Thursday, April 7, 2011

Is TV the Antichrist?

IMAGE: Kill Your T.V. by Heather Rushworth

This is a picture I drew on a post-it, of an infant watching his favorite television show.

Is it just me, or are TV's and Satan a lot alike? Actually, the television like Satan, has many redeeming qualities. For one, they both make awesome babysitters.

Maybe I am alone here, but whenever given sole-responsibility of a child, I hand the kid straight over to the supervision of Uncle Television Set.

Because chances are, the void-box will do a much better job than me at keeping the attentionally-retarded (new scientific term?) kid interested, if not fascinated. Which is very helpful when aiming to not have the kid stick his hand in a pot full of boiling water, or drop an axe on his brother's head, or start a child drug cartel that smuggles boatloads of crack cocaine over the international equator. Which are all actual things that have happened to me, while I was "supervising" children on my babysitting watch.

By "supervising" children I mean watching television myself.

But in all honesty, I think the TV may be the Anti-Christ.

Think about it, TV's are black (satanics love that color) boxes that sit in everyone's home, sometimes in every room (like your conscience.) Their very presence is magnetic; they look like big black magnets. I dare you to walk into any room and not notice the television first. They are like a scantily clad single mother at an Easter church service. Seductive! No decent hard-working American, even knows how a television set actually works.

How do those tiny people fit in those little scenes? How are we sure our television sets aren't watching us? We aren't. We aren't even certain that these "inventions" aren't the products of evil lawn gnomes plotting to hijack our imaginations while they plan a new Astroturf world.

Some days, if you listen closely enough, you can hear your television silently begging you to turn it on, to give it some attention. You know the voice, it sounds like, "Come on Steve Baby, turn me on! Watch me, I'll entertain you! I'm not like your wife. I won't bore you with emotions or nag you about the unpaid water bill." Like a delicious sinful apple, you know you shouldn't turn the television on. You know its bad for you. You know it will suck you in and steal every moment of your pressure-filled, unsatisfying life. Yet you turn it on anyways and chances are, you are glad that you did.

Brother, That is what makes the television a sin. Sinning by nature, is totally fun and awesome. You will never regret having sex, or doing smack, or stealing your neighbor's wife and selling her on the black market and you will never regret watching that eleventh straight hour of Ghost Hunters. But does that mean it is right? Does that mean it is bettering the planet? I don't remember anyone finding a cure for AIDS while watching Melrose Place. I do however, remember one of my favorite Melrose Place characters Matt, contracting AIDS which made me not only aware of the disease, but inspired real compassion in me for the cause. I even donated five dollars in a bucket outside a Ralphs in 2005. Which inevitbly made me five dollars poorer and didn't bring his character back to life like I had so naively believed.

Just think of what you look like watching TV. You sit there, curtains drawn, mouth all a-gape, flipping through channel after channel of people's lives that aren't your own, wishing you had a limo full of Kardashians feeding you grapes or a "best friend" like Oprah's Gale buying you strap-on toys.

However, to the neighborhood Peeping-Tom peering through your window, you just look like a dumpy, ineffective loser, slobbering in the dark at a box of flashing light, brainwashed by the manipulations of a demonic robot, who seduces you with sexy images of the new Taco Bell Beefy Crunch Burrito.

According to Estheisians 15:17 "That is exactly what Adam looked like to God, when he ate that apple while ogling Eve's boobies."

Televisions like Satan, don't want us to do bad, they just don't want us to do good. They want to beat God at his own game. If they can keep you in a catatonic, invalid state, Mountain Dew dripping out of your mouth as you laugh at a child getting hit in the nuts on American Funniest Home Videos, then you can't be out doing God's work.

Converting Muslims to Mormonism.

Did you know you are actually in the same psychological state as when you are in coma, when you are watching television? The images are so relaxing your brain shuts off from judging data as relevant and instead it just lets the data stream in unprotected, going straight into our unconscious and thus shaping our beliefs and perceptions of the world entirely.

We have to be more perceptive to the truth! Or else who is going to blindly elect or presidents and unintentionally fight our wars?

Anyways, don't trust your television sets. They aren't the friendly neighborhood grannies they would have you believe they are. The cookies they entice you with, aren't real, and if you fall into the temptation, you will be left with an empty, gnawing feeling in your stomach and a mouth full of electrical circuits and high voltage plastic.

