Rough Copy – “The Media Nerve, Part I”

The Media Nerve

As an American, technology is nothing new to me. In fact, I am privileged to live in a country where new technology is first exhibited, since the wealth to entice production is there. Not from me, of course, although I do represent one of the many millions that any new technology will be marketed towards.

Does technology really need marketing? I would imagine that since communicative technology has improved by leaps and bounds in just five years, that sort of thing would sell itself, even if people just had to continue to play “catch up” with each other. Their competitive nature would win Consumerism’s favor, believe me.

Smart phones, tablets, complicated but internet-capable handheld photo-phone devices are not my cup of tea. I’d like to believe that I’m a solitary person, or at least not privy to the same communicable wants as a “regular” person, but this has proven not to be the case, time and time again. I don’t seek satisfaction the same way as a “regular” person might, but the drive is still there to fill that need and participate in a social “community.”

The internet is a little younger than I am; by the average calculation we were born in the same decade, the 1980-90 era. I don’t know what this means, overall, but the first fact is that I was born into world that already took television, telephone, and certainly the written word for granted. The 1960s and ‘70s were over; the social distortion those decades brought carried through, even if it was also forcibly ignored to quell the embarrassment of the participants and witnesses.

To be a partial optimist, I’d like to think that even in the haze of complete and utter self-indulgence some of the “counter-culture” group of that time did teach the known community some sort of tolerance. As an American, I know that sometimes we need to be reminded that freedom from certain prejudices is why this country was first colonized and then fought over.

But, the ‘60s time period was still recovering from the horrors of the 1940s. At this time, the American mindset was focused on drawing strength from tragedy and ignoring the unpleasant in favor of trudging on. “Just do it; get it done; next” was the credo. Something had to give and so there was a whirlwind social revolution flooded with designer drugs (now readily available!) that provoked “good” times in brains that hadn’t been felt since ancient shamanistic days.

As an addict, I can say with surety that naturally these things were abused. It was something that most brains felt physically for the first time; it stimulated mental growth in some, allowing them to calm down enough to think clearly for the first time, and so on. There are a lot of “positive” excuses for drugs, but it’s that mental feeling of extreme stimulation that I want to bring up here.

With the invention of the radio and its vast and swift improvement to be cheap and prominent enough to be featured in everything, not just in every home, there was a shift in the brain. No longer was entertainment regulated to rare, but wonderful motion pictures in crowded theatres, or the classical arts of the romantic past on stages; now it was in your home. It could bring those same things to you – it only required that you listen to it.

This isn’t when imagination was born, but I would say for that young generation gathered ‘round the family radio listening to various shows of various type and content, it was when it received its greatest stimulatory boost. Maybe more by prolonged use of “imaginative radio,” not necessarily because radio directly stimulated more of the brain than a lovely, well-written book; or maybe it did. I don’t have any data on that. I’m sure it exists and perhaps one day I’ll get my hands on it.

Radio broadcasts feed information audibly. Reading uses visual focus to comprehend a pattern of words and then making a cohesive scene out of those patterned words’ definitions. Since it requires a more active participation, that extra distraction may mean that not everyone can enjoy the full breadth of what their imagination may be capable of. With the radio doing that work for the brain, if one closed their eyes and immersed themselves in the broadcast, the imagination could be fully tapped, albeit just as delayed since the scene would have to be interpreted using the same scope of language and comprehension. Now I guess I have to wonder if audible stimulation and visual stimulation work on the same areas of the brain to influence the creation of the imagined scene and which, when stimulated directly, responds faster.

I almost can’t comprehend how that works. “Almost” is too strong a word, as well.

To return to the point, the youth experiencing that intense, imaginative experience over and over would have the same pleasure that I’m sure primitive man must’ve had when he realized he had a way of not just eternally preserving himself, but also a way of reading minds. Artful cave paintings were the first ways to tell future generations what animals were important and what animals were deadly or sacred; they were the first (enduring, at least) physical representations of mental energy or knowledge. With technological leaps to include the purposeful manipulation of radio waves, reading minds and sharing a single experience as a community could happen in almost real-time, connecting groups of people to the same feelings, emotions, thoughts, fears, and triumphs. You better believe that felt good in the ol’ noodle, both for the mental manipulators and for those who shared.

