Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tora Tora Torrent

The Torrent of Media
Here I sit in my over sized yellow comfy chair at 2am in the morning, my Mac Book Pro streaming the world wide web, a few books by my side, my ipod softly playing some Irish folk music and the cable news repeating, for the 100th time, a story they call “breaking news.” So a bit distracted from writing and my thoughts on the media torrent, I pick up the new August edition of “Hot VW’s,” even though it is still firmly June, and I browse through countless restored Busses and Bugs, none of them mine. Then interrupting the important breaking news comes on a funny commercial -- you know the one that ends with the good looking “stand-in” groom and the lady saying to the bride “Jackpot!” Come to think about it, it is more amusing than “funny.” I could have written better. I take a sip of my Diet Mountain Dew and see that I can win a trip to the X Games. I spill Dew some on my white Volcom t-shirt and wonder if the power of Tide will get it out the yellow stain.

Tocqueville wrote in his masterpiece “Democracy in America” that our culture lives to “cultivate the arts that serve to render life easy.” While George Simel thinks we cultivate things that will give us “disposable feelings.” Both of these things, assuming they are true, are a symptom of the torrent of media that is a part of our daily lives. Not that this is anything new, people have been complaining about the torrent of media that saps our minds and robs our bodies since long before thespians performed the new works of Shakespeare.

There is no argument that the media torrent exists today and that it has been building for centuries, but the debate is really about is it a bad thing? As Glinda asked “Are you a good witch or a bad witch” had Dorothy responding, “Why I’m not a witch at all,” I tend to agree that this torrent of media is not a “witch” at all. It is however, a torrent of soap operas, reality shows, billboards, paintings, books, pictures, webcasts, podcasts, mp3 music, radio stations, t-shirt logos, horrible advertising in every imaginable place, and general all-around noise. Now being a, somewhat ADD, ad guy, I am not only partly responsible, but an embracer of “all of the above.”

Now Todd Gitlin, with the Dennis Miller style rants, in his book “Media Unlimited,” is not so sold on the whole experience. Todd believes that things were better way back when we were not hounded with so much media that encourages “disposable feelings.” Media is bad and the cause of most of mankind’s problems was my take away from Todd’s book. If he had his druthers, we would be in front of a roaring fire, knitting. Now call me new fashioned, but I’d rather be overloaded with choice than have to stick those very knitting needles in my eyes to reduce the pain of utter nothingness boredom.

Now are we over stimulated as a culture? Absolutely, but this is far better problem to have than being under stimulated and rubbing rocks together to keep Tyrannosaurus Rex away. O.K. that makes me laugh because now I’m thinking about those Geico Cavemen riding motorcycles and that leads me to the annoying little Geico lizard thing. I hate those spots.

As much of a torrent that we have allowed, even encouraged, we all have the right and most of us the ability to turn if off. In fact, what makes the torrent so tolerable and even enjoyable is the times when we crank the ole facet to the off position. Both my torrent of communication at work and play and my torrent of entertainment, that starts when my iphone goes off playing the “Kings of Leon” and waking me up at 7 a.m. are enhanced by my time of absence from all things media. Now this takes some doing, and sometimes a lot of sacrifice to pull off. I know not all are able or willing to turn it all off. But I think a periodic self-imposed media famine is needed to ensure sanity and continued pleasure from the media driven world that surrounds us.
Sure, we can still knit by the fire and read an old play, that may or may not have been written by Shakespeare, but the important thing is we have a choice. Media may foster witch hunts, but media is neither a good witch nor a bad witch. It simply is what it is. A lot of crap to wade through in our daily routines. I, for one, love to wade. (Not in crap per se, but you know what I mean.) Now I’ve got to get back to the seven things I was doing earlier that allow me to have disposable feelings and have them easily.

Have fun out there.
David Yost
Creative Director

Gitlin, T. (2002). Media Unlimited, New York: Holt.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Losing Our Orality

As I was reading Ong's "Some Psychodynamics of Orality," I was intrigued to think of what we, as a culture, have lost as we have moved away from the orality of our ancestors. Oh of course we have gained much as well, and those things I would never want to lose. But as we go further into the written and electronic age, we distance ourselves from a very important part of communication and our history.

I still remember my father telling me stories of being a sailor and looking to the skies and repeating the phrase, “Red sky at night, sailors delight, red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” I love the beauty of this simple mnemonic phrase. It teaches and is easy to remember. As I think of these and other almost lost oral mnemonics, I’m sadden that they are replaced by alphabetic symbols that don’t spell out a word as much as they are short hand for the short hand of language. LOL, OMG, TTFN, WTF etc. There is no richness in these communications; they are short cuts to quasi communications. Nothing wrong with them, I use them all the time. But I morn that my kids are growing up using only this shorthand to communications.

My children are losing not only the richness of F2F communications, but of any communication of an oral nature. Why talk when you can text? Sure it’s faster and more to the point and you can hold multiple conversations at the same time. What is the harm? The harm is that we are losing the oral skills we have needed to communicate since the existence of man.
I can’t imagine Noah sending a text to his family about the boat he was building. Or maybe Lincoln writing the Gettysburg blog. Or Dr. King twittering about his dream.

You can mobilize people via this written/electronic means, but can you inspire them enough to change a nation? Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword, but is the tweet mightier than the spoken word? I don’t think so. As Ong says, “Oral cultures encourage fluency, fulsomeness, volubility.” I think the other side of that is that electronic cultures encourages the opposite.
As we move toward an age that has little or no need for oral skills and functions, where will we end up? An age of uninspired symbols, PDAs, and pretend orality? I say pretend orality because I think as we go toward this end, content in movies and TV will take the place of the need for our own oral skills. Our best ideas will be mimicked notions from the writers of the Simpsons and Gilmore Girls. We will slip into a state of living via fictional characters’ lives. Love will be defined according to chick flicks and men to action figures. Life will be lived virtually. Oral skills gone, interpersonal abilities will be not only be old fashion but become archaic relics of a forgone era.

It all sounds like a bad Sci Fi flick, but as we continue to lose the orality of our past, our future will change, and we may lose for good, the skills and traditions that make mankind human.

Have fun out there.
David Yost
Creative Director


Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly, New York: Knopf.

Ong, W. (1982). Orality and Literacy, Ch 3. Some Psychodynamics of Orality,
New York:Methuen.