High school was when I first heard the term Domesday-book- and of course we quickly changed the title to Doomsday book and instead of being a record of survey of William the Conqueror’s holdings in England, it became the foretelling of oblivion- like the book of Revelations, (A prophecy, not a foretelling of doom- indeed the word Apocalypse means a revelation or unveiling- the end of the world was added later) and it seems this need for despair has become a necessary transition for all great bodies of surveying. As the Domesday book became the dooms day book- so to the internet has gone from being a place of accumulated knowledge to a spreader of doom. This is noted in the recent article in Wired, “Doomscrolling Is Slowly Eroding Your Mental Health” while we can use internet to find the worlds wonder, information and connect to one another, we seem to be dedicated to only seeing the worst of things, passing joy on our way to despair or as Joan Didion wrote “Slouching toward quietus“. We start our day with the worlds despair from the night before, and news amalgamators are pleased to oblige with the If it bleeds, it leads, point of view. Really, what is so important that we need minute to minute coverage. When I cant find my glasses or don’t know how to cover next months electric bill, I seldom find the neighbors in rapt attention (even if I were to make them aware of the situation) needing moment to moment updates. Perhaps putting things on the screen is the same as putting them on a pedestal. They become important and necessary while our own lives go on as drab and unexciting. Yet what makes their situation so different than ours? As Oscar Wilde once said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”, perhaps now more than ever we need our eyes to the light.
At first I was offended. An artist friend of mine had started doing a series of sketches called, “is Stupid” which was a loose sketch of one of his friends with their name written out followed by the words- is stupid. As he was a recognized artist, I had hoped that a small bit of immortality might be obtained through being portrayed in his work, alas, that was not to be so. However, while the internet was not immortalized by his work, it never the less, is stupid.
When we educate children we teach them at best to think for themselves, to find answers but more than that to value the question. To look at a situation and find ways for themselves to solve it, to overcome the obstacle and to solve it at least and at best in a graceful and beautiful manner. That is knowledge. Answers are a the doorway to a closet while a true answer presents more questions and greater growth. The simple act of questioning invites growth, makes us look at things differently and see things that are not yet there. The internet is a great tool but unfortunately it can only bring us answers, what already is. It will only bring us fish when what we are need now, more than ever, are more people figuring out how to fish.
As I read the recent New York Times article, “Economic Pain Will Persist Long After Lockdowns End” I found myself thinking of a song, “You Need Us” by one of my favorite TV bands, The Honeybees….In short the article details how the recent plague has effected the economy, which segments and how they might recover. However a glance at the stock market seems to have shrugged this recent unpleasantness off and is ready to resume its bullish bacchanal it makes one wonder where the true reality lies. Nearly 1/3rd of the country can be without a paycheck but why be concerned. While unemployment soars so does the Dow Jones. While we close many businesses as non essential, it begs the question, what is essential to this new economy. With the possibility of robots and drones doing many “essential” features how long will we need the rest of the work force. Will this virus’s relocation of assets also reassign much of our workforce to obscurity? Will most of us still be needed?
It seems that at one point you become a curator for others. You maintain a well lit place for others to come back to, to recover and to leave, refreshed and renewed. In this modern mid plague world this seems to be more important than ever. That we have a place to retreat to, a home, a tall parapet where we can gaze out upon the world, be it real or electronic. Some of us will be the curators of those spaces for our children, lovers, siblings or friends. That space too, may be physical or electronic, a home, or a website or a shared place to chat. As you keep your social media account, please use it as a place for light, there are enough people flinging mud or useless gripes. More light, please. As John Donne once said, They also serve who stand and wait,” we also serve who maintain a light in the darkness, a warm hearth and an open heart, we also serve. May we all be blessed, those who keep the light burning in the darkness and those who stay awake, in the dark, looking for the light- know the morning will come.
There is a song with the lyric, “everything old is new again”. With that in mind, the post of a few weeks ago seems strangely relevant. In the post, The Perfect Consumer, we proposed, with tongue firmly in cheek that this current plague might be the perfect way for asset reassignment, with old people dying off to create more housing for younger people, freeing up assets they would use such as health care and benefits pent up there for revitalizing the economy and for the greater good. Well, in saying of Karl Marx, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce”, what seems to have started as a tragedy now has become farce. While we joked about a silver lining in this rising, though still small, death toll, others leap to similar conclusions wrapped in a shroud of truth. Once respected commentator, Britt Hume opined, that it was entirely reasonable that the elderly would want to die to save the economy and that perhaps we should override DNR’s (do not resuscitate) orders on the dying as to keep the resources available for those still alive. One can only wonder if such precautions would be taken if the thrust of the pandemic were the working poor or minorities. Alas, we have wars and drafts to take care of that issue. Perhaps that is a plague for another time.
It has been with measured alarm we watched the stock market fall in reaction to the corona virus and hearing the talking heads wringing their hands and gnashing their teeth at the effect the virus had in business, China and its long term effect on the supply chain. It seems that as the effects go ripping through the value of the stock market, that some economists are slow in learning the lessons that that this pandemic provides. At this writing it seems that the main victims of the virus, at least in China, are the elderly and the infirm. While this does have social implications, one can not ignore the economic consequences. Consider the loss of the elderly population in the United States, and the possible savings with the decrease of the aging economy- the amount in savings on social spending for this population could help decrease the federal debt as well as freeing up necessary housing for younger people with a greater work, and therefore tax paying life ahead of them. Also think of the jobs created with burying all the dead. In fact if we really wanted to ensure our economic stability, we should do away with leaving the dependency of economic success in the hands of mere mortals. Indeed, we should create consumer machines to take the job of consuming out of the hands of inconsistent people so that corporations could not only create products, they could create and program the robots that use them. A perfect closed loop in the ever upward spiral, unsullied by a messy and unpredictable consumer.