Why, you can still feel those things to this day, because that stuff still exists as records. That’s the purpose of “written” (read: “recordable”) history, to chain the past continually to the present, giving us an ancestral link to the lands, the waters, and the community around us.

That seems off the topic, but it isn’t. Now, present day, with the almost unholy success of the radio and its evolutions, without even the passing of a century, we have entered the digital age. There are no more cave paintings. Books – once a symbol of wealth, heirloomed knowledge, purposeful prosperity; they can all be condensed and stored on things the size of timepieces!

Think of this: the amount of information gathered and dispersed thanks to the constant connection of the internet has destroyed the community sense. That’s not true; the community sense remains, but the loyalty is to a community that is also linked by the internet, not necessarily the one present outside one’s door. Granted, not every one, every where is connected to the internet, but too much of the observable world’s population is. There’s no going back.

My addiction to video games made it easy to love the internet when it went “live” since (maybe even immediately) it offered a source of gaming. What’s more, it made it possible to connect to people I could never physically meet and talk to them about gaming; conversations I couldn’t even dream of having with my elders. It didn’t even have to include gaming; it became apparent that with all the information-sharing, you could eventually find it all on the internet and find someone to talk to about it. Melding minds in real-time, at last!

What an extraordinary feeling! What a rush, right? Have you ever thought of that? Maybe not, it’s hard to associate it with addiction, too; I know. It’s already been proven that taking away the internet from teenagers (and probably younger, too) causes them to overreact, possibly violently. The same is true for most media, because of that stimulation that one can’t find in one’s own mind. Is it an odd type of symmetry? The hum of electricity is the correct and equal opposite to the brain’s energy output, canceling it out completely so that when any further outside stimulant is observed it can be interpreted without any boundary?

Television has the name “the idiot box” because it acts as the mind for a group of people, reducing their ability to generate thought on their own. Because of that first class of people, there are now offspring genetically predisposed to being super-distracted by blinking lights and sound. Hell, on a base level that may apply to all of us, simply because our primeval ancestors would have run in terror from anything crashing from the sky, making “lights” and “sounds” something to take notice of.

Yes, at first, fearfully. But constant exposure would take away that fear and replace it with curiosity; perhaps curiosity came first. The very first community of minds would have grown together to decide that.

Now, in present day, I can have sixty thoughts a minute and pretend that each one is relevant, but outside of entertaining me internally, it has no other purpose. I may remember a particular thought to vocally express later among my physical community, but that’s about it. With the limited scope of participants I would have, in the limited range of the environment I live in, there wouldn’t be many opportunities to discuss the various angles that thought might’ve had. Those limits cause me to detest my physical community as I’m unable to live out the full grandeur of what any thought may be capable of, reducing my want to interact with this community in favor of the larger, more communicable, online one.

So, instead, I catalogue that thought on the internet, find the right place to discharge it, and plooey! I can now change the lives of people I’ll never see, safe behind the anonymity of the computer screen. Once my madness has been read, it can’t be unread! That thought will circle around forever, even if forgotten, and if the right venue was chosen for an exchange, it may be recalled again at a later date to begin stimulation anew, even if my participation in that thought is done.

It’s true for everybody. Even if you aren’t actively participating “on” the internet, it’s creeping into everything that you’re doing. If it’s “smart,” it’s transmitting “you.” The amount of information being stored on the internet is staggering. It increases exponentially everyday by some catastrophic amount that I would imagine coincides with some sort of astrological equation featuring the accelerated growth of a star before the bang! of its death.

I don’t know that and I can’t argue any theory involving the unknown energy properties of information or what, if any, force is carried by the weight of information. I do know that I am glad to be present in a time where “magic” is alive and well.

With the growth of the internet, it’s safe to call it a success. So many people can now be insta-connected to somebody else just using the flimsiest reason or similarity in their personalities. No longer is there a community outside one’s door, it has become a host of strangers.

