Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Pushing Past the Bull...oney

One of the benefits of old age is an accumulation of wisdom gleaned over years of living the life.
One of the negatives of old age is an assumption that when criticisms surface it’s just ‘an old
man’s take’ on a changing world. It’s like being caught betwixt and between your reality and everyone else’s.

Having said that…I think living in our world today is like riding a roller coaster blindfolded and without a safety harness. It’s a kaleidoscope full of fluff and deception that can make your stomach spin. An environment where everyone seems to be angling to get into your pocketbook, influence your mind and move you in their direction.

Simply look around and you’ll realize you’re in the consumer bullseye for everything from music to skin cream. It’s isn’t your parent’s black and white monotone world any more. This is where age hampers that realization because it is neither good nor bad; it is simply a fact of life. The world is changing at such a rate that the only constant is change itself.

So despite risking the chance I’ll be labeled an old man mumbling I’d like to examine a few aspects of the world we live in today. Let’s look at it honestly and without valuation. Then decide what you like, are willing accept or want to change. And ultimately how do you learn to deal with it.

National and local news outlets have become a cash-strapped commodity meant to attract eyeballs and no longer advance the art and science of journalism. The honorable world of journalism as I knew it growing up no longer exists.

National news is now mostly fluff. It’s an ad-filled half hour of sound bites designed to make us worry more about our health (via the pharmaceutical industry), believe politicians (via their lobbyists) and fret about the fate of our planet. Weather reports are disguised as news. Self-promotional business packages are fed to the news departments who are too understaffed to create their own news segments.

Print newspapers are struggling to find their way in this new era of instant ‘breaking news.’ Yet some of the most egregious offenders are the pretend internet news sites that offer up a mixture of advertisements disguised as news articles along with meaningless pap mean to titillate the senses and collect eyeballs. Magazines fare no better.

Cable is a stumbling dinosaur. It’s inflexible scheduling and viewing options are being threatened by mobile devices, streaming video, internet options, apps and a growing consumer dissatisfaction with the bland tasteless programming being offered.

The world of politics has become so jaded with vested interests and partisan politics that consensus is nearly impossible on most relatively simple policies.Worst yet, money talks and yet nobody is actually listening.

Alvin Toffler called it the ‘third wave.’ In retrospect, he was dead right and couldn’t have been more wrong. With the arrival of the microchip and digital information technology our world was about to change…exponentially. Between 1990 and 1995 there was a tidal wave of digital products and new experiences that were to affect almost every aspect of our daily lives.

I was one of the first believers and converts. I read everything I could on this new computer technology. My kids had a Macintosh at home to do their grade school homework. They would be prepared for a whole new world opening up before their very eyes. It was my business to make sure that Sharden Productions, Inc. was using this new technology to stay ahead of the game. I devoured the new magazines and collected articles of relevance to my new ventures into cyber space.

I tried to ride that North Shore wave of bites and bytes but it kept pushing me further and further behind until I was back among the masses, lost amid the conflicting claims and acclaimed benefits of this new technology. Now I’m content with my Windows 7, won’t touch Windows 8 and am suspicious of Windows 10. 

So what happened to that ‘new economy’ as predicted? The promise of the information revolution has been shattered into a million pieces of economic and social reality.*

The new economy wasn’t a ‘new economy’ after all. The old mantra of ‘e-business or out of business’ was premature. More money has been lost in computer technology ventures than has been made. On-line shopping hasn’t erased bricks and mortars. We still crave the ‘touch and feel’ of hands-on shopping instead of the ‘fill my cart’ and ‘press here to pay’ buttons on our computer screen. Only a few companies now stand at the pinnacle of success while hundreds if not thousands of others are still struggling to stay alive in a constantly changing business environment.

Despite the ‘new’ which is increasingly looking like the ‘old,’ there is still hope. High-energy entrepreneurs with new ideas can still get their turn at bat. While the old days of ‘garage to global’ are almost over there are still a myriad of opportunities for those daring pathfinders willing to take a chance and risk it all for a chance at that mythological gold crown in the cyber sky.

The Internet was supposed to create a world community. It did and it didn’t. The term community has taken on a new and interesting moniker in the digital age. Community is now defined as any group of any size with any common interest. Just peruse Facebook and look at the numerous and sometimes bizarre groups gathered there.

The other side of that ‘community’ coin has proven to be spot-on. I am now able to review playbills from the Knightsbridge collection of theaters. I can check in with fellow western writers from Australia. I can wander down Streetview over the old familiar cobblestone streets around the Amsterdam train station where I used to hang out. The planet and universe has morphed into my world with a simple click on my keyboard.

The digital age was supposed make us all smarter. Not true. Today’s kids aren’t really tech-savvy as much as they are just button-savvy. Few of them know or even care what’s going on inside their smart phone or video game console. They just know how to turn the machine on.
Fortunately my grandchildren have their screen-time rationed at home. Outdoor activities, reading and sports take precedent over video games and television watching.

The Internet was also supposed to make us better informed. This takes me back to my earlier comments about the news media and the rocky road they’ve put us all on just to get some semblance of news.

Despite the many failings of the new Information Revolution there have been some wonderful changes to embrace. This reached home when I returned to my two original westerns written back in 1974 and 1975. With new scanning technology I was able to change those old gray pages into screen pages which I could easily rewrite and manipulate. About that same time, Create space, a company owned by Amazon, became one of the first POD (print on demand) publishers in the world. It has become a true double-edged sword.

The old prediction that anyone and everyone could become a publisher has proven to be true. Unfortunately along with the ease of publication came a tsunami of books, both print and electronic, that has totally engulfed the reading world. Without the East Coast guardians of print to check for editing, plot development and other pre-publication standards, the quality of these new books flooding the marketplace is questionable at best. It’s nearly impossible to find footing in this new flood of vernacular mud and it’s only getting worse.

The new task ahead for any writer will be to manage and maneuver through this sludge pile of distractions to try to find footing and grow an audience. Working smarter and harder will be the new moniker for these new publishing explorers.

Despite the failed predictions of the new Information Revolution there have been many improvements in our lives. There is much to embrace and welcome as change. But in the end it all circles back to the very core of our being and what makes us happy and content as human beings. Those old truisms born of older generations have never changed they’ve just been covered with a vapid cloak of ‘new.’ The old is still the most honest.

·         Your health is your own responsibility and no pill will take the place of common sense.

·         Most, if not all, of the true treasures in life are free and found all around us.

·         Often times the simpler the life the richer and more diverse it is.

·         The answer is not out there. It is inside your head.

So for all the changes swirling around us the old can still be relevant and important in our lives.
Self-direction, self-control and personal responsibility are still the monikers of all of us to wear. It’s a brand new world. But then it’s always been a brand new world just depending on which generation you’re talking to.

I want to embrace some of the new, hold on to some of the old and have fun doing it. Life is too short for anything else.

*Many of the points of the ‘Information Revolution’s Broken Promises’ were taken from an   article by Karl Albrecht which appeared in the March-April, 2014 issue of The Futurist Magazine.

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