Sunday, August 26, 2007

Internets: Serious Business

Another long delay. Did you miss me? Let's pretend. Project 27 Days is coming along well, the first draft nearly completed. Once again, my excuse for not blogging with the kind of regularity I should be. Once said draft is completed, look forward to my posting more regularly - with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation if you must.

After my last post undoubtedly caused malignant tumors in some individuals (Sorry about that, it just happens sometimes, nothing intentional.), this one is going to focus on a more serious matter. Particularly, that of author Andrew Keen's recent attacks on the internet. (Known alternatively as the internets, intarwebs, and The Lawnmower Man 3: It's High Time We Did Some Yard Work!. Don't ask where the last one came from.) I first became acquainted with the man (By which I mean I saw him on the Colbert Report a couple of weeks ago and found myself repeatedly musing on to what degree he came across as a corporate tool.) through an interview in which he promoted his new book, The Cult of the Amateur: How today's Internet is killing our culture. (Because the more words you can cram into your book title, the more important it must be! Bonus points if it can't be pronounced in a single breath - heavy smokers don't count.) Now, the accusation of the internet committing genocide upon culture these days is not one to be taken lightly. In fact, one could turn right around and accuse that claim of being sensationalistic - gotta sell those books, after all - and overly defensive of corporate interests. And frankly, that's exactly what it is.

One of his claims is a matter of undermining professionals, in attacking bloggers, YouTube, and virtually everywhere anyone can freely post something of their own accord and express themselves - the internet is often one of the greatest bastions of freedom of speech in the world, after all. (Both to its benefit and detriment.) Looking first at this claim, you have to ask, "What is professional? Does investigative journalism have to involve news programs screwing something up themselves and investigating it? Does it have to involve sensationalizing entrapment?" The bottom line is, these days, we can't count on the news networks to give us the important stories anymore. It's all about ratings, and in turn, advertising profits, while we continue to distract ourselves from the real issues at stake. The death of Anna Nicole Smith? Paris Hilton in prison? Even the Harry Potter phenomenon I discussed in all its importance here not too long ago? These things are utterly irrelevant (And it says something about the state of our newsmedia - and our culture here in America - when these things are big news stories. Though granted, I suppose any series of books getting kids here to read at all is an accomplishment well worth applauding.), and our supposed serious news networks have lost whatever credibility they once had when they began reporting stories about celebrities and matters of pop culture over things that actually matter.

These networks actually wonder why The Daily Show and Colbert Report are so popular these days. They may be satire, but despite that, they're still far more legitimate as actual news programs than much of what airs on the networks these days. While they tell jokes, they also bring the criticism and ask the serious questions that supposedly serious news no longer does. Of course, this is is all in the name of fighting this so-called "liberal bias" that conservatives insist has been present in serious reporting for so long - a bias that wasn't really there before. It was simply that the newsmedia was reporting things for what they were, rather than spinning them into things the right wants to hear. Reality doesn't reflect what they want, so they bully the newsmedia into becoming even more of a right-leaning over-sensationalized joke that the people can neither trust nor rely on, and with that trust lost, the American people seek alternative sources for their news and commentary fixes.

You'd think they might've been happy enough with Fox News, being as that it's more a mouthpiece for the right than it is a legitimate news network, but apparently it's not enough until all the major news networks present the alternate reality the far right wants to displace actual reality with. And of course, the reality of that is, while we aren't exactly a nation of those darned bleeding heart liberals they hate so much on the right, we sure as hell aren't anywhere near as conservative as they insist, either. Overall, politically, we're a nation of moderates, and there was a time when - through objectivity - the newsmedia used to reflect that. That time has passed.

Keen complains that bloggers - those dastardly amateurs - are replacing the newsmedia, bit by bit. But when we can no longer trust the media, who else do we have to turn to but our fellow man and woman? All amateurs, as Keen simply writes them off, have to start somewhere. But going by that interview, he doesn't really define amateurs, so much as that they simply aren't professional journalists, as though that completely discounts anything they have to say. But that's hardly the case. Anyone can have anything to say, or provide their own meaningful commentary on the news and events of today, so long as they know how to carry themselves and present what they have to say in the proper context. (For instance, people are more likely to read and take seriously a well written, well thought out essay of sorts on politics today, than a simple rant that largely boils down to "FUCK THE PRESIDENT!!!") It isn't that the internet is hurting our culture - and our newsmedia - so much as that they have failed us, and as such, we seek to overcome that deficiency by our own means.

Any attentive, informed citizen (Or perhaps even immigrant, I'd wager.) can write about and report on the news, whether or not they've a journalism degree. When politics is twisting apart the objectivity of the media, we're left with little recourse but to take up arms, so to speak, and fight a war against dishonesty and media misleading with our pens and our keyboards - still mightier than the sword. Are amateurs replacing professionals? You betcha. And we've now a reliable alternative for it.