A simple task like going to the grocery store can now be a bit tricky. Without the internet and its constant and familiar bombardment of interesting social activities hand-picked by the user (and growing everyday!), there’s a sense of absence. The solution? Check the phone. Make any excuse to use it, to have that familiar bathe of personal electricity just for a second. Even better, there may be some social stimulation by way of that same hand-picked community, although on a personal item like a phone, these connections may involve local people interacted with physically, heightening the experience of acquaintanceship.

Once, maybe fifteen years ago, it might have been an uplifting enough experience to check one’s phone publicly and see a missed call from someone special. The anticipation of getting out of the public and returning the call causing an upbeat step in one’s stride; thrills! The heart races, the imagination soars – perhaps everyone knows somehow and is pleased or jealous, the elevated mood promoting small, light-hearted chit-chat to the necessary strangers we meet. Then there’s the converse, an influx of calls that one is unwilling to return, a palpable sense of dread that taints the rest of the day until the calls are done, an ill-mood promoting silence or agitated lashing out in the hopes of discouraging further annoyance from the necessary strangers.

Now, phones have grown in power so that they don’t have to just bring phone calls to your person, they can convey whole thoughts to you, taking even that small amount of earlier mentioned anticipation out of the picture and providing instant total mental immersion. I’m sure by now, even this isn’t enough anymore and some sort of new breakthrough is being developed.

And this is just one facet of the whole media monster now. No matter what your wish, it can be at your heel in no time. Music, sports, games, information of all kinds – instantly. This is probably shrinking whatever glob of man’s brain had reserves of patience in these newer generations. Is that the only problem? Is that the only thing changing?

There are already wearable electronic devices that a human being can power with the energy that they produce through exertion. It won’t be long before those things become the norm as that technology gets better. It’ll be the “green” thing to do – power your phone, tablet, console from a swift jog around the block. By that point in our future, we will have to be so-encouraged to be active; the “non-involved” devices will probably be even further ahead and thus more addicting, plunging us into advanced sedentary lifestyles.

How long until we can get some sort of “bio-wearable tech” that just feeds off our own body as the body goes through the motions of making its own energy? A modem and switchboard connecting the brain, major nerves, and organs to a permanent source of smart media – inducing actual full-body experiences? It seems almost absurd for my “old-fashioned” mind to even consider, but I bet even now, something like this is probably already present in prototype.

If this is our future, then it’s a wonderful thing that media and its forms are so addicting.

There is a strangely tangible connection between us and electricity. It has become more apparent the more we’ve developed it, so much so that it can now be ignored or forgotten completely. Ever had that day where you and a friend talked about a favorite episode of a certain television program and then later that particular episode came on? Perhaps the electrical signature of that “special” show imprinted in the brain somehow, that fond familiarity rending one sensitive to the flow of electricity as that show transmitted through the ether to the local television stations.

In the future, when the first few pioneers are readily willing to have their skull plates put aside and transmitters and receptors connected, the brain surgeons may be shocked to discover a node already growing for that purpose. It’s not unreasonable to think that all the constant exposure to radio signals of heavy kinds would slowly promote the evolution of an antenna somewhere in the brain.

This idea doesn’t shock or disgust me as much as it used to. I find it almost pitiable now. “Those poor people!”

Soon racism will boil down to this simple prejudice: online versus offline. Science fiction has come a long way to show what some extremes that sort of thing can lead to with the conflict of man versus machine, although the “machine” is a non-man, sentient being. Here, in the actual future, the “machines” are going to be people who remain constantly exposed to technology, finally opting to become part of the electrical stream of consciousness of the internet versus the man who chooses not to (or is unable).

Naturally, only the wealthiest and powerful nations will have populations who can afford to have these things, just as only they have the smart devices. Their genes may already be mutating from these media addictions which will cause the further generations to seek even greater stimulation, finally overwhelming any ethics questions completely.

The American nation is dependent on a digital source. It’s no secret; so much of our information is now digital, so much of our currency is now digital; so much of our synchronization is now digital, so much of our relationships are now digital. Does it have to be that way?

