Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Deliberately Slow Crawl

It is clear to me that quantity has become the divine wife of the corporate deity through which we measure our success as a nation – and as a world – even as a model of existence itself.
     It is not the quality of the product that punctuates the national conversation, rather it is the number of units sold, the dollars spent in its production, the stock figures reported, the blood pressure of the shareholders.
     It is the overseas demand that gets our attention, the accessories available we read about – the sainted validation of the version we have reached together, the umpteenth update in a deliberately slow crawl to the edge of financial ruin, when the minders of the store will have achieved the ultimate form of merchandise – the invisible, the intangible, the priceless – the eminently replaceable – Oceania in its current form, a bottle of air going for a buck.

Think about it.
     Are we not already well on our way to a commercial brand of faith, one so defined by the mediums of its transmission? Aren’t we quite proudly, and non-ironically, a Pepsi or Coke drinker? A PC or a Mac? Home of the Big Mac or The Whopper? The Dodgers or the Yankees?

First we learned to worship the newspaper – an intangible product applied to pulp, the heroic newsmen, the spinning headlines, Boss Tweed falling out of favor, Little Nemo falling out of bed – then we became enraptured of the radio – another intangible filtered through plastic and metal and wood, charged with electricity, home of The Shadow, Amos ‘n’ Andy, Tommy Dorsey and Captain Midnight – then we began our pious devotion to television – also filtered through plastic and metal and wood, and now plasma, bringing us Texaco Theater, The Honeymooners, Hollywood Squares – on to our current supplication to the computer – a similar, if entirely different level of the inferno – a device through which, by means of a stream of electromagnetic particles, the world has become as flat as a minister’s beer, every Twitter the Facebook of tomorrow, every Facebook the MySpace forgotten – every MySpace the Friendster that elicits only a silly grin – an outdated haircut parading the mall.

The computer is the holy son of the infinite number, the mad mathematician who begat the Internet, a roadway of communication built upon the architecture of the newspaper, the magazine, the book, the record, the film, the television – an insatiable monster that must grow to survive, devouring all three-dimensional media quivering in its trenchant path, Jack Kirby’s Galactus pounding his utensils on a cosmic tablecloth.

Where goes the means by which our culture talks to itself, when it has all been compressed into the field of lights standing erect on your desk?
     The Internet is servile, yet cold, immediate, but distant – intimate – yet utterly impersonal – the mother-in-law of your marriage to computer technology.
     Like a hug from a man with artificial arms – no matter the emotion – the delivery will always be something other than the cradle of blood-warmed limbs – like winning a dance with a paper Marilyn Monroe.

Do you wonder how many possible handshakes the Internet has eliminated during the last decade, how many “Thank Yous” and “Have a Nice Days” it has silenced?
     The communal marketplace has taken a direct hit, storefronts now commonly designated by their physical or non-physical existence, the latter welcoming customers lost to the former, where even the manned register is on its way out, replaced by swiping cards and screens of running data – a sea of virtual numbers crashing upon the banks of commerce – hidden costs rising like Poseidon to upset the boat.

What little can’t be delivered to our homes at the click of a mouse?
     A haircut, a dental visit, a late night bag of pretzels?
     One final beer, a tightly-rolled joint, a transactional screw in a Red Roof Inn?

It is through this portal of instant gratification that the quality associated with the tangible – with having – has become secondary to the item’s availability, a state of affairs that has seemingly trickled down to products as operationally-benign as disposable razors and flashlights – the cheap choir of the dollar store now going for a song.
     How impatiently we wait for the latest edition of what we have, already willing to concede its shortcomings, storing the now-irrelevant version in the garage or attic, ready to join the electronic landfills of this racing age – pocket calculators buried beneath microwaves, lying under modems and monitors – the prehistoric bones of circuit boards and memory cards mingling with cellular phones.
     What sort of a message is this sending to the business world, other than produce, produce, produce, always have something new to offer, and make each revision of form and function an event above all others – selling us Shakespeare as soap opera, soap as perfume.