When the now-famous “1984” Apple commercial first aired during Superbowl halftime in that same year, it proclaimed the computer, Macintosh specifically, champion of freedom and innovation. The Macintosh, the savior, would protect us from the horrors of monolithic culture.
The scene was chilling: rows of homogenous looking men in drab jumpsuits (the odd one sporting a sinister metal facial accessory), slaves to the big-screen, and an assumedly oppressive regime. Then she breaks through: Apple incarnate. All tanned legs and bleached hair, the innovator comes to the rescue—wielding a hammer and presumably, ideas. This threat to conformity twirls once, twice, three times and in one graceful movement, sends her instrument of change flying into Big Brother on the big-screen. Then static.
From an advertising perspective, it’s a brilliant piece of marketing: buy our product, buy your freedom, and most importantly don’t buy into groupthink or the time-trap. Buy innovation. Because you’re not really purchasing a product, you’re purchasing an ideology. And, we all know how that story turned out.
The computer, and the internet after it, set out to accelerate progress and ultimately transform culture. And what has been achieved, in not a lot of time, mind you, may have surpassed the expectations of just about everyone. Well, except Marshall McLuhan.
The internet has transformed culture surely, and it would seem that we’re still struggling to grasp just how much. Without straying too far down the murky path of McLuhanisms, it has been suggested that internet is no longer a vehicle of culture: the Internet has become a culture; or, eclipsed everything to become the culture.
But in this society, also founded on a tenuous relationship between free information and hidden controls, who are the innovators? The hack geniuses behind groups like Anonymous? Those purveyors of Lolcats and endless internet ephemera?
Or, as I’ve come to believe in an only slightly self-indulgent way, are they still, as Orwell imagined, the Winston Smith’s scrawling original thoughts on those nearly-obsolete tools; paper and pen.
Those of us still toiling away at print journalism, believe this on some level. That this work matters, that it will continue to matter even as papers disappear from the shelves and are crushed underfoot. We believe this despite the quarterly figures that say otherwise, and despite the fact that, we too, read most of our news online. I read somewhere that revolutions start at the bottom, anyway.
This is all a very roundabout way of addressing what happened earlier this week, when the oldest newspaper hold-out in the city, The Winnipeg Free Press, laid off a couple of writers and editors. Is it the reality? Sure. Do we, like Winston Smith, in those final moments before it all goes away, want to cry out, “do it to her instead!” Probably.
Among the writers let go was Melissa Martin. She spoke at our first Uniter orientation this year, and she, too, started with Orwell. In that talk, she made me believe the world still had a place for storytellers. Just one month later, they tried to take her voice away.
But therein lies the beauty of the internet. Through a myriad of social media networks, Melissa and the others still have a voice. They can branch off, create new channels, connect with others. And, it would seem, given the outpouring of support that they’ve received individually through these channels, that people are still reading.
I got to thinking that maybe the internet wasn’t the problem. Or, at the very least, not the problem all of the time. For my own sanity, I have to believe that there is room in our culture for Winston Smith and Steve Jobs. This is how I’ve learned to love the bomb. Because, for all of its destructive power, it’s really beautiful to behold, isn’t it?
So, in the culture section this year, with this little space still allotted to my words (for now), I aim to explore the cross-sections of technology and culture…or maybe even the assumption that the two no longer know fixed boundaries; have become amoebic, shifting in and out at any given time at any given moment.
If you’d like, you can join me. In fact, I’d welcome the company. Every week we’ll write, and every week we’ll print, while the water rises around our ankles until one day it reaches our lips…and then, static.