Chat boards and weblogs really took off in the late 1990s, although the tech for them had existed since the early 70s. Those early chat boards tended to be pretty gentle places inhabited by computer geeks. By the late 90s, the furious arguments and name calling that we now associate with chat boards and weblogs had become standard.
After Myrna died in 2004, this internet chatting and arguing became a source (a mostly horrifically negative source) of companionship. There seems to be no topic to chat and argue about on a day to day basis except for politics.
So, I speak here as a sinner. It is only since I retired that I've mostly let go of ferocious internet arguments with long standing enemies. Why did I let go?
First, I wanted peace of mind. Fixating on the next argument with one's internet enemy leaves very little mental space for doing anything else. You just can't let that bastard who insulted you on some doofus weblog win!
Second, the reasons for intense fights on the internet faded away with each successive year of retirement. Political fighting is really a turf battle over who gets what, and my status in that regard is not going to change for the remainder of my life.
One of my most ferocious long term enemies was a hothead named Ritmo, who still continues to say the most awful shit he can imagine on Althouse's weblog. He, I think, originated the tactic of announcing in his opening comments that he considers himself a brilliant intellectual, so that anybody who disagrees with him is obviously an idiot.
"Go read a book!" is one of his favorite jibes.
Ritmo's quickly shifts tactics once he's challenged and loses ground. Then he resorts to the great internet atomic bomb... "You're a bigot!"
I particularly enjoyed baiting Ritmo and setting him off in a frenzy. For all his self-announced intellectualism, he flew off the handle and started raving with very little prodding.
Watching him explode was amusing, but even that got boring and took up too much energy I could spend doing something else, like playing music.
Another long term enemy was a former editor of Time Magazine who, inexplicably, loathed everything about Christianity but had a weak spot for Islam. And, this guy grew up near Springfield, Illinois. The editor was another manic bigot hunter. Every disagreement with him was one sort of bigotry or another.
I kept arguing with this guy for a long time out of sheer amazement that somebody that crazy could occupy such a prominent job. But, that got old, too.
One of my siblings even volunteered to be a fierce internet enemy. Her life has been destroyed by drug arrests, failure of her children and failure to figure out how to make a decent living. So, she needs a scapegoat. She's tried out various members of the family. I've tried everything I can do to shut off access to any of my websites, Facebook account or weblog. She's resorted to using fake names so that she can get through to rant at me about how I'm responsible for the mess of her life.
I take the Sabbath off from internet discussion now, partly to observe God's day, and partly to stop the long running arguments and name calling. It works, too. Say nothing. Don't respond. Don't be baited.
Pay attention to what's really important in one's own life.
Of course, this line is from the big 60s hit by Buffalo Springfield that evokes the atmosphere of that era of street protests.
In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre, paranoia has taken over. Facebook is full of horrifying accusations, with every political faction trying to pin the blame on their opponents.
The need for a scapegoat seems so deeply embedded in the human psyche.
I wish I had answers, but I don't.
Part of the explanation for the paranoia that took over the anti-war movement in the 60s was that so many people were experimenting with acid and sex. LSD produces good and bad outcomes. Those outcomes are dependent to a great degree on the psychological stability of the user. Sexual experimentation also provokes deep seated fears.
I speak from experience.
The rebellion against authority and patriarchy in the 60s also left people feeling adrift in a sea of random waves. There were no longer any rules or loyalties.
That rebellion against tradition, order, morality and authority continues to this day. In fact, rebellion has become a mass movement, a brand. Woodstock is the dominant symbol of that brand.
On the left, the paranoia over sexual identity drives people to wild extremes. The shame that people feel for their perversions and experimentation must be somebody's fault. That that shame might originate within the individual because of what he is doing seems unacceptable.
This sexual paranoia provokes bitter hatred. In Woodstock, it is an article of faith that the rubes out in the styx want to kill the perverts and homosexuals. I grew up in small town Republican Illinois and I can attest that that is nonsense. Nobody cares that much.
My life is very peaceful. I'm out here at the end of a dirt road in the forest in the Catskill Mountains. Should I even care about this outburst of paranoia and hatred? I'm retired and out of the fight of life. Should I just ignore the madness?
