I’m taking a digital cultures course this semester where one of our ongoing assignments requires us to reflect on our readings by providing real-life applications in the form of short, two-page papers. So here you go, more blog content!
(from September 8)
Week 2: Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy
When we discussed the domestication of technology and the social shaping that goes along with it during the last class, the concept struck a particular chord with me. For one, a technology’s domestication is an idea that is widely understood, when explained as a phenomenon that occurs when technology which “once seemed marvelous and strange, capable of creating greatness and horror, is now so ordinary as to be invisible” (Baym 45). Many individuals can understand how machines in this day in age quickly reach a point where they lose their sense of wonderment. When it starts to reach that point of invisibility, however, there is a striking amount of people who completely forget what the technology actually accomplishes on a fundamental level. This kind of reaction, that often appears when observed as if we are spoiled, shows not only how people are socially shaped by this technology, but how these same individuals place certain expectations on the now-widely accepted technology as well. As far as media examples of social shaping and domestication of technology go, I am reminded of how this public observation of how modern man accepts domesticated technology made one comedian’s appearance on a late-night talk show go viral very quickly a few years ago.
When comedian Louis CK appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien back in October 2008, one of his topics of discussion resonated very strongly with many viewers, in what became known online as “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” (YouTube). CK’s opinions and anecdotes were especially poignant because of the then-recent economic collapse, reminding people of how lucky we are to live in a world with such splendid devices and technologies. When noting how people complain regarding how slowly their iPhones can retrieve information at times, he blasts “It’s going to space – can you give it a second to get back from space?” While many of us constantly carry around cell phones as if it were attached to us, we do not often stop and consider how the information is actually transmitted and received. However, most amusing in CK’s analysis of how technology spoils us is when he reflects on how technology used to be and its social effects back then. When it comes to the rotary dial telephone, he remembers how “You actually would hate people with zeroes in their numbers, because it was more…(mimics dialing).” That comment in particular drew strong mental ties to the Marvin reading, particularly regarding how those telephone practices become domesticated for its time. In what is rarely and tersely used in hotels in this time period, to think that there used to be “hello girls [who] often acted as personal alarm clocks […with] friendly, bordering on suggestive, relations exclusively between the telephone girl and her male customers” (Marvin 84) is astounding. Just like how people used to think evil thoughts of others with specific phone numbers, men used to have ties with women that acted as their alarm clock – actions that both appear bizarre in retrospect, but were totally acceptable and domesticated for that time.
Whether it’s Baym, Marvin, or even Louis CK, every one grows up with technology of some sort for their time period. Similarly, every one can understand the phenomenon of technological domestication. It is often a good practice to remember what the technology we live with actually accomplishes, so that we are not socially shaped into individuals who don’t appreciate such things. This is quite the tough task, however, as the comedian puts it, “we live in an amazing, amazing world and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don’t care.”
Baym, Nancy. Personal Connections in the Digital Age. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010.
“Everythings Amazing & Nobodys Happy.” Video. YouTube. checkoutmytrip. 2009. Web. 8 Sep 2011. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-Gk.
Marvin, Carolyn. When Old Technologies Were New. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.