the furniture. And in the armchair sits a woman, Vashti, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

Remarkably prescient, no? Considering that light bulbs weren’t yet common in houses, and the first radio stations wouldn’t be founded for more than a decade.

There are good reasons for imagining sterile environments in stories about the future. Space travel requires eliminating things that might float around in zero gravity; clean lines feel “modern” because they contrast with the accumulated mess of everyday existence. But isn’t accumulated mess what defines us as individuals? Forster thought so, and figured we’d grow isolated without it — so, almost a century before computer geeks got around to it, he imagined Skype and the iPad:

“The round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her. ‘Kuno, what is it, dearest boy?’ ‘I want to see you not through the Machine,’ said Kuno. ‘I want to speak to you not through the Machine. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I want you to pay me a visit, so that we can meet face-to-face.’ “

Have a little … face time? The folks at Apple would recognize that. Imagine Forster’s horror if he could see people on a modern city street, avoiding eye contact and bobbing to the beat in their headphones. These days, we think technology is the culprit, but Forster was writing decades before TV started creating couch potatoes, almost a century before parents could complain about computer games turning kids into zombies. And still, his character Vashti doesn’t want to leave her little hexagonal cave. Why would she?

“Kuno’s image in the blue plate faded. For a moment Vashti felt lonely. Then the sight of her room, flooded with radiance and studded with electric buttons, revived her. Buttons to call for food, for music, the button that produced literature. And there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. Seated in her armchair, she spoke … while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well … and saw her, fairly well. The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned.”

Abandoned for chat rooms? Online dating? We’re almost there, right? Everything virtual until you’re actually in the apartment of a new acquaintance. At which point, what do you do? Scan the bookshelves and glance through the DVDs, looking for clues. Faulkner? Tom Clancy? There by the stereo, is that Sinatra or Sid Vicious?

A friend told me the other day that she had no CDs in her house anymore. All her music was on her iPod. She still has books, but she’s not buying as many as she used to. From the kid stuff in her entertainment center you’d guess she’s a Disney stockholder. But as her family outgrows those videos, so will her living room.

And her kids’ll be growing up in a world without hard copies of a lot of what members of their mother’s generation use to “define” living spaces and to tell people who they are. It’s fashionable to worry about whether these days, the media in people’s lives are supplanting the people in people’s lives, and about what’s getting lost as the world goes digital — all those cool album covers we had as kids, the stacks of paperback sci-fi novels, the toy soldiers. Won’t the next generation be isolated without them — cut off like Vashti, staring at screens all day?

“The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.”

The title of Forster’s story, remember is The Machine Stops; it’s about overreliance on devices. But as in most dystopias, technology and the sleek sterile chill of modernity are stand-ins for the real culprit. Our anxiety is primordial — given voice in literature and art since whenever it was that people first gathered together. In caves maybe.

Once you’ve felt the comfort of society, you worry about losing it. So to remind yourself of how you’re connected, you gather things around. And you cling to them, not so you won’t lose them, or lose what makes you you, but so you won’t lose the connections they represent. The fear is of emptiness — but of emptiness inside us, not of empty rooms.

Categories: Ideas & Philosophy, Science/Technology | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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