Dec

8

ATSL: Do You Know What You’re Talking About?

Written by

For their final issue of The Blue and White, editor in chief Conor Skelding, CC ’14, and managing editor Anna Bahr, BC ’14, duked it out over Who Knows What They’re Talking About in a favorite reoccurring feature of prose and cons, “At Two Swords’ Length“. You, dear readers, have the pleasure of being their judge n jury. Maybe they’re both confused. Look forward to the new issue of the mag, in its glorious blue ink, on campus this week.  

Affirmative by Conor Skelding

Anna will argue that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Well, fine. Neither does she.

Illustration by Angel Jiang, CC '15

Illustration by Angel Jiang, CC ’15

I know that you can’t be alone, and you can’t be together. You stay home, and there’s Facebook—there are the 44 likes on your rival’s status, some of them from your mutual friends. Your rival posted an article somebody else wrote, plus one “sentence” of “analysis” (e.g., “such an important and brave piece”). You go out, and there’s your goddamn friend, tapping away with their thumbs, liking that post, or sending missives to someone who, while they’re not present, are evidently more immediate. Then there are the miserable people whose entire earthly lives are only a break from Temple Run.

Now I’m drinking with friends. And one of those friends is a self-styled photographer (this  means that they own something called a DSLR, which is a camera that costs more than $1,000 dollars). And since they are a photographer, they must document their lives (that is called being authentic).

And since they must document their lives with their DSLR, they have assumed the superhuman power of capturing one moment, one perspective, and immortalizing it. (“Immortalizing it” might be overstating it. But it is safe to say that whatever image they “create” will last until the end of human civilization. Depending whom you ask, this means between several months and several billion years.)

As I understand it millennialism, it is the idea that some cosmically heavy shit goes down whenever human civilization undergoes the turn from anno domini 999 to 1000, or 1999 to 2000.

(Imagine the turn from A.D. 2999 to 3000. We will be computers by then. The singularity will have arrived. We will be ships, on our way to becoming obelisks.)

So we underwent 1999/2000. Y2K. I was eight years old then. That was pre-9/11. That was back when the phrase “checking my email” had discrete meaning. Now, we read incoming emails within 30 sordid seconds of their arrival.

I remember, in 2005, it wasn’t yet acceptable to spend all one’s time in front of a computer. The Internet was still for losers. Now we’re all hunched over our computers. Yesterday I was walking down 39th Street, engrossed by some bullshit email. Somebody yelled at me, “Pay attention!”

Then there are the people who say, “But with Google Books, we can read any public domain book ever written!” To that I say these two things:

(1) When Herodotus’s Histories faces off against every depravity imaginable, guess which wins? What did that widely acclaimed puppet-play say?

(2) That depends on how we define the terms “read” and “book.”

Lee C. Bollinger and the Undergraduate Committee on Global Thought’s committee on online education, will hypocritically say that MOOCs mean democratization of education. Tell that to the English adjunct at Big State U who’s lost his job because the Senior Associate Dean of Quality Control decided it’d be more cost-effective and brand-strengthening to license a “Harvard-quality” Shakespeare lecture than pay him $6,000 per semester. And then tell that to the poor sons of bitches around the globe coughing up for that MOOC who, unlike students at a particular school in Boston, can’t actually talk with this renowned Harvard Shakespearean.

Food and sex. That’s all we’ve got left.

Negative by Anna Bahr

For someone who believes “words mean something,” Conor should think more carefully about his own. Frankly, I

Illustration by Angel Jiang, CC '15

Illustration by Angel Jiang, CC ’15

find your chaotic argument to be as offensive as you find the thoughtless framing of shared Facebook articles (“Important” and “Brave”). I’m really not sure you know what you’re talking about–it’s hard to, when you don’t take time to see between extremes.

You’re trying to care for the human soul and come off as condescending. That derisive brand of dogmatism, the easy dichotomy of hero and villain, of the dumb people who post vacantly on Facebook and the smart people who live in the Real World, makes meaningful connection practically impossible.

I don’t have the data to disagree: sure, the Internet might be destroying my ability to focus. It’s totally possible that I’m less inclined to read the classics when there’s so much goddamn interesting “critical theory” about Yeezus. That is bad. But it’s worse to continue the tradition of intellectual arrogance that tells us the Western canon is Good and everything else is Less Good.

In fact, it seems to me that you’re guilty of the facile Facebook arguments you revile: instead of name dropping Histories (we get it! you took Lit Hum!) and vague references to 2001 (we get it! Kubrick! computers will rule!), try applying Herodotus’ work to your rationale. As far as I can tell, you’ve swallowed names without digesting thoughts. Engage with the texts, don’t score smart points with vague references.

I, too, worry that the “online classroom” eliminates those special academic exchanges when you really learn–conversations with professors over coffee or after class, not with a spotty Skype connection. I agree that it’s legitimate to protect the interests of the intellectual elite: the words of Aristotle and Woolf and Baldwin can’t be lost to Temple Run. But for such perennial insights to endure, their magic might be best preserved through a new medium.

Of course, the Kindle might boast some subjective superiority over the iPhone. Maybe reading online is ok but texting crosses a line? I can’t keep up with your scathing scoring system.

At least the illustrious webpages of New York Times style section agree you know what’s up: (“Online, RU Really Reading?”; “Generation Text, Living on a Screen”). Tell me you haven’t rolled your eyes every time the paper rolls out its new take on narcissistic millennial life.

I’m concerned that you don’t recognize the real question. The time you spend frantically ranting about why cellphone addicts can’t unplug and addictions might be better used considering why that dependency is attractive.

It’s not being plugged in that distracts us from present-mindedness, it’s fear of judgment. When I’m alone in public, my immediate instinct is to pull out my phone and mindlessly scroll through email. Not because I’m braindead, but because I suffer from an irrepressible anxiety of being purposeless. Maybe, more honestly, it’s an anxiety about the unsolicited pity of passersby: “Why doesn’t she have anyone to be with?”

Yeah, it’s silly to quantify your likeability by racking up comments on your compulsive photo-uploads. But it is sickeningly self-righteous to accuse me of conceit or superficiality because I haven’t yet learned to be comfortable alone with my thoughts. And if I get a little joy from a retweet I’ll take it where I get it.

When New York City installs padding on all of its telephone poles to protect texting-and-walking folk from cracking their skulls open, I’ll mourn with you.

But food and sex is all we’ve got? Spare me.

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6 Comments

  1. Anonymous  

    I really enjoyed this and, though I often share some of Conor's sentiments, I think Anna won this one. Too much dogma never does anyone good.

  2. Anonymous  

    anna bahr wins. always.

  3. Food, sex

    and glory. You forgot glory.

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