Innovation vs. Information Overload (Revisited)

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Louis CK’s eloquent rant on smartphones quickly went viral and is already considered an instant classic.

We should appreciate the opportunity to engage in this debate: are our electronic devices, so miraculous on so many levels, doing more harm than good?

I recently had lunch with a former professor and he commented that his students have, in recent years, had a difficult time paying attention. He has taught for over three decades, so his perspective is at once informed and somewhat alarming. He wondered how the “plugged-in” generation will adapt to the workforce. Would young adults in, say, the service industry, find it liberating or torturous to be forbidden access to their mobile devices?

There are no easy answers here, of course. Over the last century, we’ve heard pessimistic voices of experience predict the ways phonographs, then televisions, then video games, and then smartphones would impair our ability to concentrate, or even connect on a basic human level. To be sure, it is always a complicated equation: for every technological advancement there are obvious, even legitimate concerns.

Personally, I don’t think the primary issue here involves devices so much as ubiquity of content, a very 21st Century development. Whether intended—or dismissed—as forms of enlightenment or distraction, there is no doubt that we have quick, easy access to data that would have been inconceivable only a decade ago. Information overload may seem an archaic concept, but it is a very real, mounting concern.

The idea of us doing more things with less time, particularly in the workplace, is not a new phenomenon. Our proclivity for compulsive behavior, be it on the job or at play, is skewered to excellent effect in this old skit.

This had to be made in the early ‘90s because it nails the last vestiges of the old world order: the phones, the fax machine, the suspenders and especially the rolodex. This skit could not be set up the same way today for the simple reason that no office looks like that today. And while it’s amusing to see this harried office manager acting like the proverbial mouse on the wheel, it is disconcerting to consider we are, arguably, operating at a more frenetic pace today, and we scarcely need to move a muscle. All that activity occurs in one centralized place: the monitor of whatever device we are using. The activities this agitated worker bee is engaging in (still called multi-tasking, one presumes) are all occurring now; they merely appear more innocuous because they are trapped in electronic ether, a direct line between our devices and our brains.

Suddenly it’s slightly more unnerving to consider that if, like myself, it’s not uncommon for you to have more than ten windows open at any given time, along with Outlook, a spreadsheet and one or two documents, perhaps music playing, you are doing more than we are accustomed, or capable of doing. This is all happening, all day, inside our heads, and is this not a more intense—and damaging—type of information overload? It’s no wonder if, like myself, at least once a day you open a new window to look something up, get momentarily sidetracked (say, you see the window you’d previously opened and remember you need to finish that task or knock out that email) and then, when you turn back to the welcome screen for a fresh window, have no earthly idea what is was you meant to look for.

Perhaps we should be concerned less about gadgets and the ways we have managed, in these interesting and uncertain times, to outsmart ourselves into being busier every single day. Is this a trend we can slow down? Should we? Or are we advancing our evolution, fast-tracking an ability to connect, communicate and yes, commiserate, in a fashion previously unimagined? Most likely, it need (or should) not be an either/or; what we should try to avoid is blaming innovation and technology for symptoms and problems we’ve created all by ourselves.

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R.I.P. Joan Rivers

jr

I may have more to say about Joan Rivers. I may not. What is there to say (other than: if you want to know what drove her, what gave her joy and what drove her –hint, it wasn’t praise, it was fear– check out the documentary A Piece of Work) that everyone doesn’t already know? Not sure if any other contemporary comedian, or artist, put it all out there with such aplomb. Her life was her work and vice versa: she was never not “on” and she truly went out the way she wanted: working, pushing, not resting, never satisfied.

For me, this clip was a revelation, and it serves (better than some random clip from her stand-up career, no matter how consistently satisfying, groundbreaking and hilarious so much of it was) to summarize everything about her, her profession and her persona.

It’s all in here: a life; a vocation, a curious obsession distilled into 2 minutes: the humor, the sadness, the fear, the drive, the loneliness, the courage, the ambition, the absurdity. (also: Louis CK is a genius). R.I.P. Joan, you were always beautiful in all the important ways.

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Innovation vs. Information Overload

Louis CK’s eloquent rant on smartphones quickly went viral and is already considered an instant classic.

We should appreciate the opportunity to engage in this debate: are our electronic devices, so miraculous on so many levels, doing more harm than good?

I recently had lunch with a former professor and he commented that his students have, in recent years, had a difficult time paying attention. He has taught for over three decades, so his perspective is at once informed and somewhat alarming. He wondered how the “plugged-in” generation will adapt to the workforce. Would young adults in, say, the service industry, find it liberating or torturous to be forbidden access to their mobile devices?

There are no easy answers here, of course. Over the last century, we’ve heard pessimistic voices of experience predict the ways phonographs, then televisions, then video games, and then smartphones would impair our ability to concentrate, or even connect on a basic human level. To be sure, it is always a complicated equation: for every technological advancement there are obvious, even legitimate concerns.

Personally, I don’t think the primary issue here involves devices so much as ubiquity of content, a very 21st Century development. Whether intended—or dismissed—as forms of enlightenment or distraction, there is no doubt that we have quick, easy access to data that would have been inconceivable only a decade ago. Information overload may seem an archaic concept, but it is a very real, mounting concern.