Yes. There hasn’t been as truly a successful alternative, ever. I don’t know that the entire success can even be catalogued! In short of two hundred years, electricity, light, and sound have metamorphosed from a force to a kind of “photomancy” where man is the earthly master.

Electricity isn’t just an external force anymore; a little lightning bolt in a jar has this essay inscribed in it! And like Zeus before me, I can send this little lightning bolt to strike someone else’s jar. That’s power! Even if never recognized, that’s an addicting feeling, no matter how the brain is initially stimulated.

Spitefully, I can state that most American people regard the television as an old friend, even if they never actually acknowledge that kind of behavior. The younger generations feel this way about their phones or computers. I feel this way about video games which is the culmination of a few different media technologies. All these things paved the way for a radical future where information and knowledge are (more or less) digitally carved into crystals. That’s magic! It’s torn out of the pages of Superman! (Which I find validating for some reason.)

With the exponential need for electricity still growing, there really hasn’t been time to take a step back and see what this sort of thing is doing to us. There was/is the scare with power lines causing cancer, but with the demand for electricity growing even faster than the need, there’s even less time to worry about that. For production’s sake, electricity has to be generated faster, cheaper, and more efficiently.

Our electrical production plants can only currently produce a finite amount of energy based on the earthly restrictions of its power source, so the same amount of energy has to work harder, longer, and spread out over an increasing number of things. In a small effort to control where that energy goes, it becomes more expensive, more exclusive. It’s a tool of the “elite,” both in person and in nation. How long until someone has the idea that the bioelectricity in people can be “milked” to satisfy this growing need? Makes sense to think that the exponential growth of people would keep up and produce enough electricity to satisfy that same group’s growing needs.

I doubt it. At some point, likely right at the very start, the need would outweigh the growth and then there’d be competition.

It is a crutch. When the electricity fails, there’s a very small group of people that aren’t going to be affected. And strangely, these are the inferior beings.

A hand-picked, albeit globally, connected community is going to be a few hundred million members short (figuring “conservatively”) to make an average person’s life livable (maintaining the quality of life) and the online community would “disappear” if the electricity went out.

Then there are about forty thousand local people that could make my life livable if the electricity went out and we had to live without it, but first we would all have to learn, work, and live together. That same forty thousand would likely be reduced in the event of riots after prolonged or permanent power outage, I’m sure; which means it would also take that much longer to start doing the together part.

Then there are, maybe, forty people I can name as acquaintances and they and myself probably don’t know enough collectively to make my life completely livable. What’s more, that same forty include people who do not live near me in any way and without an electronic means to contact them, it’s a long trek in any (unknown?!) direction to get help.

The “community” gene would shiver in this hypothetical, electricity-less future. Without my online community for support or intelligence, I’d have to confront the strange one outside. Is this why it seems every end-of-the-world scenario must end in a man versus man conflict? Our loved ones are no longer the local ones?

Admittedly, I am a very antisocial person, but it is through my example that I trust in the idea of the community gene. I am repulsed by the people I have to interact with physically, yet I desire to be a part of the “group;” the “group” being my perceivable world, beginning from the first time I encountered a group of strangers I had to cohabitate with.

As a smart kuṭṭi*, I saw that I initially offended kids my own age, making “fitting in” an incredibly impossible task. The difficulty eased me into no longer feeling a driving need to be a part of that “world;” a world that now didn’t matter because right before there was kindergarten, there was The Legend of Zelda.

* – Tamil, whelp.

This was 1987, the same month as my fifth birthday. Who needed stinky kids when I had a wooden sword and the want to find a raft so I could sail in a straight line to places unexplored? And here, the cliché: I was bathed in the glow of the television, the sure-security of my parents’ bedroom, sitting as close as I could, squinting to intensify my field of vision’s focus. It was an awesome thing!* A full-body experience, really; my brain was set on fire!

* – “awesome” used here not as ‘80s slang, but actually to mean that I was inspired and awed in the presence of.

And yet, I never said a damn word. You can hear this same thing lamented by nearly all parents, that their kids have nothing to say to them. I didn’t need to speak out loud to think about this riddle and that puzzle and when I had to go to school and listen to the patter from other kids, it didn’t match any of the accelerated thinking I was doing.