Now, to address his big screaming claim head-on - is the internet destroying culture? No. But modern media's having a hell of a hard time adapting to the internet. Largely because we're criminals, they say, unless everything we do is a means of putting money in their pockets. (What a greedy greedy world this is.) And even hurting culture? Hardly. It allows people from all over the globe connect with the greatest of ease. I myself wouldn't have had the good fortune to have made the friends I have around the world if not for the internet. If anything, the internet allows cultural cross-communication, and even further sharing of our cultures. Likewise, it allows the common people to come together like anyone else, despite their distances, and seek information - to seek the truth. It's a place that, while it has plenty of misinformation, can also facilitate the falling of the scales from one's eyes. It's an effective means of stripping power away from authorities - both governmental and corporate - and placing it back in the hands of the people, where it belongs first and foremost, especially in this day and age where the interests of government and business are no longer to serve the people, but in many regards to rule and oppress them.

Ultimately, the internet is exposing the problems that those in power - especially in the corporate and governmental sectors - would prefer to keep hidden, out of sight and out of mind of the people. But they can't anymore, with the internet around. (Of course, with their problems exposed, it's only natural they'd attack the internet itself.) Until the media can once more win over the people's trust by actually serving them, then they can stop worrying about the internet becoming far more relevant. Until then, they're in a hole they dug themselves.

Bottom line, whether Keen's rather obvious conservative biases have led to him finding the internet - fraught with outspoken liberal individuals that people listen to as it is, a common source of nightmares amongst many conservatives - to be such a horrible, horrible place for giving people a voice, or he's simply on some corporate payroll, defending their interests staunchly as he does, he's dead wrong here.

Certainly, the internet CAN be a horrible place, and used for horrible means, but the criticisms Keen levies absolutely are not amongst them. In this day and age, we need to promote a healthy social and political discourse more than ever, and the internet - and blogging in particular - are amongst the most effective ways to give voice to your thoughts with at least some chance of being noticed and listened to. This democratization of information and thoughts is exactly what the internet should be doing when at its best, particularly when we live in an age when the media's "high quality news reporting" he so staunchly defends is often no longer trustworthy. We live in a different era, and the increasingly archaic media is failing to catch up - that's a failing on their part, not on that of the internet, nor bloggers. If anything, the internet acts as a gateway to far more culture than the average person - let alone the average American - could and would ever be exposed to otherwise. And if it's one thing Americans can use more of, it's culture.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Dog Days of Summer

I've returned from my just-over-two-week hiatus here, dear reader(s). An abrupt one, I know, but I didn't find myself particularly inspired to write here, without any particularly good - or more honestly, appropriately stupid - topics coming to mind. I know that good bloggers are supposed to write daily - and something worth reading, no less - but with such a free form blog, I find it rather daunting to attempt that. My goal is ultimately to get up to a good 2-3 entries a week here, but considering the extremely high standards I hold myself to, I'd rather bring my "A game," so to speak, to each and every one of these entries. And to write something genuinely worthwhile, meaningful, and ideally entertaining on a daily basis is a hell of a lot of pressure. So here I am once more, not that many were reading this before anyway, bearing tales of my latest exploits in life, and the excuse that I've been focusing on finishing Project 27 Days within the month, hence my silence here as of late. Bake me into a pie and feed me to the town's orphans, blogging community, I've committed a cardinal sin in disappearing for so long, and I don't feel particularly guilty for it.

Today's subject? After making you wait for so long, this time, I'm addressing one of the most important subjects for musing conceivable - our buddies of the canine persuasion. Particularly, a bit over a week ago, my younger brother came home from college to visit for a few weeks before the next semester, and brought his dog with him, a hyper little Jack Russell Terrier. She's a sweetheart to be sure, but one of the most exhausting dogs I've ever been around. She'll jump up on you whenever possible, using you to stretch - and ultimately scratching you with her nails. She's a playful biter, still only being two years old and very puppyish, despite having had puppies before herself. The dog has no sense of boundaries, though, and seems to function in a state of near-perpetual motion, simply crashing when she finally settles down and naps. My brother not having been around a great deal, naturally off catching up with local friends, on many occasions, it's fallen on my shoulders to look after the little pup. On one hand, she's not bad company. On the other, I feel utterly dead when she goes to bed for the night in her little kennel. In looking after her, I'm only reminded further that whenever I inevitably get a dog of my own at some point in the future, I'm going to want a more balanced pooch. And it's just further driven home that I'd still take dying of cancer or virtually any other disease before I'd sire children myself. A hopeless case, no doubt, when I can't even deal with a hyper little dog without my patience being tried. But then again, I'm not someone who should be reproducing anyway, and frankly, I can't stand kids.