The idea of us doing more things with less time, particularly in the workplace, is not a new phenomenon. Our proclivity for compulsive behavior, be it on the job or at play, is skewered to excellent effect in this old skit.

This had to be made in the early ‘90s because it nails the last vestiges of the old world order: the phones, the fax machine, the suspenders and especially the rolodex. This skit could not be set up the same way today for the simple reason that no office looks like that today. And while it’s amusing to see this harried office manager acting like the proverbial mouse on the wheel, it is disconcerting to consider we are, arguably, operating at a more frenetic pace today, and we scarcely need to move a muscle. All that activity occurs in one centralized place: the monitor of whatever device we are using. The activities this agitated worker bee is engaging in (still called multi-tasking, one presumes) are all occurring now; they merely appear more innocuous because they are trapped in electronic ether, a direct line between our devices and our brains.

Suddenly it’s slightly more unnerving to consider that if, like myself, it’s not uncommon for you to have more than ten windows open at any given time, along with Outlook, a spreadsheet and one or two documents, perhaps music playing, you are doing more than we are accustomed, or capable of doing. This is all happening, all day, inside our heads, and is this not a more intense—and damaging—type of information overload? It’s no wonder if, like myself, at least once a day you open a new window to look something up, get momentarily sidetracked (say, you see the window you’d previously opened and remember you need to finish that task or knock out that email) and then, when you turn back to the welcome screen for a fresh window, have no earthly idea what is was you meant to look for.

Perhaps we should be concerned less about gadgets and the ways we have managed, in these interesting and uncertain times, to outsmart ourselves into being busier every single day. Is this a trend we can slow down? Should we? Or are we advancing our evolution, fast-tracking an ability to connect, communicate and yes, commiserate, in a fashion previously unimagined? Most likely, it need (or should) not be an either/or; what we should try to avoid is blaming innovation and technology for symptoms and problems we’ve created all by ourselves.

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Revisiting Bruce’s Barbaric Yawp, via Louis CK

This righteous, eloquent and not uncomplicated rant by National Treasure Louis CK has, rightly, been getting a lot of buzz this week.

I’m actually working on a separate piece discussing some of the notions Louis CK (who, in case you weren’t already aware, is a GENIUS) addresses, so stay tuned. The issue of smartphones (in particular) and technology (in general) is one thing, but CK’s diversion into an appreciation of “Jungleland” warrants more mention. Fortunately I already did my homework here.

For now, this provides an excellent opportunity to revisit –and celebrate– what might be the best moment from The Boss on the best song from his best album.

The original piece, entitled “The Boss, The Big Man and the Best Rock Song of the ’70s” can be found in its entirety HERE.

Here is where I celebrate The Big Man:

3.54 – 6.13. That is the second it begins and the second it ends: the sax solo that follows what is possibly Springsteen’s finest (and certainly most blistering) guitar solo. We’re talking about “Jungleland”, needless to say. It is a perfect song, closing an album that also begins with a perfect song (“Thunder Road”).

Here is the song.

Here is my take.

And there it is: after a couple of tentative years as an apprentice, this is when Bruce became The Boss, and regardless of how you feel about everything that followed, the work here sufficiently secures his status for all time.

Which brings us back to the Big Man. His contributions (as a presence on stage as much as a player on the songs) going forward were always well-received, but it’s debatable whether he ever blew again like he does on Born To Run. And on the album’s centerpiece, possibly Springsteen’s finest –and most important– moment, Clemons does his finest work. “Jungleland” employs the epic, almost operatic (“Man there’s an opera out on the Turnpike”) strategy Springsteen developed on the first two albums (think “Lost In The Flood”, “Spirit in the Night”, “Incident on 57th Street” and “New York City Serenade”), but this is at a whole other level. From the languid, strings and piano introduction to the gradual build-up  (“As secret debts are paid/Contacts made, they vanish unseen), to the aforementioned guitar solo (3.00 – 3.27), the tension, at once joyous and foreboding, builds and then, instead of crashing, it crests. Enter Clemons. 3.54 – 6.13: the solo. It is extended, totally in charge and almost indescribably affecting. He wails, establishes a groove and then (right around the 5.43 mark) goes to that other place. Finally, just as the strings and piano take over, that last gasp, like a light going out or a life being saved. It is his moment, and in addition to being the best thing he ever did, it ranks as one of the best things anyone has done in a rock song.

All of this sets up the denouement: while the lyrics (some of Springsteen’s very best) and the majestic piano cascades, courtesy of Roy Bittan, finish what they started,  it’s up to the singer to sell this cautionary tale (“In the tunnels uptown/The Rat’s own dream guns him down) turned climactic cry of endurance. And sell it he does. The song could end after the final lines (including the immortal couplet “Man the poets down here don’t write nothing at all/They just stand back and let it all be”), and it would be a tour de force. But as the piano and strings begin to dance in what seems an obvious outro, Springsteen becomes a rock deity. 8.45 – 9.22: those 37 seconds, a wordless cycle of soulful screams, articulate everything Springsteen had spent three complete albums building up to; in that final cry we hear anguish, anger and above all, resolve. There is no fear, not anymore. He has arrived and after this song, there is no chance he could be ignored and even less chance anyone could ever take away his crown.

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