Introducing: IDSR

Last week the Detroit Tigers Baseball Club was swept by the Royals, then swept the White Sox to tie for first place in the Central, and then on Labor Day lost to the Indians in the first game of the next series.[1] Now, baseball is a funny auld game. Consider that each day is as important to the players as the last day of the season, and then they must immediately forget it happened. Win or loss, it’s water under the bridge. This kind of compartmentalized mental focus is inherent in the game, much as George Will characterizes baseball as requiring great ‘equipoise,’ remaining relaxed until the exact moment of vigorous action.

The trouble these days with reporting baseball, and in fact almost any time-sensitive topic, is that observations about the travails of the season as they occur become outdated within days of their notation. The Tigers will play the Tribe again today and tomorrow, just as the White Sox play the Twins, and by the end of Wednesday night the picture will be different, even if the standings remain exactly the same. La plus ça change. I suppose this might be the information dilemma of our time. News remains anything but as the turnover rate increases. The twenty-four hour news cycle, so often cited as the cause of frivolous and inaccurate reporting, ushers in a kind of collective amnesia, a frantic quest for the latest information increasing boredom with what we already know. Perhaps it could be characterized as Internet-related Diminished Recollection Significance, or IDRS.

Courtesy of recently viewing an episode of the HBO progr’m Newsroom (an often clever oftener o’er the top Aaron Sorkin talking-points vehicle) I was given cause to reflect on the killing of Osama bin Laden. At the time this seemed like a very important moment in the history of this century, though I recall being far less exuberant than the media reaction. That being said, in reminder it so seemed to be yesterday’s news as to be almost old-timey (it was only May 2011!). There are so many problems and issues that seem so much more pressing now that part of me wonders how we could have really cared that some moke with bad kidneys in a hidden bunker who seemed haggard and hunted down and impotent to harming anyone was machine-gunned. While I intellectually recognize the significance of his death in light of the preceding tragedy and the great risk taken, it seems unimportant outside of the fact of itself, almost as the answer to a trivia question.

Michael Chabon has a new novel (Telegraph Avenue), and in a TimeOut Chicago interview this past week I was really struck by this section:

TOC: It’s definitely reminiscent of your novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay in the sense that it’s so rooted in history.[2]

MC: It really begins with place for me. When I walk through a place, if I’m firing on all cylinders, even my [Oakland] neighborhood I’ve lived in for 15 years,[3] I do feel like I’m walking through time at the same time I’m walking through space…. Being aware that [the corner of 51st Street and Telegraph avenue in Oakland] represents the site of the original Ohlone Indian reservation in the area. Those things are always in my mind, the way history has survived and been defaced.

TOC: And is that why race plays such a large role in this book?

MC: That’s very much part of the history of [Oakland].[4]Over the years of living there, I had built up this sense of charged racial history of the area. By no means limited to the Black Panthers—going all the way back to Ku Klux Klan rallies in the streets of Oakland, and a whole lot of hooded old white dudes, feeling bold and free to march down the streets. So [the tension’s] not buried too deeply, and if you’re paying attention you become aware of it.

            When I walk around the streets in my neighborhood I think mostly back on things from my life. “Oh yeah, I went to that bar on my 23rd birthday. Oh yeah, that’s where I took a girl for sushi and we got hammered and later she booted.” It all seems so trivial by comparison. Maybe in heavily gentrifying neighborhoods where I used to and still do work I recall semi-significant things, like neighborhood police meetings in 2003 where residents took a (brief) break from complaining about the winos outside Rothschild’s Liquors to opine about being priced-out of West Town via property taxes (while acknowledging the same for many of the gang-bangers). But most of the recollection as I move through time and space is personal.