While here at the Universe, we try to keep a Janus face looking forward and backward, we are often shocked by the lack of perspective that we see in current “innovations”. Case in point, when we saw the article in quoted in Wired, about how colleges are now taking bets on the future earnings of their students to leverage their college costs against their potential earnings. In short, investors—including wealthy alumni, a hedge fund, and the Purdue Research Foundation—would front her $50,000 to cover two years of college. In exchange, she’d owe them 14.8 percent of whatever income she earned in the eight years after she graduated. “Bravo for the return to indentured servitude” our illustrious Mr Christian, cried when he heard the news, nothing the 18th century form of slavery wherein someone would work for a number of years at little or no salary for an determined period of time. While under this new system, one would only forfeit a percentage of their wages, in this case, a pittance of 14.8 %,- a bargain at twice the price! Imagine, putting your college education on your credit card- yes you get an education but at what price? How do we decide what ones potential would be? Why not have an open bidding system with the students with the most perceived potential can receive the money we think they might deserve. A sort of educational future market. We can only hope this is the death rattle of a outmoded educational system that takes all and gives little. How else can we keep the university system propped up to teach skills that are no longer needed in the coming economy? Will we need to tie students to the masts to avoid this sirens song of financial ruin or will they have awakened enough to know that what the new frontier needs is those who dance to a music being sung anew.
While driving to work the other morning and listening to Strauss Marches, I was reminded of a conversation with Richard Pearlman, a well know opera director, we were discussed an operetta I was singing at the time. I remember him saying, this is a subtle aria, you need to dig deep and mine for each small emotional change and make the most of each of these moments. With a world of information at our fingertips, perhaps like singing that operetta aria, we need to be like miners. We have a whole world of information at our fingertips and yet we are happy to feast on the low hanging fruit. We are willing to believe what ever we read and not be bothered with digging a bit deeper into the story, the claim or even the photograph. We gnash our teeth in outrage when we think that some foreign power might be influencing our elections and yet we are reticent to take on the responsibility to investigate these claims. We claim to want gold but are unwilling to dig beneath the surface seeming happy with our treasure trove of fools gold. As we have said before, media is plural but truth is singular. Let us also remember that wisdom is also plural and if we search for truth, we may gather wisdom along the way.
I have a fondness for Whitman’s, “When Lilacs Last Round the Dooryard Bloomed” and primarily the first section with the line, “I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring”. The idea of mourning was one hard to get away from in Whitman’s time, in the closing days of the Civil War, where an estimated 620,000 men lost their lives. I think of the idea of mourning and have come back to it recently and what it means in this our electronic age. Of course, everyone has had that moment of rage when a document or spreadsheet we have been working on disappears into the vapor and not to say that it is not a loss (believe me- I’ve been there) but what happens when so much of where we spend our time can be simply wiped away? We can swipe away a potential mate if we don’t find them attractive or dispose of the digital remains of a relationship with the touch of a button. No more going through letters or books from ones we have loved, the therapeutic tossing of clothes out the window, or destroying the once cherished item left behind from the one who once was so dear. Do we lose something therapeutic when we lose a tactile part of loss? Has our loss of physical mourning created a loss in our ability to mourn and perhaps feel as deeply as we have in the past? Perhaps the blue light of the computer has ceased our song and left us with a different and perhaps poorer lustrous face in the night.
The First Canto and a section of the Sixteenth Canto of “When Lilacs Last Round the Dooryard Bloomed”
When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,
Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,
And thought of him I love.
and from the 16th canto…
I cease from my song for thee,
From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee,
O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.
With the advent of a new year and a new decade, it is not unusual to look to the future as a sort of crystal ball to hope to divine what a future may hold. In that spirit, we at the Galaxy have our own hopes for this new decade and the media world that we now live in.
We hope that as our namesake said, Media is an extension of the human body and it is our hope that as we begin to connect with this new media, that we begin to see beyond the things that make us similar and embrace our differences. As in the body, we have two hands, but we don’t detest one for being different than the other. We don’t cast aspersions on our foot for its inability to hold a spoon or write our name and yet, we would not be able to stand or walk long without it. In short, we hope that in this year of hopefully clearer vision, we see that our differences are strengths and this amazing tool of media can be used to show us all the wondrous diversity of our world and its people and not become a tool for beating everyone into a world of vanilla similarity. May this be the year that we stop acting like sheep and realize that we are lions in media and the economy. Companies thrive off our blind compliance, allowing our information to be mined and then sold back to us as a rare jewel, may consumers understand that we are not victims of the economy but the masters and if we want to get peoples attention, just be mindful of what we buy and when. Want to get the worlds attention, stop buying gas one day a week- see how companies react. May this year and this decade be the beginning of a wider vision of ourselves and media, as a tool to see ourselves in all our individual flawed brilliance.