Which oddly enough are the mystery ingredients in Taco Bell's new Beefy Crunch Burrito.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Lewis Thomas's 1974 Essay, Computers

I just found this essay in a 1970s reader of essays. I typed this motha fucka up after I couldn't find it anywhere else on the web. It is eerily predictive of the evolution of mass communication. Remember, this was written in 1974! Before internet, before personal computers, before Facebook!


by Lewis Thomas, 1974

You can make computers that are almost human. In some respects they are superhuman; they can beat us at chess, memorize whole telephone books at a glance, compose music of a certain kind and write obscure poetry, diagnose heart ailments, send personal invitations to vast parties, even go transiently crazy. No one has yet programmed a computer to be at two minds about a hard problem, or to burst out laughing, but that may come. Sooner or later, there will be real human hardware, great whirring, clicking cabinets intelligent enough to read magazines and vote, able to think rings around the rest of us.

Well maybe, but not for a while anyway. Before we begin organizing sanctuaries and reservations for our software selves, lest we vanish like the whales, here is a thought to relax with.

Even when technology succeeds in manufacturing a machine as big as Texas to do everything we recognize as human, it will still be, at best, a single individual. This amounts to nothing, practically speaking. To match what we can do, there would have to be 3 billion of them with more coming down the assembly line, and I doubt that anyone will put up the money, much less make room. And even so, they would all have to be wired together, intricately and delicately, as we are, communicating with each other, talking incessantly, listening. If they weren't at each other this way, all their waking hours, they wouldn't be anything like human, after all. I think we're safe, for a long time ahead.

It is in our collective behavior that we are most mysterious. We won't be able to construct machines like ourselves until we've understood this, and we're not even close. All we know is the phenomenon: we spend our time sending messages to each other, talking and trying to listen at the same time, exchanging information. This seems to be our most urgent biological function; it is what we do with our lives. By the time we reach the end, each of us has taken in a a staggering store, enough to exhaust any computer, much of it incomprehensible, and we generally manage to put out even more than we take in. Information is our source of energy; we are driven by it. It has become a tremendous enterprise, a kind of energy system of its own. All 3 billion of us are being connected by telephones, radios, television sets, airplanes, satellites, harangues on public-address systems, newspapers, magazines, leaflets dropped from great heights, words got in edgewise. We are becoming a grid, a circuitry around the earth. If we keep at it, we will become a computer to end all computers, capable of fusing all the thoughts of the world into a syncytium.

Already, there are no closed, two-way conversations. Any word you speak this afternoon will radiate out in all directions, around town before tomorrow, out and around the world before Tuesday, accelerating to the speed of light, modulating as it goes, shaping new and unexpected messages, emerging at the end as an enormously funny Hungarian joke, a fluctuations in the money market, a poem, a simply long pause in someone's conversation in Brazil.

We do a lot of collective thinking, probably more than any other social species, although it goes on in something like secrecy. We don't acknowledge the gift publicly, and we are not as celebrated as the insects, but we do it. Effortlessly, without giving it a moment's thought, we are capable of changing our language, music, manners, morals, entertainment, even the way we dress, all around the earth in a year's turning. We seem to do this by general agreement, without voting or polling. We simply think our way along, pass information around, exchange codes disguised as art, change our minds, transform ourselves.

Computers cannot deal with such levels of improbability, and it is just as well. Otherwise, we might be tempted to take over the control of ourselves in order to make long-range plans, and that would surely be the end of us. It would mean that some group or other, marvelously intelligent and superbly informed, undoubtedly guided by a computer, would begin deciding what human society ought to be like, say, over the next five hundred years or so, and the rest of us would be persuaded, one way or another, to go along. The process of social evolution would then grind to a standstill, and we'd be stuck in today's rut for a millennium.

Much better we work our way out of it on our own, without governance. The future is too interesting and dangerous to be entrusted to any predictable, reliable agency, We need all the fallibility we can get. Most of all, we need to preserve the absolute predictability and total improbability of our connected minds. That way we can keep open all the options, as we have in the past.

It would be nice to have better ways of monitoring what we're up to so that we could recognize change while it is occurring, instead of waking up as we do now to the astonished realization that the whole century just past wasn't what we thought it was, at all. Maybe computers can be used to help in this, although I rather doubt it. You can make simulation models of cities, but what you learn is that they seem to be beyond the reach of intelligent analysis; if you try to use common sense to make predictions, things get more botched up than ever. This is interesting, since a city is the most concentrated aggregation of humans, all exerting whatever influence they can bring to bear. The city seems to have a life of its own. If we cannot understand how this works, we are not likely to get very far with human society at large.

Still, you'd think there would be some way in. Joined together, the great mass of human minds around the earth seems to behave like a coherent, living system. The trouble is that the flow of information is mostly one-way. We are all obsessed by the need to feed information in, as fast as we can, but we lack sensing mechanisms for getting anything much back. I will confess that I have no more sense of what goes on in the mind of mankind than I have for the mind of an ant. Come to think of it, this might be a good place to start.