Screen World and The Rise of the Monetized Self

Welcome to Screen World! It’s all new and different and changes everything all the time! Here, near the entry to Screen World, we’ve placed our hottest experiences that everyone who’s anyone will be talking about tomorrow. Just a little further in, we’ve arrayed our brightest lights with their achingly perfect bodies, always-on-vacation lifestyles, and pithy observations. Next we have.. Yes? A question? Exits? Well, why would anyone want to exit? You might MISS something! And exit to where? After Screen World, anything else is just disappointing. Complex, dirty, frightening. But listen to me go on. I MUST BE TRENDING. Screen world has just everything so it must have exits. I’m sure the fault lies with me. Please step over to the kiosk where are our perky, polite AI Chat Bot will…

Here at the Analog Underground we sometimes wonder if what we’re feeling is akin to feeling of the first Europeans as they stepped onto shores of the, to them, new world. At every turn they found amazing new vistas and resources. Tales taken home were not to be believed. Feels a bit like our stumbling first steps into Screen World. And come to think of it, it even comes with the spreading pestilence and corruption that they brought along in their journey into paradise.

In some ways it’s endearing to see the current cultural and main-line media hand wringing about the ever more obvious shortcomings of Screen World. A toddler taking their first steps or a kid discovering love. That first sense of emotional gravity pulling you towards someone. The first touch that reveals a whole new world of connection beyond that merely physical impression. The first kiss. And the first fight. And the first breakup. I told you so seems more than slightly insufficient.

Like teen agers in love we seem to be ever more rapidly making quantum level state changes between transcendent on-line ecstasy and shuddering in-real-life despondence without any intervening cushion. The energy in the system escalates with every flip-flop and it seems like it can’t go on and like it will never stop. N-n-n-no Ex-ex-x-x-it to quote Max Headroom. Or Camus

But all that drama-laced reportage is Screen World behavior and it doesn’t really have to be that way. Despite all the This-Changes-Everything Operatic Chanting of Screen World’s Hype-o-neers, Screen World is our creation. We shouldn’t be so surprised that it comes more than a little tinged with both our best and worst impulses and everything in between. Yeah, all those AI bots and data mining mad scientists are taking us post-privacy and post-truth places we never intended to go. That’s been true of most human history, our repeating exercise of “if we can we will”, consequences be damned if they’re even vaguely acknowledged or understood..

Our current shout and response about Screen World calls to mind the Utopian impulses of the early industrial revolution. From the remove of a few hundred years, it seems like not a day passed in the 19th century without some perfect world Utopian colony forming up with some weird twist on new capabilities. There really was a colony formed up around breakfast cereal and free sex. Wow! We got learned better then (I think, well maybe), and I’m marginally hopeful we’ll learn now. We will come to see The Free Speech, Free Enterprise, Free Thought Community Policed Gig/sharecropper Economy Roar for a re-run of utopian blather that it is. Then we’ll roll up our sleeves and begin the real work of building a viable Digital counterpart to our Analog society and civilization. In a way that’s the core intent of this little exercise called The Analog Underground, to learn how to do this Digital thing.

So what are we learning? A couple of things jump to mind. The first is the rise of the monetized self. Wish we’d called that 15 years ago when we started this little enterprise and we’d be writing this from our private island in the Caribbean but 20/20 regrets aren’t our thing so… It is pretty obvious in hindsight that the trimming and editing that goes into any Digital representation of our Analog world would result in a trimmed and edited self. More salient, that trimming and editing was almost certain to be driven by a set of values that would emphasize aspects of self that were exchangeable and interchangeable (a core value of Digital). It’s then just a little hop and skip to a monetized self, who’s currency is followers, likes, eye-balls, retweets, up-votes, targeted adverts and even hard money in sponsorships and influencers.

All that editing and trimming turns into focus with everything else going soft and receding into the background and eventually off the screen and out of our awareness. We become, at least in parts of our brains, the meager sum-total of our clipped and branded monetized selves. And because it is Digital, it has that inherent, unavoidable amplifying feedback loop which some wag in a moment of blindingly limited imagination labeled a virtuous cycle.

But like all things Digital or Analog, there’s a choice in there somewhere, both early on and on-going. And it’s that choice that is our salvation…O.k. maybe salvation is a bit over the top, but it is in our choices that we choose the future in which we will live whether we fully understand the options and consequences or not. And that brings us to the second thing we’re learning here at the offices of The Analog Underground, Slow Media.

It’s interesting to see the rising tide of folks who are getting off Facebook, turning off their phones, and generally taking public stances about unplugging (often on the latest plugged in forums). We get it. Those of y’all who have been following along, know we actually did it. And it was pretty sweet. For a while. But it wasn’t sustainable. The Analog Underground has never been abandoning the Digital, but rather learning to dance with it, even when it’s acting more like Max Headroom than Fred Astaire. So we’re working at finding some middle ground, some continuous spot on the flow between the binary states of unplugged and plugged and we’ve come to think of that space as Slow Media.

A slow medium is deliberately, well, more deliberate. It intentionally does not buy into the false urgencies of the hyper amplified Digital moment. Slow Media commits to take the time required to consider not only the façade of bright current moment, but to look beyond that surface to the inner workings and connections across content, across communities and across time.

Slow Media understands the short shelf life of something that is easily understood and rapidly replicated. Instead Slow Media reaches for something more durable and is willing to wait for its arrival. Slow Media accepts its own always partial (in both senses of the word – incomplete and biased) understanding and is willing to pause to give that understanding time to expand and mature. Maybe that’s why Slow Media also loves paradox, seeking it out, not the least of which is seeing itself as part of its own opposites, fast media, and a little less obviously, stasis. Yeah, it’s an Analog thing.

So take a minute. Pull up a chair to the picture windows we have here at The Analog Underground with their panoramic view of this grand experiment we call humanity, Digital and otherwise. And if you get the shakes, get to feeling withdrawal symptoms from Screen World, or just a bit terrified by what you see, you can walk up to the glass and tap it, pretend that what’s beyond that glass is as ephemeral as everything is behind the glass at the entrance to Screen World.

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