Myrna believed, correctly I think, that humans become consumed by bloodlust during times of peace. Peace equals boredom. The desire to blow things to hell begins to creep into our consciousness, particularly among the young who lust for action. The desire for revenge against our enemies begins to consume us.
Is the internet a global single consciousness?
If so, that single consciousness is infected with madness and bloodlust, the desire for revenge and paranoid hatred of imagined and real enemies.
I don't give a shit about racism. I know that I'm supposed to, but I don't. The uber obsession of politics and the web is mostly of no interest. This shit has been beaten to death my entire life. There is nothing new to say about it.
Since white guys are supposed to be the worst, most racist guys in the universe, it's easy to get in fights about this idiocy. You can spend your entire day on FB fighting with people about who's been done wrong.
What a bore!
People mostly like to live among their own kind and send their children to school among their own kind. I don't see anything to fix in this. Woodstock, the great hippie capital, was built on this principle. It's entirely white. The white people who live in Woodstock can't even stand to live next door to a Republican.
Which is OK.
I exited the great racism argument when I retired. Occasionally, I fall short of my vow to have nothing to do with this idiocy. Four years into retirement, the great controversy has less to do with me every day. I don't go to work so I'm not fighting with other people over who gets what.
I not only don't give a shit about racism, I like the "stereotyped" differences of different races. There are some great things about black culture, particularly adherence to that old time religion and the black outlook on music and athletics. Filipinos are very funny people with a great self-deprecating sense of humor. Chinese are so damned smart and workaholic.
When I was young I wanted to live in every kind of racial and ethnic community. I did, too. It was a gas! Not to say that there weren't some very bad things that happened. That's the price of being an adventurer.
Leave people alone. That's the solution to most things. The best thing to do about racism to fucking ignore it. Let the people of every racial group who are looking for a scapegoat fight it out on the battlefield of racism.
The rest of us should simply have a good time and enjoy the wild variety that God created.
I watched Life 2.0 on Netflix a couple of nights ago. I wouldn't say that it is a good movie, but it was quite interesting. The movie follows people who have completely given their lives over to the Second Life virtual reality website. Below, the movie trailer:
What is Second Life?
It is a virtual reality world built and inhabited by users. I do have a login and I've tried to get involved, but it didn't work for me. Too clunky and too slow to render. Perhaps the pairing of Oculus Rift goggles and the website will improve the experience. I simply did not find the Second Life experience a compelling full immersion 3D environment.
The users portrayed in Life 2.0 didn't share my view. A couple who met online destroyed their marriages to other people through their romantic dalliance in the virtual world. A young man engaged to be married lost himself in Second Life, ignored his fiancé and lost her as a result.
As I said, I wouldn't call this a great movie, but an interesting movie. The people portrayed in the movie... well, they're losers. They've retreated into the virtual world for a reason. And, they're spending 12 to 14 hours a day in front of their computers living in a fantasy world. They are boring whiners.
That's not very appealing.
The one positive and interesting Second Life user portrayed in the flick is a very heavyset black woman who makes her living by designing clothing, skins and shoes to be worn by user avatars. She claims to be making a six figure income with this business, although I don't know whether she's referring to six figures in dollars or in "Lindens" the currency unit of the virtual world.
She's beset by a thief who steals all her designs and sells them for much cheaper prices. One of the odder sub stories of the flick is her lawsuit against the infringer. It takes this woman a year to redesign and protect her intellectual property.
I might go back to Second Life and give it another try. I'd like to try out the Oculus Rift headset, but that would require a new computer since the headset doesn't work on my iMac platform. Dell is bundling a number of its computers with the Oculus headset with a total price of $1,500.
If I were still working in the multimedia biz, I'd focus my efforts on virtual reality, 3D printing and artificial intelligence. A lot of money to be made in these fields. And intellectual excitement, too.
If you haven't heard about Artificial Intelligence ("AI"), where have you been? In my continuing quest to find things to do that push the online political ranting out of my mind, I've started work on the introductory MIT course on AI.
I don't know how deeply I'll go into this course. I just took a look at the recommended course textbook at Amazon. Very geeky and $140 to boot. I might buy a used textbook for about $40. The textbook seems to be mainly about writing AI programs in a programming language called Python.
