Thursday, May 12, 2011


It is getting to be "beach time" here in North Carolina.  The snowbirds have begun their southern trek.  Houseboats bloom on the Intracoastal Waterway and RVs swarm the parking lots along NC 12.  The gentle aroma of sunscreen competes with the magnolias.  For many it will be a summer at the beach very similar to those I remember from my own childhood summers, spent along the beaches of Lake Michigan.  Roasted hot dogs, gritty soda, sandy samores, sand in the pages of my book, sand in my swimsuit, well, sand everywhere.  But in at least one way a summer at the beach will be different for today's children: the buckets have changed.

I remember building sandcastles with the one bucket that came with the pail.  You pack the damp sand into the bucket, flip it upside down, give it a thump, and "voila!" there was a tower, or part of a wall, or whatever.  You took the shovel and carved it into the necessary "castle element." You drizzled turrets with a wet sand slurry.  I have since learned that such an approach is completely passé.  The contemporary beach child has a set of forms that would make Frank Lloyd Wright envious.  Turrets and towers, crenelated walls; you name it, it is there in their Super Sandcastle Set.  The new containers allow them to shape sand in ways I never imagined.

The same is obviously true of the Internet.  No, really.  Think about it, the Internet changes the shape of our communicative world. It provides new containers, new molds, for culture, society, art and politics.   My recent polemic against smartphones was not so much an attack on the "container" itself, .i.e. the smart phone.  Instead I was objecting to the notion that we are trying to stuff all the sand on the beach into that one container and when we turn it upside down we don't always get what we wanted; rather we get what the container is capable of producing.

Consider if you will FOMO.  I had no idea what FOMO meant until recently when I read an article in The NY Times that informed me that FOMO was text-speak for "Fear Of Missing Out."  And what, you might well ask, does Fear Of Missing Out mean?  It is, the article informed me, a new 21st century anxiety.  The syndrome appears to be driven by social media messages that shoulder their way onto our various screens, touting all the wonderful things currently filling the lives of our "contacts".  The author, it seems, had just settled down for a rainy night of cocooning - popcorn and Netflix movie at the ready.  But then her phone started flashing.  "Status updates" began pouring in from her friends:  "We're out here at Fancy Place!"  "Awesome Group!"  "Food is Wonderful!" "Killer Cocktails!" and, of course the unspoken message, "Anyone Who Isn't Here is a Loser!"

She was immediately besieged with FOMO.  But she fought back.  While not able to make the ultimate sacrifice and actually turn her phone off, she did turn it over so she couldn't see the messages flashing.  She seized control of her technology, tossed Orville in the microwave, and fired up Netflix.

Point is, we are sold communication technology on the presumption that it will make our lives better and, when we keep the upper hand, it often does.  The problem is that our new culture containers often drop unsuspected and distorted forms out onto the sandcastles of our lives.  The author wanted her technology to deliver Netflix and comfort, but FOMO tried to sneak in.  Some degree of FOMO is probably unavoidable as we use technology to keep us connected to life.  My iPad just beeped to warn me that I had a dentist appointment in 15 minutes.  Plenty of time to call, apologize, and reschedule. But if I want my technology to do those things for me, I have to be ready for a little FOMO and keep plenty of popcorn in the cupboard.  Or you could just text back "IBBI!"  Oh, you haven't heard of IBBI?  Not surprising - I just made it up. It stands for "Irritated By Banal Intrusions."

So when someone posts: "Changed the color of my toenail polish!" or "OMG! Little Tommy spit up on the cat!" just shoot back: IBBI!

Maybe we could make an app for that .  .  .  .

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