In 2008, there was a documentary I saw on (I think) PBS called Disconnected. Shot around 2006, the short film details the lives of three college students who have decided to disconnect from their computers and the Internet, and try to get by in a college without it. As a person who attended college in the aughts I know that this is an almost impossible thing to do, what with professors emailing you at all hours, and registration starting at midnight, making it so that by the time you arrive on campus to register in person at 6am, all the good classes are taken. Yet, these three brave souls tried it. Two succeeded, and one failed. The two that made it through found that it was not only harder to get certain things done, but they felt completely isolated from the outside world. The benefits, though, were that they engaged with others more, and that having nothing to do forced them to attend more social events and actually leave their dorms and go outside.
Since this was filmed in the age of the dumb phone, the students were allowed to keep their cellular phones. It makes me wonder how this documentary would play out today with the rise of smartphones and social media. Our addiction to likes, and our fear of missing out (FOMO) keeps us attached to these devices. While there are some good things about social media, like active shooter alerts, weather warnings and really important breaking news, there isn’t much we really need to know about right at the moment it happens. It would be interesting to see a follow up documentary where the students have to go through this. Watching this film recently has made me think of a few things.
Way back in the day, before my family had the Internet, I remember being more engaged with not just society, but with culture in general. There was really no such thing as multitasking, because there was only one task to be done at one time. We did have a computer back then. We just didn’t have much to do on it. I played a lot of computer games, and looked up facts on Encarta. There were also word documents and pixel art, along with learning programs, which were tedious at best.
Christopher Wallace was shot and killed on March 9th, 1997. And while in my mind I can’t imagine that it happened that long ago, I have to sit back and remember that I was just a 16 year old kid at the time, in love with Hip Hop music and the culture. Now at the age of 37, it still hasn’t truly dawned on me that one of the greatest rappers to ever live was gunned down in Los Angeles that many years ago. Even after the man’s death I was still celebrating his music. Biggie was with me when I was having a hard time late in my high school days. He was also there when I made a huge life change and moved to a city I loathed to work a job I disliked. 9/11 happened and it changed my perspective on things. No longer was I concerned with childish things. At 20 years old I realized I need to put away these old tapes and CDs and start focusing on grown man business. I hung onto Biggie for a little while after that. 2004 was the last time I really sat and meditated on the words of the late Notorious B.I.G. With more important things going on, I guess I just forgot about him.
To truly appreciate the mild obsession I had with Biggie’s music, you have to understand what was going on with me in 1994. I was 13 and enrolled in an honors program at the public school in my neighborhood. While the other kids around us were wanna-be gangsters and had an edge to them, we were the nerds who were alienated by the rest of the school. My classmates weren’t exactly “hood.” A lot of them came from the suburbs, and were bussed to this program, which almost served as a way for white kids to interact with us inner city folk. While I really enjoyed the musings of Radiohead, Nirvana, and a lot of bands that these kids introduced me to, I longed for something with an edge. Sure, the cool kids at the school played a lot of Death Row, some Eazy-E, Tupac Shakur, and some G-Funk. I yearned for something deeper.
Saying Goodbye to Star Wars
There is a scene in the 2006 film Rocky Balboa that says it all. Sylvester Stallone, playing the titular character, is in the meat locker talking to his brother-in-law Paulie. Rocky wants to get back into the ring after not having fought in ages. Paulie wants to know why. Rocky replies that there is stuff in the basement, and there is a beast that's still inside him.
As a longtime Star Wars fan, I felt the exact same way for years. The original trilogy came to a final close with a big party in the Ewok village on Endor. Han Solo was there. Chewbacca was there. The rebel fighters were there, all basking in their huge victory, having soundly defeated the evil empire. Princess Leia sat there, all smiles with braids in her hair. Lando pantomimed to Chewbacca how his ship shot of the Death Star in a heroic moment. Luke Skywalker, who was able to turn his father Darth Vader back to the light side of "The Force" stood and watched as the ghosts of his two mentors, Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, stood side by side with the ghost of Anakin Skywalker, unmasked and wearing Jedi robes. The film ended on a group shot of all the heroes surrounded by Ewoks. The ending theme started up, and that was it. As a child I accepted this as the ending to a really great trilogy of science-fantasy films. The end. Everyone go home and move on.
Unless you've been living under a rock you’ve heard of Bill Cosby’s alleged misconduct toward women. This caused conflict in a lot of people who had been fans of his work for decades. The man killed his own legacy by doing these alleged vile acts, there is no disputing this. Of course, the half brain section of the world wanted to immediately cry out conspiracy, because they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that this can be anyone, your friends, your family, your neighbor, or a guy you grew up watching and did so many good things in his life. The same argument came about when PewDiePie went off the deep end with his content. “Well, look at just how much he’s raised for charity!” Then there is the Harvey Weinstein and his issues with women, as well as what’s going on with Kevin Spacey. Their takedown created a sort of quake throughout the celebrity realm, and its aftershocks are still being felt today.
Unlike a lot of people, Bill Cosby never surprised me. No one person could be as perfect as he portrayed himself to be. Sure, I watched his television shows and listened to his old stand up records, but I never invested too much into the man himself. The first red flag I ever got was an interview with Larry King where he talks about spiking women’s drinks with “Spanish Fly,” an aphrodisiac made from Cantharidin, the principal agent secreted by blister beetles. Apparently, it’s a libido enhancer first used by the Romans back in the day. Some people took Cosby’s words as a harmless joke, while I took it as the first sign that things weren’t right with the man.
After years of being a fanatic for the Nintendo Entertainment System, as well as the culture that came with it in the mid to late 80s, I became a Sega kid. At first I felt like I was turning my back on Mario and the system that raised me. I had the Mario calendar. I ate the Mario cereal. I even had the Mario bedsheets. All of that was forgotten when I saw and experienced what amazing power a 16-bit console brought to the table. Sega got me. The flashy commercials, the edginess of Sonic the Hedgehog, and all the rest of the marketing behind Sega, are what got me to switch allegiances. The Sega Genesis was magical, and it peaked at the perfect time for me, when I was growing out of my child phase and blasting into my pre-teen years. The argument on schoolyards went on for years. Which was better, Sega or Nintendo? Then, PlayStation came along and wiped them both out.
This book, Console Wars, by Blake J. Harris, goes back to those old times. This historical non fiction book is written like a third person narrative, much in the style of The Accidental Billionaires, which we all know as the movie The Social Network. Seth Rogen and company even optioned a movie version of Console Wars even before the book was released. I’ve read it, and yes, I pictured it all in my head as a movie. This book talks about things I remember from my youth, and sprinkles in tidbits that I did not know. The author, Blake J. Harris, talks about both sides of the coin, and doesn’t just focus on one company. However, make no mistake, the protagonist of this story is little scrappy Sega, who started with 50 employees, and experienced growth on a massive scale. The antagonist here is obviously the big bad video game empire known as Nintendo.