Dave Grohl And Computers

Fri Feb 17 2012

I know, I know, I’m always writing about things that are so last Monday. Try as I might, I suck at being hasty. Too often when I make an effort to be timely and clever, I end up looking like an idiot. Things take forever to sink into my system and even longer for me to vomit back out as pieces of my own experience. So I saw all the Facebook posts about Dave Grohl’s Grammy speech and was pretty sure I had the gist of it without even watching it thanks to the commentary of friends and acquaintances. I finally watched it yesterday, and as it turns out, I guessed right: it’s at once a painful illustration of Dave’s oblivious rock star cloud of self-promoting smugness and a valid, possibly even heartfelt plea for human passion and physical interaction. You know, the one that’s been a perennial rallying cry ever since the industrial revolution? Don’t let technology rob us of our hearts! I suppose at some point a few hominids believed that the inclined plane would be the downfall of society. Ever since Radiohead branded technophobia onto the hide of mainstream pop culture with OK Computer, the proliferation of interconnected gadgetry has indeed been accelerating. The most potent get-off-my-lawn gaffe I can come up with is how I miss the intimacy of email, which is completely true. I feel very ineffectual in 140 characters or less, instantly out there in the wide world for all to mock, and I’m struggling mightily to not let that make me feel old. As I continue to hone my craft, I find the most important lesson is to be succinct and to trim as much excess verbiage as possible, but where does it end? I think Twitter is fun a lot of the time, but as a means of conveying my thoughts it’s most often a cowardly and impulsive misrepresentation of who I am, or at best, an ironic/impersonal attempt at humor. But even when I get into a more lengthy format like this, I’m usually left wondering if it was all wasted effort anyway. Not this time, though, because this one’s therapeutic just sitting there on the page.

A part of me that didn’t exist a decade ago feels a bit panicky about the potential for some anonymous smartass to come along and pick apart my whole argument here, unmasking me in bullet points as a shallow charlatan who fancies himself a thinker, and I’m also pretty resigned to the notion that the sheer number of words will scare most web-surfers away; it has already taken up two and a half minutes of your time that you could have spent composing a tweet. If I were face to face with you at a party, especially after a couple of drinks, I’d have absolutely no fear of laying all of this out on the table. I’d be excited about the potential for differing viewpoints and the learning that could take place for any and all participants in the discussion. Making bold or even beaten-to-death arguments like this one in a crowd of open-minded individuals is likely to prompt genuine self-realization, things to be pondered long after the conversation is over. In the confines of this digital screed, the process is inherently slow and grossly unlikely to proceed to any valid conclusion. My opinion is oppressive, likely to make you scoff if not offend you outright, because you have to absorb the whole thing or at least pretend to before you can respond, and a full exploration of this topic in a blog post is impossible. All you’re getting is a haphazard conglomeration of provocative half-thoughts that, if we were face to face, you would have interrupted and refuted or begun to complete at least a paragraph ago.

Funny thing is, being offensive is the most valuable talent a writer can have these days. The more inflexible your opinion, the more documented vitriolic responses you can incite, the more attractive you are to advertisers—the only real source of money there is on the internet. Success has always been the domain of the lowest common denominator; it is now codified in the structure of our chief means of cultural interaction, which for us is social media, a term so ubiquitous it’s more massive than mass media could ever be. The definition of that term needn’t be strictly digital, but it is. Like it or not, relationships are becoming less and less analog, and not just because we don’t see or hear or touch each other. We don’t even interact with each other; the online personae that we have constructed, the imaginary and disingenuous shadows of our true selves, interact with other imaginary characters. We develop opinions and attitudes toward people we truly do not know—not celebrities, but colleagues, even people we refer to as friends. We find ourselves inadvertently shunning actual friends, people we know and love and hang out with, because we get sick to death of their avatars. And we develop theories about the vacuity of humankind because these fake relationships breed an overpowering narcissism and, if we’re not careful, cynicism.

That’s certainly not what we dreamed about when we got excited about the internet in the 90s. We thought email was going to be a powerful tool with which to maintain connections with people. Maybe that actually happened at first. We thought chatrooms were bringing together like-minded folks in order to brainstorm and change the world. The real change turned out to be the unfathomable perpetuation of the forum to the degradation of its ostensible purpose. We warned ourselves and shook our heads and insisted that we wouldn’t let ourselves become dehumanized; can anyone honestly say we succeeded? Now all we have is a thirty-second Dave Grohl cliché video bite to remind us of our loss of humanity, and the ensuing rhetoric and proselytization grabbed our attention for about ten minutes, and then we saw some new STAR WARS meme on Facebook, and we chuckled to ourselves, and our brains made a mental note about how clever that friend of ours is who posted it. Ctrl-S, Ctrl-N.

Where could he possibly be going with this depressing aimless rambling? you’re asking yourself. Relax; I’m about to wrap it up with a G.I. Joe-inspired, I-learned-something-today scene. Next time you start feeling annoyed with someone, check to be sure the object of your ire is a real person and not a cyberspace persona. I don’t have any enemies that I know of in real life, but I’m beginning to suspect that my imaginary internet self has a growing number, even if they don’t know it. This is starting to wear the real me down, this disconnect between who he is and who the profile photos on the internet think he is. Then again, the real me actually thinks he’s the one who wrote this. Has he learned nothing?

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