Michael Franti warned us. In “Television, Drug of the Nation,” he sourly predicted,
“Pop stars metamorphosize
into soda pop stars.
You saw the video.
You heard the soundtrack.
Well now go buy the soft drink!”
That was in 1988 – post-Internet, pre-web. 24 years later our online society finds it laughable that someone would distinguish the three as separate entities. The clever programmers at Lego made a sly and thoroughly postmodern commentary on this trend in their online game “Hero Factory: Breakout.” The robotic hero as our avatar, having toured the Hero Factory control room, is invited to drink a celebratory Power Core soda – with a picture of himself (which is now ourselves) on the vending machine. We’re nearly there, Lego.
We now float in a sea of One Continuous Media, like characters from a William Gibson novel. OCM means that a show is news is a game is advertising is a conversation is political discourse is the sum of everything going into or out of our heads. Just as people no longer want news unless it’s flavored with madness (see The Daily Show and The O’Reilly Factor), they also don’t want advertising unless it’s cloaked as an earnest referral (see affiliate marketing). That’s why social media has crowned itself as the triumph of OCM.
Roughly one third of everyone under 40 gets their news from social media, according to Pew Research estimates. The younger you are, the more plugged in you are. More than 76% of those under 25 updated their status or cyberstalked an ex-lover on a social network yesterday. All ages are turning to digital and mobile sources as people begin to feel uncomfortable when there is a break in the media chatter.
OCM has been growing slowly, carefully. It has been laboriously filling in the gaps for decades until we are all safely sealed inside.
Was anyone else horrified at the vision of humanity’s near future quietly slipped into the children’s cartoon of a plucky robot hero called “Wall-E”? Permanently sedentary rolls of flesh float in entertainment chairs, unable to interact except to obey the wraith-like images on perma-screens. This was, of course, played for laughs. Try to talk about it seriously and you will sound like a lunatic, which turns out to be OK now because lunatics are entertaining. For proof, please refer to reality TV.
OCM is a dreamworld for OCD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is defined by the DSM as:
Recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images along with repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the person feels driven to perform according to rules that must be applied rigidly.
An OCD (like Monk, House, and perhaps Sherlock Holmes) can tune out the world for a Judge Judy weekend marathon or could be just as happy with their DISH network remotes stuck on scan. OCD’s can wade into the infinite levels of Minecraft determined not to surface until they “finish the game.”
I’m certainly not knocking OCD. In fact, one theory posits that OCD made us human. The Great Encephalization, when our brain size quadrupled in a geological instant without any functional necessity, seems to have occurred just as we started eating a lot of meat. The two may not be linked by causation but without question, hunting must have been an invention of OCD. Who else could have the intensity to chase a lame buffalo for so many consecutive days that the animal itself dies of boredom?
And now our next great leap forward is OCM. Perhaps this rich stew of opinions, fables, wild surmises, disastrous gossip, attempted mind control, and clever kittens will trigger our unused “junk DNA” to blossom in the minds of the next generation. More likely, it will serve as an excellent delivery device for the ravings of lunatics.
There is no going back. OCM is our new environment, and we must teach ourselves how to thrive within it. The best advice I ever got for dealing with the postmodern world is this: Only dead fish go with the flow.