Deep Thoughts: We’re All Looking for “Love Pellets”

Do you feel like… something is… just… not… quite… right… in the world? OK, then, that’s at least two of us. I suspect we are not alone. It’s hard to watch the news these days and not wonder “whathefuck?” Maybe it’s always been that way.

Or maybe there is something fundamentally different about the world we live in today as opposed to the world we lived in, say, 15 or 20 years ago. And maybe the invisible undercurrents of that change is eroding our spirit in some insidious way…

I have been storing up a few articles, columns, news items, and blog posts over the past couple of weeks which, if I can add them up correctly (and coherently), offer together some insight into the confused hysteria which seems to be gnawing at the fabric of our daily existence.

The central thesis is: in the past 15 years, civilization has experienced technologically-driven dislocations the likes of which have not been seen for more than five centuries. It’s no wonder we’re all feeling a bit… disoriented.

eBooks now outsell hardcovers

Want proof? OK, start with the news that announced in July that the sale of eBooks for its Kindle platform now exceeds the sales of hardcover editions:

Book lovers mourning the demise of hardcover books with their heft and their musty smell need a reality check, said Mike Shatzkin [no relation], founder and chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, which advises book publishers on digital change. “This was a day that was going to come, a day that had to come,” he said. He predicts that within a decade, fewer than 25 percent of all books sold will be print versions.

That might be the news item that finally offers some kind of focus to what is happening to the world around us: what that story delivers is indisputable evidence that one of the pillars of modern civilization — books, for chrissakes, a foundation that has been in place for 500+ years – -is crumbling. Don’t look now, dear Philistines, but Samson is at the gates and his hair is growing again…

It is no exaggeration when veteran ‘new media’ observer (and author of Burn Rate in 1999) Michael Wolff wonders “Can Books be Saved,” and imagines their role in a fully digital future:

Michael Wolff, "New Media" Sage

In other words, literature stops now. It becomes classical music. To the extent it exists, it is as inspirational historic artifact. Arguably, this has already been happening with the flight of readers to new technologies. My books become antiques (they lived for many years in an overheated West Side apartment and are, many of them, already quite brittle), mementos of not just my life but of another age. I wonder if my children will lug them around.

While I’m reading all this, I am watching my own behavior out here on the digital frontier, aided and abetted (or is burdened?) as I am with my Holy Trinity of Apple devices – my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone, as I attempt to sort out precisely what role each device has in my daily routine. There was even a period earlier this summer where my attempts to “organize” myself seemed futile, particularly since the iPad had entered the mix. So I was feeling my own peculiar kind of dislocation when I came across this item invoking the old parable about frogs and boiling water:

Getting warm, Froggie

…most technology impacts us in imperceptible frog-boiling like ways. We struggle to remember the days when we had to coordinate via calling friends from pay phones or having to have an atlas in our car in case we got lost.

Right. See Clive Thompson’s article, (cited in yesterday’s post) where he talks about how we don’t even answer the phone unless the call was pre-arranged. And the last two road trips I went on, we left the road-atlas at home and found our way via iPad and GPS. But I digress…

And what is interesting to me is that as we post our videos on YouTube, record our lives on webcams, upload location updates on FourSquare, search for restaurants based on the wisdom of the crowd – society is slowly changing.

Which is more or less the point that I’d like to underscore here, with the further observations that a) society is changing in ways that are almost impossible to perceive and b) most people are not aware of the change, or the fundamental depth of it, because it is not just that the world is changing, but that the way that we perceive the world is changing too. Like the frog in water, we don’t really realize that the way we are absorbing the world has changed in fundamental ways.

Don't Tread On Me, Either

And some people, unable to recognize their own disorientation, are reacting in — how shall we say — counter-productive ways. As I’ve said before: “The ‘tea party’ wants the country back, alright. Back in the 19th century…”

We not only feel dislocated, but even with all this connective technology at our disposal, we feel oddly disconnected. So we flit from one device to another. We go from Facebook to Twitter to e-mail to the iPhone to the iPad, bouncing from gizmo to gizmo. We tell the world where we are via Foursquare (or now Facebook Places)… why? Do we think somebody is going to drop what they’re doing and join us for coffee?

Which brings me to the final link in this chain.

Those of you who know that I tend to “lean left” politically and culturally may be surprised to see me quoting Peggy Noonan, the former Reagan speech writer who now writes a weekly column for the Wall Street Journal. But I make no apologies for citing this passage from Ms. Noonan’s column of Saturday, Aug 21, and I hope the link to the entire column still works for you as well (since Rupert is putting all the WSJ stuff behind a subscription pay-wall, your results my vary…).

Peggy Noonan

She begins by observing that our gizmo devotion is “changing our posture.” You’ve seen it yourself:

People who used to walk along the avenues of New York staring alertly ahead, or looking up, now walk along with their heads down, shoulders slumped, checking their email and text messages. They’re not watching where they’re going, and frequently bump into each other. I’m told this is called a BlackBerry jam.

And just what are we are all seeking in our foreign, dislocated, disconnected universe?

Everyone who constantly checks is looking for different things. They are looking for connection, information. They are attempting to alleviate anxiety: “If I know what’s going on I can master it.” They are making plans. But mostly, one way or another, I think they are looking for a love pellet. I thought of you. How are you? This will make you laugh. Don’t break this chain. FYI, because you’re part of the team, the endeavor, the group, my life. Meet your new nephew—here’s the sonogram. You will like this YouTube clip. You will like this joke. You are alive.

So keep that in mind, next time you find yourself compulsive looking to see if there’s anything new in the in-box. The world is changing, that much is for certain, and maybe in ways that haven’t been witnessed for centuries. There is no precedent to fall back on, no prior experience that is bright enough to illuminate the road ahead. So all we really have to fall back on is who we are traveling with.

So take another look at your inbox. See any “love pellets” ? They’re the only ones that really matter. Hit “reply” to those first.