One of my jobs as a multimedia developer and programmer, back before I retired, was putting up online courses for a variety of corporate clients. I put up some of the first online courses was back in the mid 90s. So, I'm interested in this course not just for the content, but also to see how online course development has evolved in 20 years.
My immediate impression is... not a lot. We used similar layouts and concepts 20 years ago.
AI, we've been told thousands of times, is going to put everybody out of work. So what is it? Here's a definition:
AI (pronounced AYE-EYE) or artificial intelligence is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems.
Machines that can think like humans, but better and faster. That's what it's about.
Robots imbued with AI will replace all manual laborers. Or, so we've been told repeatedly in the press and online. We may even be engineering our own obsolescence or extinction by making ourselves useless. Will the super smart robotic computers of the future deign to put up with stupid humans?
I've watched the first course video. A few observations.
The instructor, Patrick H. Winston, talks about the fact that this course is being presented at MIT constantly. Why? He's appealing to the students' vanity, for sure, over the fact that they were admitted to one of the most prestigious tech schools. Branding?
Winston would do well to get into some sort of exercise regimen. He seems out of breath at various points in the video as a result of walking around the room. Let's just say he doesn't have a charismatic screen presence. By the middle of the lecture, his shirt tail is falling out of the front of his trousers giving us an unflattering view of his belly.
Winston throws in a couple of Diversity bits early in the lecture. He genuflects briefly before feminist and gay activist ideology. Why? I can't say. I don't know whether he actually finds these bits interesting and relevant, or whether he's simply trying to fulfill the now universal Diversity requirement in colleges in order to save his own ass.
The video is static, with zero FX or attempts at production values.
The introductory video was interesting and accessible. I don't know whether that will continue to be the case as I move through the videos.
One goal, however, achieved. The video diverted my attention from the political ranting online for an hour.
I really don't measure my life in relationship to celebrity. There was a time in my life when I actually knew a lot of celebrities... musicians and media people. None of them were really close friends, just business acquaintances. So, Muhammad Ali died at the age of 74. What's that got to do with me?
I certainly look at the celebrity obits. How can you help that? My Facebook page already sports dozens of references to Ali's death, with each friend relating their bit about how and when he affected their lives.
My main interest in the celebrity obit nowadays is... How old was the deceased? This gives me an opportunity to revise my guess-ti-mate of just how long I have left before I croak.
Ali croaked at age 74... an average age for a man. 82 seems to be the favorite age for male dying.
How did the great fighter affect my life?
Back in the day, let's say around 1968, he was an anti-war icon with his "No Vietcong ever called me nigger" quote. This seemed incredibly brilliant to me at the age of 18, although it now seems like incoherent nonsense.
I chased around celebrity musicians in Woodstock way way back in the late 70s and 80s in the hope that they could do something to help me in my ambitions. Quite a few of those musicians have since kicked the bucket, and none of them did me a bit of good. Some of them did thoroughly enjoy playing the S&M game of pissing on me for chasing after them. A few of them asked me to work for them for free.
I did not attend the funerals of any of these musician celebrities. Many of the supporting cast musicians in Woodstock did in the forlorn hope that this would be a last chance for some of the sheen of celebrity to rub off on them.
Celebrity is so cheap nowadays. Back in the 60s and 70s, celebrity was a rare thing because media was limited. So, the celebrity figures of the 60s and 70s seemed bigger than life.
In the era of super mass media on the internet, Warhol's "Everybody will be famous for 15 minutes" maxim is literally true. Celebrities abound. I no longer even make the attempt to keep up.
I am content now to face the future of dying in anonymity. We all die alone.
When Myrna was dying in the hospital, I tried at first to rally all her friends and associates to visit her at the hospital. But, I quickly observed that neither she nor they really wanted that. Death is an intensely private and not very pretty thing. Myrna wanted to be left alone with me holding her hand in her last moments.
Only a handful of people really care for us during our lives. This is not a negative reflection on people. Intimacy is difficult and time consuming. We don't have the ability to care for a broad swath of humanity.
I will also die alone, with maybe my daughter at my bedside. Nobody will notice much that I am gone, and that's fine, too.
