2.16.2010

Dept. of Thin Gruel

The usually whip-smart Michelle Cottle has rather a dud of a piece over at TNR about the pitfalls of modern tech for the middle-aged user. She starts promisingly, then falls on the landing. Like Sasha Cohen, but with fewer sequins.

I was totally with her with this:
I’m sorry, but from where I sit, it ain’t the young’uns having notable trouble setting barriers and using technology with any level of discretion, reserve, or common sense. Rather, every time you turn around, an ostensible grown-up has done something monumentally stupid like sexting his mistress, sending filthy instant messages to strapping young House pages, or tweeting about his congressional delegation’s classified landing in Iraq. And how about that moron in North Carolina who googled the many and varied ways to kill a person in the days before killing his wife? Now there’s a guy in need of a lesson on the dangers of interconnectivity. This is not to say that younger users don’t do plenty of stupid stuff as well. But, as often as not, it’s the older generations that clearly can’t be trusted to navigate even basic media and networking tools.

Just last week, two unrelated news stories drove this point home for me. The first and more respectable involved a new Pew study showing that most American teens, usually early adapters of tech innovations, have no use for Twitter. And within the slim 8 percent of “online teens” who do use Twitter, most are tracking the goings-on of celebrities. (A related question found that 19 percent of online adults “use Twitter or similar services,” although the different wording of the question makes an apples-to-apples comparison impossible.)

On the one hand, I'm delighted to see that my lack of interest in Twitter means I'm still in step with Kids These Days. On the other hand, all the proof I need that blogging is past its prime is the simple fact that I am doing it.

Where Cottle flubs is in trying to tie her thesis in with the scandale du jour:
I was still pondering teens’ underappreciated level of tech maturity when I was smacked in the face by the latest installment of the John-Edwards-Is-a-Pig-and-an-Idiot drama. As it turns out, not only does an Edwards-Rielle Hunter sex tape exist, it is the focus of a legal battle between Hunter and Edwards dogsbody turned sex-scribbler Andrew Young. On February 5, Young was scheduled to appear in a North Carolina court to contest an injunction filed by Hunter, who seeks to prevent dissemination and to regain possession of “a personal video recording that depicted matters of a very private and personal nature.” Depending on who tells it, the tape was either stolen by Young from a hatbox full of Hunter’s very important personal effects or discarded by Hunter when she fled the North Carolina home the Youngs had been renting for her in late 2007. Either way, Young somehow found himself in possession of a home movie of the sort that drives the tabloids to stuff filthy wads of cash into one’s trousers. He is willing to fight Hunter for it (perhaps even eager, seeing as how he has a book to promote), and, at this point, there’s not much Edwards can do but sit back and watch his once-golden image gather even more layers of slime.

Now, admittedly, allowing oneself to be videotaped banging one’s pregnant mistress (Hunter is reportedly heavy with child in the tape) while in the thick of a presidential campaign may not be as cutting edge as emailing a mistress photos of one’s penis. (Go Tiger!) But it is no less jaw-droppingly stupid, not to mention na├»ve about where even marginally interesting footage tends to wind up these days. (I’m now taking bets on how long before bits of this masterwork hit YouTube.) So unless Edwards expects us to believe his romp was recorded without his knowledge (one of the few claims of innocence he hasn’t yet attempted), we must assume he is a complete fool. At least when young hotties like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian make sex tapes, they manage a career boost from it.

I certainly agree that John Edwards is an idiot of truly titanic proportions. But video-taping one's self having sex only to face a career-damaging scandal is a problem (at least for celebrities) that has been around for at least 20 years. The Edwards-Hunter fiasco has next to nothing to do with the fraught questions that surround our Facebook-addicted culture, and feels a lot like padding. I think the question of who is actually using social media is an important and interesting one, and deserves more than a phoned-in article by a reporter who usually does better.

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