By Beppe Colli
Nov. 26, 2014
Today is Clouds and Clocks' twelfth birthday. Hooray!
It seems like yesterday that I decided to
start this thingee, with absolutely no knowledge of what it took to make the
thing fly. I received lotsa encouragement from Italy ("It's so easy, you
don't even need to know how to deal with HTML code anymore"), while people
from the United States offered more than a few practical suggestions, and a
list of software programs that could be of help. Quite a dichotomy, which at
first I didn't even notice, but which I came to ponder at great length in the
I was really surprised by the amount of
feedback I got from the States. There were those who didn't agree with my reviews,
those who sent invitations to concerts ("Can you come to Austin? We'll
leave your name at the door") and even conferences in L.A. ("Hi,
Beppe! Next week I'll be in Los Angeles, as one of the featured speakers at a
conference about audio and recording. Tell the guys at your magazine to buy you
a plane ticket, we can meet after the conference.").
Messages from the States accounted for
about 90% of the total. While for a long time - with the obvious exception of a
few close friends - I got almost nothing from Italy. And for reasons that
remain totally mysterious to me, traffic from Italy in the first five or six
years was also quite scarce.
In those days (the "dot.com" era)
the panorama of Internet magazines was richly populated. Already a subscriber
to Salon - a U.S. magazine talking about politics and culture that had no paper
edition - I read about the Napster trial on such magazines as Billboard (which
under the guidance of Timothy White had a strong presence on the Web, besides
having a first-class staff), CNET, Slashdot, Inside, and Rolling Stone.
Today the Web offers a lot more, and a lot
less. The Babel of voices is overwhelming - it would be impossible for a tiny
English-speaking webzine such as this one to get noticed today - but quality
has suffered. The reason is obvious: those who are professionally equipped to
report on something like the Napster case must possess a knowledge of the law,
and be willing to work long hours, i.e., they must be paid accordingly. But the
burst of the "dot.com" bubble, and the dynamics of the market -
starting with the reluctance from large sections of the public to pay for
something they think they can get for free elsewhere (more about it in a short
while) - have made everything a lot more difficult.
Of course, today the Web offers so many
opportunities that were obviously unthinkable just a few years ago. A Nobel
prize such as Paul Krugman has a blog on the New York Times, which he updates
more than a few times a day, with figures, charts and links. The Internet gives
Krugman the chance to offer ideas and facts to a gigantic audience, which can
easily access this great quantity of information from all over the world, with
obvious practical implications.
But it's quite apparent that the increase
of the amount of available information has proceeded hand-in-hand with a
dramatic decrease in quality.
One's awareness of one's becoming poorer can be somewhat masked if
said impoverishment is spread all over the strata one deals with in one's
everyday existence: one's decision not to buy a new pair of shoes won't become
a source of embarrassment if most subjects one meets everyday have also decided
that "last year's pair will do".
The real problem starts when, say, a trip
abroad makes one get in touch with a standard of living that is totally
unattainable. This being true when it comes to clothing, transportation,
cleanness, social organization, and all that can be seen by the naked eye,
starting with the quality of available information.
Coherently with the process of infantilization
of people that has been going on for quite a few years by now (something which
I'll discuss in a short while), consumers have decided that "they don't
care anymore" about where things come from - those things the consume
(almost) for free. That it's not really necessary for them to buy a newspaper
at the newsstand when "one can find anything one needs on the Web",
that it's not strictly necessary for one to go and see a movie at a local
theatre when after just a few months one can watch it on cable ("...and
you know how much I have to pay each semester?").
Let's leave sophisticated debates - such as
the difference between people watching the same thing at the same time,
cultural debates in the media included in the picture, and watching the same
thing, each on one's own, at different times - for another occasion, and let's
go to the heart of the matter.
How do you get to know about the Ebola
epidemic? From newspapers and magazines. And where newspapers and magazines get
their news? From their own correspondents (provided they have any), or from
news agencies. And where do news agencies get their earnings? From newspapers
So, even if it's to be expected that there
are those who, at the moment of buying a newspaper, have in mind their
children's dental braces - but it's all relative, of course: when confronted
with the choice of buying a new pair of shoes or renewing my subscription to
the New York Times, I'd have no doubt, given the fact that I'm quite convinced
that it's the lack of knowledge and awareness that makes human beings become
dangerously close to animals - I'm quite surprised when affluent professionals
surf the Web getting their news for free on their portables. Sure, there are
reasons of convenience and practicality involved. No problem: It's always
possible to buy a few copies of one's favourite newspaper every day, leaving
them on benches and elsewhere, for other people to read.
Sure, even if all newspapers, magazines,
and news agencies closed shop somebody would surely get the news: the military,
governments, and institutions. But are we really sure that we'd be told about
those facts - truthfully?
Provided I remember correctly, Frank Zappa used to say: "I
discovered that the most common element in the Universe is not hydrogen, but
stupidity". So true. But I believe that even he would be amazed by the
vast increase in the process of infantilization when it comes to consumers.
In fact, while noticing that the shoes one
wears are significantly older than those our neighbors wear is quite easy,
understanding how old and inadequate one's ideas are it's not as easy. For
animals that graze on the grass all things that are above their heads - rain,
snow, the sun - don't exist, unless they fall on their heads.
But while grazing on the grass is boring,
living an active life as a consumer is not.
In so differently from a lot of people in my country, I never
believed the notion that Berlusconi's fall from power would magically transport
us back to our happy previous state. Instead, that period has made it possible
for anything to be seen as something banal, serious problems have turned unto
jokes, the idea of complexity has practically disappeared, every problem has
been reduced to the notion of our accepting or refusing somebody. Our obsessive
concentrating on personalities, not problems and issues, has brought us to a
condition where by now change coincides with getting rid of somebody, to be
replaced by somebody else. If the new boss is younger, there's a slogan ready:
"scrapping", "getting rid of the old stuff".
Let's see a for instance. "Smaller
hospitals spread all over the country are not financially viable, and there are
too many of them, so by necessity they have to be closed. Larger hospitals
offer a dimension of vertical integration that's economically convenient, and
which will make for more rational expenditures." Which is true. "All
other things being equal", of course. So, we assume that nobody will
travel abroad, bringing back something like SARS. At the time of that scare,
just a few years ago, it was seen that keeping that kind of contagious person
in isolation was a highly complex, financially intensive process, from the type
of air conditioning involved to the quantity of highly trained nurses. It was
noticed that avoiding contagion through normal air conditioning systems implied
a general redesign of air conditioning methods, and that maybe, all things
considered, having a certain number of highly-specialized, smaller hospitals
spread all over the country was not a bad idea in order to stop contagion. Of
course, a lot of money is needed, and qualified personnel.
But all modern problems are "quite
Should I summarize a "giant problem" in a short sentence,
I'd choose "I don't care". Increasingly, today nobody
"cares" about anything. "I don't care about reading a review,
I'll listen to it and I'll make up my mind" is just a microcosm of a
self-referential attitude that - it goes without saying - can't seem to trace
causal links anymore. But in the end, consequences turn around, and bite us.
© Beppe Colli 2014
CloudsandClocks.net | Nov. 26, 2014