After babysitting three grandkids under the age of 3 all day, I head home for dinner and take a nap that tends to last until 10 p.m. or midnight. When I wake up, I surf the web to take in the Cubs' news and all those ever important political opinion sites. I might get in an argument or two. Then, I try to change gears, play music and sketch. Some nights I succeed. Others, I don't.
What is it about bullshitting about opinions, particularly political opinions, that is so addicting? Opinion bullshitting is probably the major use of the internet. Comments sections of weblogs are filled with people arguing all night with an urgency that is preposterous.
Of course, there are a few weblogs and websites that are important presenters of opinion, like Steve Sailer's blog, probably the most influential on the web. Although Sailer has not endorsed Donald Trump for president, Sailer's explosive (and witty) deconstruction of political correctness may be the most significant factor in Trump's rise. The fact that Sailer now draws in excess of 200 comments per post is a demonstration of the demand for heretical commentary. Most people are followers who wait for somebody else to take the hit for saying that it is obvious that the emperor is naked.
The rest of us are just weighing in with our two cents, getting pissed off because other people don't agree with us, and filling our time with... what?
When I am gone from this vale of tears, what will be the most important thing about me that will remain on this earth? Obviously, my progeny. My children and grandchildren will be my most important legacies. My artwork seems altogether likely to be forgotten. My political opinions, already of little consequence, will disappear into the electronic ether.
I chose the graphic above because it's funny. No, my opinion isn't important to the website, blog or newspaper that tries to attract my comments. What's important is that my click to these sites can be counted by advertisers paying for web page views.
So, what is this endless bickering on the web about? What else would we do on the internet other than argue about politics? Why do we seem to believe that the first measure of compatibility with other people is political opinion agreement?
I only have a few answers.
Back during the dot-com era, I worked for a number of very ambition start-ups. By ambitious, I mean that these companies planned to produce compelling, interesting and, often, educational original content on CDs and on the web. These start-ups all went bankrupt, often after blowing through $100 million in venture capital. Why? The cost of creating that original content could not possibly be recaptured in sales. Teams of engineers, programmers and content creatures consumed money at an astonishing rate.
Political opinion, on the other hand, is dirt cheap... maybe even free. It can be produced in unlimited quantity daily with very little effort. And, people seem to have an unlimited willingness to consume the product. The emotional furor produced by disagreement is a powerful drug that keeps people engaged.
What else would you do besides fight about politics on the web? MIT has a great online education site. Despite my good intentions, I have yet to take a course.
Every time some new health problem afflicts me, I've tried to adjust my diet to ameliorate the symptoms. Rosacea forced me to stop eating spicy foods. I started taking supplemental calcium and magnesium tablets to deal with muscle spasms caused by sciatica. And, now... what do I do about kidney stones?
The calcium and magnesium supplements have to go, because those elements form stones. So, what in the hell do I do about the muscle spasms? I guess I intensify my daily yoga workout.
My drinking days are over, thanks to rosacea. My face blows up and turns red after two glasses of wine. The discomfort and the damage to my vanity aren't worth it. With my late wife, Myrna, long gone, I no longer have a partner in crime anyway. My girlfriend is, alas, a lifelong teetotaler. What kind of trouble can you get in without drinking?
So, I'm involuntarily virtuous, too.
I've been trying to lose weight by concentrating on a mostly protein diet, so I've been buying these big jars of assorted nuts at Sam's Club, along with increasing the severity and length of my workouts. Guess what? Nuts are building blocks for kidney stones!
I'm headed, it appears, toward a nursing home diet.
I love to drink really strong coffee all day long. Grind my own just before I make it. Coffee is a diuretic, that is coffee makes you dehydrated. Which, of course, is implicated in the formation of kidney stones. So, I'm cutting the amount of coffee I drink in half and drinking a glass of water every hour. That's a lot of peeing!
One emergency visit during which I nearly flatlined, followed by two surgeries to remove the offending kidney stone certainly made an impression on me. I understand a little better those guys I know who had a heart attack and have modified their diets (not to mention their entire lives) in an attempt to avoid a repeat. I hate eating at their houses because they cook without fat or butter or salt, and the food is bland and tasteless.
They want to live to see their children grow up and get married. I want to live to be in the lives of my grandchildren.
At what point does life became more of a pain in the ass than it's worth?