Friday, March 25, 2011

"Live music" and other ponderables

Consider for a moment the term “live music.”

As opposed to what? “Dead music?” otherwise known as, what? .... “music”?

“We listened to ‘dead music.’” Really?

We listened to “live music.” Great!

We listened to “music.” Okay, but was it “live” or “dead”?

Ever notice how new media technology changes our language? The way in which we refer to our new media experiences (“recorded music” becomes “music”) insulates the “old” direct experience in bubble-wrapped verbal insulation (“live music”).

Here are some other examples.

“I watched the Superbowl” versus “I went to the Superbowl.” The assumption in the first instance is that you “watched” the game on TV, not that you watched it in person ("live football"?). Ironically, if you simply "watched it," you likely had a better view of the game than someone who actually was present. That may be why “going” to the Superbowl seems more descriptive than actually “seeing” it.

How about “I watched the news”? That one is even trickier. It assumes there is something called “the news” that exists in a pure form. In fact it is selected, constructed and “assembled.” To call it “the news” implies that it is something “new” to you. Whatever lies beyond “the news,” presumably, is “not news” and hence known. Oh really? Consider what you don’t know....

And then there’s Facebook’s co-option of the word “friend”? It puts the question: “What is a friend?” Someone willing to share bits and pieces of his or her life with you and a few dozen others on-line? What is the difference between the new verb "to friend" and the old one "to befriend"? What were “friends” before there was a Facebook? Has the medium changed the definition?

I’ll venture that it has, ever so slightly or ever so much, to the extent Facebook becomes part of your life.

What are the consequences of these changes? To the extent that words help us understand reality, the changes alter how we relate to the real, unmediated world.

Ultimately, the language of media description leads us to distrust our own direct perceptions and wraps mediated image (as opposed to reality) in the appearance of verbal credibility.

Of course this happened long ago with travel, which also was a form of communication. Remember the Pony Express? The telegraph ended all that.

Today, the statement “I went downtown” implies you did something. That’s a holdover from the “pedestrian era.” In fact, a car or bus took you downtown. You sat impassively. Your body was conveyed downtown.

The bigger question behind all this is: How accurately are we describing our actions and our world? Are technology and the language it generates making us more, or less, accurate? More or less aware?

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