On the subject of more balanced dogs, though, I naturally have to address our longtime family dog, an 11-year-old Scottish Terrier we've had for a bit over a decade now. (To go ahead and clear that up now, yes, I am a part of the increasing trend these days of young people still living with their parents after finishing college. Considering the state of things here in the US these days, taking longer to leave the nest, so to speak, is hardly unjustified.) Granted, he has the advantage of age and experience going for him in being a much more balanced dog, ruling the household from atop his pale throne of rawhide bone, stroking his beard with his paws and thinking devious thoughts, scheming devious schemes - which usually involve either getting some human food or tricking us into taking him outside more often so he can patrol the yard, the diligent constable he is. (And these schemes are frequently successful. I don't know for certain if it's a common trait amongst Scotties, but this one, he's easily one of the craftiest and most intelligent dogs I've ever known, which just goes to show that we should never underestimate our four-legged friends.) Of course, in being the territorial fellow he is - like most dogs - we were concerned with how he would react when a new, unfamiliar dog invaded his territory. (Especially considering that like most smaller dogs, he has a Napoleon complex, so he flips out at other, larger dogs when he encounters them on walks, despite being quite the friendly and congenial fellow otherwise.)

Thusly, on the Thursday before last, my younger brother returned home, and a clash of the pint-sized titans began. The constable's certainly had mixed feelings about the hyperactive intruder in his domain, but for now, at least, he's learned to bear with her. His behavior patterns around her tend to shuffle from slightly interested, simply not having spent much time around female dogs before, to general disinterest (And sulking, still not pleased with there being another dog around, so we spend a great deal of time heaping extra attention and love on him to help him get through this trying experience.), and then to irritation. It wasn't until the hyper one showed up that he'd ever really shown anger and aggression towards anyone in the house (Even his usual barking and growling is more playful and bossy than anything else, but hardly threatening, the communicative pooch he is.), but with this particular Jack Russell, it doesn't take much to set him off. Of course, this goes right back to her not having any concept of boundaries. Just as she tries to jump on and bite us, she'll jump up on him and put her paws on his back, or try to chew on his ears. Like any good constable, though, he has quite the bark, and knows how to be threatening when it comes down to that, so he gets her to back off with relatively little trouble. But the little one - who's even smaller than the constable, hence her not being regarded as a real threat - is rather lacking in both attention span and long term memory. And so a playful bite turning into angry, loud barking - and waking up half the house, I'd imagine, in the early morning - has become fairly routine. (As have our frustrations with the little one's being anything but housebroken.) But ultimately, being the family favorite, our sympathies still lie with the constable. Being around the two of them is like watching a hyperactive toddler provoke a lumbering old grizzly bear, as he patrols the house. In short, for those of you wondering of dogs could find each other annoying, the answer is a resolute yes.

With roughly another week and a half to two weeks remaining before my brother returns, we all have to continue to look after the little communist dog (She is named Sovyette, after all.), while reassuring old Bastian that he's still the number one hombre 'round these parts. Little Sovy's a good dog though, quite sweet and affectionate, and I have to give my younger brother my personal thumbs-up (Montgomery Burns style, of course.) for adopting her, since she'd apparently been abused in the past, and she needed the love. But I can't say I'll feel terribly when they return, simply because she exhausts me so much. I know it's a selfish thought, but it would seem that like most people, some dogs are plenty capable of completely draining me, simply being in one another's company. I tend to require a lot of time alone - especially after being around people - to essentially recharge my batteries and clear my head. As such, most people - and obviously some dogs, too - are the sort you might enjoy having as guests for a little while, but you can't help but breathe a sigh of relief when they're gone, since you can finally relax again.

That story shared, I hope all is well with your summers in these rather unbearably hot, muggy days. Aside from work on Project 27 Days, I've been filling my days with further work in my hobbies, recently having watched the second season of Weeds, finished J.D. Salinger's Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour: An Introduction, and soon to be completing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess on my relatively newly acquired Wii console. I'll be moving on to all sorts of other things soon, as I continue to finish the first draft of the novel. With any luck, I'll find someone willing to represent me without an insane amount of trouble and expense, and get a shot at getting it on shelves between late this year and sometime next year - luck being the key word here. I'll post more details as they arise.

And thus, I leave you with this-, as sometimes, Bruce McCulloch says it best. (Here's hoping it doesn't go down too soon, when Youtube finally faces that forthcoming lawsuit to ax all of its copyrighted content, and in effect, finally ruin Youtube, reducing it to advertisements and vlogs. Because everyone knows how exciting it is to watch some asinine person stare into a camera and ramble about their lives and various other boring shit like I am here. And now you know why I will never go near the "vlogosphere." Of course, once Youtube is ruined, everyone will just move on to one of its clones that hasn't been hit with such a lawsuit, and the cycle will repeat. When will corporate America learn?)

I hope none of you missed me so much that you ended your lives in sheer desperation during my interminable absence.