Cleaning Up My Message


First, I would like to draw your attention to two bands: the French pop-punk band Phoenix and the American electro-pop duo Discovery.

I am convinced that both of these bands are awesome, each in their own way. One weird thing, though: I didn’t really like them too much until I read about someone else’s favorable opinion of them. I listened to them, thought eh, pretty cool, and moved on to the next (I listen to a lot of music). But then I read other accounts of these albums—Paul Shirley’s on Phoenix and Jon Pareles’ on Discovery (I recommend that you check out either review or, better yet, listen to the bands themselves, but I am not going into that here. I am on a different trip.). They were both effusive in their praise of the respective bands so I gave each another listen and—presto!—I was gone with the wind. Why is that? Is this some weird disorder brought about by consumption of too much media? Can I think for myself anymore?

It reminds me of something Chuck Klosterman wrote when he was covering the NCAA basketball tournament. He said that he had great seats for the game, but he couldn’t enjoy it because the view was different than what he was used to when he watched the games on TV at home. When he moved further from the action, into the press box, he was more satisfied because it was a similar view to that of his home armchair. This mildly disturbed Mr. Klosterman and I myself am disturbed that I first didn’t like two bands that I now do before I read a glowing account of each on the human mind-meld, also known as the Internet. Our capabilities to experience are affected by the methods of experience.

For background on this problem I must delve into the thoughts of two well-known philosophers who were before (and who also defined) their respective times: Carl Jung and Marshall McLuhan. Jung, a Freudian disciple, was at least partially responsible for every action movie you have ever watched, as well as a good bit of modern psychoanalysis. McLuhan was at least partially responsible for the content of every news report you will ever read, as well as many popular uprisings that actually caught the eye.

In the case of my self-involved drama and me, Jung supplies the concept of the collective unconscious, an idea that springs forth from the proposition that all human beings are connected by a set of common symbols and archetypes that permeate life and draw our thoughts together like a big bunch of multi-colored, helium-filled balloons. McLuhan sticks in my mind because of his most famous utterance, “The medium is the message,” which proposes that the means by which we choose to broadcast our thoughts is as or more important than the message contained.

What this all means for us (and by us, I mean me. Ok, you, too) is that we are collectively experiencing the explosion of a new form of media which is shaping the ways we think, feel, and communicate those thoughts and feelings. If I can’t experience an album for myself without first experiencing it through the point of view of another, then what does that say about me and the way I now experience music? Think about people in the 1950s or 60s who were used to radio and live performances and had never seen TV when, suddenly, TV arrived. It’s like Dorothy and the rainbow, Technicolor realized. It seems that media has progressed over time, beginning with drawn pictures, the written word, photographs, radio, moving pictures, and now the Internet, which has also changed the way we experience many things, including music.

The Internet is a new beast because it has broadened the experience—not only by providing people with a new way to experience the experience, but also with another way to broadcast their experience of the experience. Think of the Youtube slogan, “Broadcast yourself.” Isn’t that what we are doing when we post on our blogs (Layabozi included), comment on posts on blogs, post wacky videos on Youtube, tweet about our bowel movements, update our Facebook pages, and on, and on, and on? Now, with some degree of enormity you can experience the music, allow others to experience your experience of the music, experience others’ experience of the music, and also experience others experiencing your and others’ experiences of the music. Those past few sentences were a complicated passage, but no more complicated than the implications of this new media. Congratulations, you have entered the conversation.

One possible reaction to this revelation is that the Internet is the death of original thought. That one has crossed my mind (I’m sure I’m not the first. In fact, I just Googled it and the search engine anticipated my question. So unnerving.) Although I am not the fortune-teller I once was (back in my preaching daze), I don’t think that this is the case. If you take Jung’s argument to the extreme, we all have the same thought at one time or another, but we often come to these epiphanies independently. It just doesn’t occur to us at the same time. The Internet’s role today is to speed up the process of recognition. In other words, the Internet can tell you what you have always thought, sometimes even before you know you thought it. Wow.

Mr. McLuhan would definitely be either at home or appalled by our current situation. You might not know that he was the one who coined the term “global village.” So this new media would probably be considered somewhat of a mixed blessing in his eyes. One the one hand, there is a remarkable new medium whose effects he accurately predicted.

“In the early 1960s, McLuhan wrote that the visual, individualistic print culture would soon be brought to an end by what he called ‘electronic interdependence’: when electronic media replaced visual culture with aural/oral culture. In this new age, humankind will move from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity, with a ‘tribal base.’ McLuhan’s coinage for this new social organization is the global village” (Wikipedia).

On the other hand, McLuhan also envisioned the fractious implications that this new medium poses.

“Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as an infantile piece of science fiction. And as our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside. So, unless aware of this dynamic, we shall at once move into a phase of panic terrors, exactly befitting a small world of tribal drums, total interdependence, and superimposed co-existence. […] Terror is the normal state of any oral society, for in it everything affects everything all the time. […] In our long striving to recover for the Western world a unity of sensibility and of thought and feeling we have no more been prepared to accept the tribal consequences of such unity than we were ready for the fragmentation of the human psyche by print culture” (almost all quotations have been taken from, for effect).

Humankind’s most conspicuous and apocryphal attempts at archiving its consciousness failed. The Tower of Babel fell down. The Alexandrian Library burned up. So what can we predict for the Internet? Most of us think of it as a regular fixture in our homes, which, in effect, it is, but the bulk of the Internet, which is just data, is stored on private HTTP-programmed computers in different locations. The existence of the data depends on the existence of these computers. These storage computers have always struck me as a very viable terrorist target, although there are a lot of them, as well as satellites, to contend with. However, the data they contain conceivably could be destroyed (or hacked). Any interested party, including that mythical rogue, God, could take our social networking and broadcasting medium away at any moment. As any student of history would know, stranger things have happened.

The good news is that it is impossible to take away music itself, be it in the form of a French pop-punk band, an American electro-pop duo, or any other configuration one might construct. I think I feel better about my perceptive capabilities after hashing this out. In the end, it doesn’t really matter how we come across our favorite bands because we inevitably come to them through some sort of conduit. All that matters is the next album, the next experience, and what they teach us.

The end.

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  1. Mike

    Yeah man! Dig that Paul Shirley and Marshall McLuhan. I’ll also get to digging Pheonix and Discovery once I update my flash player.


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