I guess it’s one of myriad reasons I’m not Michael Chabon (especially when he’s “firing on all cylinders”), but I don’t walk around thinking about the historical context of the streets I’m on. Part of this is ignorance, part of it is selfishness, and part of it is just being unable to process historical context of every damn thing. But I bet I’d be better at it if I didn’t sit inside so much, watching, reading Grantland (fine sports journalism though it may well be) and James Thurber’s wikipedia page.[5]

Understanding and coming to terms with all this is difficult and makes me want to do something easy like check out and watch The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.[6]

I feel guilty for retroactively not thinking that Osama bin Laden’s death is more important. But my point is that viewed through the prism of relentless digital activity and information (un)absorption (how many minutes ago was this friend’s comment on my Facebook comment?) it seems like the significance of everything that’s happened is diminished since internet data became the de facto source. If a story is more than ten minutes (less?) ago, we’re moving on to the next bit of breaking information. And thanks to social media and my wandering attention span, headlines about my college buddy’s drunk cat are as or more prevalent than New York Times headlines about Syria. I do not say this glibly. It depresses the hell out of me. And I feel like my memory has degraded as a result. The last couple sports seasons all blend into mush, even though I followed almost of them with gusto. Hell I can’t remember what happened on Friday night last week.[7]

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed not by madness but by delaying their personal achievement to work at Groupon for the health insurance and grinding out six of eight hours on Facebook.

I would not be surprised if further study into IDSR could also account for getting to a lot of appointments (professional and social) either late or without necessary supplies, information, or personal effects. I oft leave my house late and without shit I need because I sit down at the computer for a second and check email or ESPN or Fangraphs or Bless You Boys. This list is unique to me, but I’ll wager dollars to donuts that anyone my generation or younger would have their own items to insert.

This is not to blame the internet. The fault is entirely our own. But it’s so damn easy. I’ve spent many days internetting, and for what? To be able to only vaguely recall what I read or watched? And people don’t have to be challenged. Anything we don’t want to read or see is banished with a click in lieu of a video of the Today show recreating live a youtube of baby twins ‘rocking out’ to their dad’s guitar. (Even this example will soon be meaningless due to IDSR.)

Now two-year-olds are as or more capable of manipulating iPads than their doting parents. To what affect on their consciousness? They may have the upper hand when the machines are integrated to human circuitry à la The Matrix,[8] but what need to remember information when most of it is cataloged on our external digital hard-drive and not our internal one?[9] And will we be less able to draw meaningful conclusions and make intelligent decisions with this most-recent-is-best attitude towards data? Hopefully children raised from the tit with this kind of technology will cope better than an adult like myself. I feel old to remember when handwriting was more common than typing (the high school students I teach cannot).

I am left to conclude that while sometimes a bastion of opportunity, communication, and information, the internet paired with relative wealth and leisure is just as or more likely to be a portal into ignorance, laziness, and the diminished significance of the present moment. I harrumph from the top of the rock pile and wave my big knobbly stick, even as I update my Netflix queue, google ‘knobbly’, and post this to my website.

  1. [1]The provenance of three so-called “double plays” (worth two outs) including one with the bases loaded and one away, vouchsafed the Tribe’s escape with a 3-2 win.
  2. [2]
    This is not a question. A rather cavalier interviewing tactic, if you ask me. Which I fully acknowledge no one has.
  3. [3]Well done, Chabon. I can’t imagine, having had at least ten addresses in half that many neighborhoods in less time in Chicago. Though I’ll warrant that if I was a prolific, critically acclaimed novelist, buying a home wouldn’t seem quite so quixotic.
  4. [4]Chabon’s pretty damn cagey too, answering neither yes nor no.
  5. [5]I know. What? But god, he was fascinating.
  6. [6]This is meant to be ironic, as this activity would not be at all easy when considering the relative density of the film (whose director is also interviewed in the same issue of TOC(!)). Not to mention I have access to it because of a website. And can you believe that this film came out in 2007?? I think that shock is caused more by aging than this IDSR I’ve invented. But still.
  7. [7]This is not true, but it is possible, and for a different (and perhaps not unrelated) reason.
  8. [8]I recognize that this, in all likelihood, will never happen. Also, I prefer referring to this film trilogy as The Matrices, to general indifference.
  9. [9]Read: brains.

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