Recently, Gabe Delahaye from Videogum wrote a piece in response to the death of Nora Ephron in which he called for a moratorium on Twitter eulogies. The idea was that, whenever anyone moderately famous dies, everyone with a Twitter account/Facebook page/Tumblr/etc. feels the need to say something, anything, simply because they have some sort of public web presence and despite the fact that the majority of those well-meaning sentiments usually boil down to, “RIP Lady Who Wrote Sleepless in Seattle #Idontknowwhoyouare #butyoudied #andthismakesmefeelimportant.”
This, in turn, reminded me of Kyle’s post about Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin’s The Newsroom has been largely shredded by critics even though, at its core, it shares (as Kyle pointed out) a lot of the same ideas and sometimes literally the same dialogue that made our collective loins quiver when he did it on The West Wing. The thing that has changed in the last 13 years, when apparently Sorkin has not, is of course The Internet. Sorkin longs to go back to a time when we the people would come home, sit in front of our television at 6 o’clock, and let a happy few men of idealism and honor lay The Truth upon us. Today, we have an unceasing onslaught of information coming at us from every angle, and any one person is lucky to pull from it even the kernel of a well-reasoned thought. Everyone talks about Everything.
Both Sorkin and Delahaye are arguing that we should not. And I’m not sure that I agree.
If I could slide into the anecdotal (which I’m actually required to do, as I am a blogger rather than a Serious Journalist), I was a pretty well informed kid. I watched a lot of movies, a lot of TV, I sometimes read outside the funny pages of the newspaper. I remember names, I’m good with faces and, even as a child, I like to think I always had at least a vague idea of What Was Going On. As a result, I also spent most of my childhood and ALL of my teen years hiding from The Look. We’ve all gotten The Look, I’m sure.
The Look always comes from some happily ignorant person who doesn’t understand what you’re saying; a person who doesn’t understand that being able to explain the plot to Star Wars doesn’t make you a pocket protecter-wearing nerd from the 1980s. They triple their chin, furrow their brow, and look at you askance with an expression of disdain that clearly conveys, “you’re weird and wrong for knowing about something I don’t.” I abhor The Look. I was a painfully shy and introverted child, in part because getting The Look from the cool kids made me question when it was okay to speak. To this day, I have a tendency to describe actors as, “That guy who was in ____” or “That chick who played_____” even when I know their real names. Even at 30 I’m still trying to avoid The Look. I like to think that, 10 years ago, Progressive Boink’s little community of writers and forum members thrived because we were all so happy to be in a space where everyone else knew what the fuck we were talking about.
The Look still exists, to be certain. But, in this age of social media and cultural inundation, I seem to find it less and less. I have a very clear memory of being a kid (maybe 13) and seeing a report on TV about jury selection for the OJ Simpson trial. Now, by the time jury selection was happening, this story had already dominated the news for months. It was inescapable. And yet this news reporter was interviewing a woman who had no idea what the story was about. She hadn’t heard anything about the white Bronco, or the crime that was committed. She possibly didn’t know who OJ Simpson was. Even as an adolescent I can remember thinking, “JESUS CHRIST LADY HOW CAN YOU LIVE LIKE THIS?!” It was, and is, astounding to me that a person could exist in the world yet have no conception of what is going on past the end of their own nose.
The beauty of this new millennium, however, is that that lady doesn’t exist anymore. That lady has a Facebook page. She posts 10,000 pictures of her lazy-eyed grandson. She puts up sparkly computer graphics of bald eagles every 4th of July. She posts status updates that read, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” And she gets all of her information from her news feed.
Some might find that appalling; I think it’s a beautiful thing. Because the point is SHE GETS INFORMATION. The ubiquity of social media has made it nearly impossible to be willfully ignorant. Take the Higgs boson that’s been in the news this week. Even if you don’t understand, even if you don’t care, even if you learned about it from one of those E-cards with a picture of a Victorian lady flipping a double bird, you heard about it. Yes, the Internet is full of stupid people saying stupid things. Yes, our media (digital and otherwise) has become one long, ceaseless din; a huge undulating nest of termites, each one trying to chew the loudest. But the upside of this unending spider web of sharing, and re-sharing, and retweeting, and memes, and viral videos, and whateverthehellelse is that most people seem to have Some Vague Idea of what’s going on. They may not have it right, but they have something.
And, in the end, maybe an uninformed opinion is better than no opinion at all?