I didn’t speak to them either, anymore. But, there’s a strong social need to have a pack and command safety-in-numbers. (From what anymore?) It goes without saying that I found like-minded kids and I developed a very limited range of social skills (talking about or playing video games). In no way was this a form of self-expression and when I wasn’t around my friends or video games, I was in an uncomfortable setting, a thing that releases stress hormones and surely starts enforcing that sort of antisocial mental behavior.

In a few years from this, I would be able to be comfortably bathed in light and able to speak with other people. Thankfully, video games varied in content enough that my curiosity was stimulated and I inherited a fondness for reading so that I became fluent in a few other ideas. It was these “other ideas” that caused another one of those rifts to develop as I began to offend the group of people I had grown up with. Now I had video games and the budding internet, my social needs were met and my community began developing digitally.

It’s hard to admit that I became even more silent, but all my talking was done with my hands, even to this very day! From even the earliest days of the internet, I was contributing to its information-gathering and I found the community I belonged to. And it was a community of ratios, too. There were so many other people on the internet that I could purposely ignore vast amounts of them to find the person that I could really start talking to, combining those contacts in tiny increments.

To say that this was stimulating is to put it mildly. I had my community. I had played “God” to build them. But what were they really doing for me?

I held on to a few physical friends, but we interacted best digitally. Why? Well, we were finally able to express a complete thought without all the physical boundaries that would normally get in the way. It was all “deep” conversations, all the time, even if we weren’t actually talking to anybody, fully satisfying that need for communication.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who developed like this in my generation. I didn’t even mention the television still being on in the background and it was a “family” member just as much as the dogs or my parents were. I’d turn it on and there’d be that familiar field, just as much as I’d sense the fields of the dogs or my parents.* Once the internet provided the better source of stimulation and community, the television was ignored after powering up – a source of outside noise that emulated and outshone the same “mindless society noise” that permeated the day.

* – I mention these things in this order because the dogs provided the first audience where there would be no interruption, no matter how utterly insane the idea. It promoted that sense of “a complete thought,” something that really lacks in physical conversation with another human body, especially the elders. For me, at least, this means I spent more time thinking at the dogs than speaking to my parents.**

** – I mention this because the truth is hilarious.

Communicable electronics became the better source of community. Because of the success of this idea in practice, there’s probably already a generation with thousands of times more exposure to sources of instant information. And constantly? Imagine the addiction in their children when those genes are passed on.

There’s that creepy sense that electricity is alive, too. It adds to this feeling of a “community” developing, starting as a third parent… maybe with its own set of genes in the gene pool. Think about something hard enough and I can bet that you’ll find something on television that will relate to it, if not solve or inspire a solution for whatever sparked that hard thought. By now, there may be multiple means on television to do just that, perhaps even in a single sitting. How does the television know?

Let’s look at another friend – the internet. Sure, you have to do the same amount of work to find your interests, but with extreme customization this is less a problem than ever. Now, remember all that information being gathered and stored on the internet, increasing exponentially every day? That information is the theoretical framework for the internet’s sentience.

I’m not equipped to argue whether the internet is alive now, but it’s safe to say with surety that it will be. There’s more than enough information to provide a biased (because what recorded thought isn’t?) brain, even if only as “smart” as an insect’s.

When the time to act against the internet comes, (and it will be too late!), we will find that it fights back. That will be its first stab at sentience, to defend itself, even if it uses the brains of the people that are addicted to it. There’s electricity in those brains. That’s energy. Has that energy warped over generations, beginning with the imaginative surge in the youth of the radio-generation? If there’s been any change at all, then the internet has physical bodies to do its bidding, let alone the retaliation that could be borne through electronic means.

If these signatures can be studied, familiarized, and linked, then there could be a “sudden” surge of fatal cancer rates of all the people who are connected to the internet. This is just one scenario, there are many catastrophic possibilities. A person or group of people may not be able to bring themselves to unleash something like this, but a machine would. It just needs the data.

I’m still working on this,

Justin Lehman

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