September 2009

Too much (useless) information

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

There was a time when the stories of Everyman were few and far between — and such as existed were most often told by folks several tiers up the social ladder, with their own spin.

How times have changed. We now have multiple means of storing or sharing information, but a paucity of actual information — and this was before the Internet, cell phones and the like were really cooking. In other words, there is too much information, about things of too little consequence.

Books

I have seen, even purchased books about Harvard-student hookers (excuse me; I mean escorts); about an undercover stripper (as absurd as that might sound!), and countless other tawdry tales from Everyman/ Everywoman. Some books actually do offer a glimpse into an ordinary person’s struggle for meaning. But many take a cue from TV: the lowest common denominator takes all. It took a browse through the Powell’s Bookstore branch at Portland’s airport recently, though, to at last break my patience. “Thanks for Coming,” one title read, “One Young Woman’s Quest for Orgasm.”

My reaction wasn’t moral outrage, or even an eye roll at the book's supposed purpose, “a look at our obsession with, and anxiety over the female orgasm.” It was: “Who the hell cares?” Publishing is driven by the dollar, and so, the book’s presence on the shelf meant someone, somewhere knew there was a market for it. Someone was, in effect, paid to write it and to “research” something that happens millions of times a day (well, maybe hundreds).

Obviously, I have been pitching the wrong things to publishers. So, I’ve come up with some new ideas in hopes of satisfying people’s apparent obsession with strangers’ mundane activities and dubious achievements.

1. Red Light District: My Quest to Cross the Street Without Being Hit. Oh, wait. I already read a story like that. (And it ended badly). Damn Twitter!

2. Kissing the Fat Girl. (Hint: It’s like kissing anyone else. And the action in the sacksion is, too, only maybe a little bouncier).

3. Cats I Have Known. If a potentially neat cat story can be made unbearably dull through bad writing, as was the case with “Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World,” then my boring stories about pets can at least be made readable. And I’ve got pictures!

4. I Haven’t Seriously Screwed Up, Broken the Law or Flashed My Bits, But Can’t I Be Rewarded With Money and Attention Too? An unwieldy title, but so far, my favorite idea!

Facebook & MySpace

Don’t talk to strangers, we were told as children. Don’t talk to strangers, we tell our kids. Don’t give out personal information. Oh, and girlfriend, tell me all about it on Facebook and MySpace! After all, I’m your friend. I’d never hurt you, honest.

Now, I’m not totally against electronic networking sites. Like everything, they can be fun, even useful, in moderation. But back in the olden days, we used to keep in touch with our friends by, you know, talking to them, visiting them, and doing things with them — like hunting dinosaurs. We didn’t communicate via electronic note-passing, especially if we were walking down the freakin’ street with our friends at the time, and we didn’t create mini electronic billboards about such thrills-aminute as grocery shopping (Twitter).

So-called journalism

Whether online or in print, journalism is supposed to provide an accurate record of those events that have the greatest meaning. In that, journalism has been failing abysmally, and is geared toward a progressively lower standard, wherein what people (presumably) “want to hear” trumps what they need to know.

Obvious Example: June 2009, when most every “real” news outlet devoted days, if not weeks, of coverage to the death of Michael Jackson, including providing a forum for his shameless father, apparently on the basis that “everyone else!” was going to have the “story.” Though you might not have realized it by watching the news, other people died, a dozen of whom were soldiers in Afghanistan.

It isn't that there was no coverage of other (more) important events. It's that the coverage was eclipsed by overblown reaction to the death of a celebrity with a suspect past, and all the associated gossip.

A thousand years from now, one friend will ask another what happened in 2009. They will find endless details about some pop singer’s last hours on earth. They will know all about the screaming deal Bob Smith got on grapefruit at City Market, and will have their pick of hilarious cat or baby videos. But if they’re looking for information about things that actually mattered to society as a whole, they could be out of luck.

The folks in the future will know a great deal about us. They will know most of us were self-centered drones, spoiled brats with too much time on our hands, and yet, too few hobbies. And they will pronounce us far less interesting than we thought we were.

Katharhynn Heidelberg writes from Montrose, Colo.