####################, Je Deteste

(by Aaron Dorman)

‪#‎As‬ ‪#‎Gregor‬ ‪#‎Samsa‬ ‪#‎awoke‬ ‪#‎one‬ ‪#‎morning‬ ‪#‎from‬ ‪#‎uneasy‬ ‪#‎dreams‬‪#‎he‬ ‪#‎found‬ ‪#‎his‬ ‪#‎story‬ ‪#‎transformed‬ ‪#‎and‬ ‪#‎cluttered‬ ‪#‎by‬ ‪#‎useless‬‪#‎annoying‬ ‪#‎hashtags‬, ‪#‎caught‬ ‪#‎in‬ ‪#‎the‬ ‪#‎web‬ ‪#‎of‬ #the #’global‪#‎conversation‬‪#‎like‬ ‪#‎a‬ ‪#‎gigantic‬ #insect.” #GregorSamsa #hashtagKafka #yesallhashtagstwitter-hashtags

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Social Media: The Fast Food of the Internet

I haven’t been very satisfied with the internet these days. Actually, I haven’t been satisfied in general–why is there a bowl filled with Windex in my kitchen?–but the internet certainly hasn’t helped. Between bad advice, stupid comments in the comments section, and a steady, exhausting bombardment of celebrity news and Valentine’s Days advertisements, the internet seems less like a tool or a crutch and more just like an infinite cyber-trash heap, filling up our time with excess junk, similar to the way plastic is filling up our ocean. The culprit is not just cat pictures, or massive dicks but also the incredible and awful ways that the internet is replacing media in the real world with something far tackier and false.

“They” told us that the internet was going to revolutionize communication, and it did! Social media has exploded in a way that nobody could have predicted even a few years ago (or 20 years ago? when was the first hashtag?). When I worked for a newspaper in 2009, our connection to the internet consisted of uploading the articles onto the website and occasionally, as in once every month or so, posting web-only content such as videos. Now, blog posts and articles have become near simultaneous, articles must be accompanied by viral hash-tags or search terms, and everything must be glossed over with a false veneer of “clickability”; every news item, no matter how banal (“Taylor Swift has a Belly Button”), or perhaps simply obtuse (“Mets Relief Pitchers Projected to Lead League in Opponents’ Batting Average”) must compete in an insane online popularity contest.

In the end, while the internet has opened up new opportunities for news-gathering and understanding the world around us, mostly it has just tricked people. Social media is to print media as Fast Food is to Food; it’s easier to digest but it isn’t actually as good as the real thing. The internet hasn’t replaced traditional media with something better; it’s displaced it with something worse.

However, this being the internet, I’ll play by the house rules, so instead of continuing on a vague and self-righteous tirade, I’ve made a fancy “listicle.” According to social media “experts” (basically people over 40 who don’t quite understand technology), humans like lists, and they also like metaphors, so here is a list of metaphors comparing social media sites to their appropriate fast food counterpart.

  • Upworthy- The Whopper BK-whopper           The most famous burger in the world! “MAN BITES INTO A WHOPPER AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT!” they might say. But all that advertising and history and hoopla is just used to disguise what is ultimately just a very plain, normal burger, with only the most obvious fixings. Like, what, not even a secret sauce? Consumers of Upworthy may enjoy it compulsively but your most common reaction to a video is most likely to be…”that’s all there is?” And when does exaggeration cross the line into becoming a…well, you know.
  • Twitter- Ketchup Pouches condi-pkt               “It’s a vegetable!” you cry defensively. “It’s an essential ingredient in our daily diet!” “Brevity is the soul of wit!”  Twitter is the media condiment bar, ‘spicing’ up our consumption. After all, its only 120 characters, it won’t go to your thighs right? But you can never take just one, can you? You have to follow them all. Soon your time and your pockets are loading with this shit. And then pretty soon let’s face it: you’ve developed a dependency on something that can be generously described as liquid processed sugar.
  • Buzzfeed- Cheesy Gordita Crunch taco-bell-cheesy-gordita-cr                                        TEN SIGNS ITS NOT ACTUALLY THINKING OUTSIDE THE BUN 1. It’s a list, not an article. 2. These facts are not facts at all. In fact, you might be horrified to discover that the facts are actually made with only 10% real information. The rest is some kind of empty filler which smells suspiciously of cardboard. 3. What is a “listicle” anyway? You are as likely to find a listicle in the New York Times as you are to find a “gordita” in Ciudad Juarez. 4. Butbutbutbut it’s something for everyone! Cheesy! Crunchy! Punchy! Fun! Informative! Please go viral pleaaaaaaaaaase! 5. I promised ten ingredients, so you will get ten ingredients, whether or not those ingredients actually go together. 6. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh 7. True story: I have never eaten a cheesy gordita crunch. I have not eaten Taco Bell since I was eight years old. 8. My dog, Nutsie, died in December and it was really upsetting because I’d never lost a pet before. 9. Do people even read through to number nine? If you’re reading this… 10. You might as well read this line too, in which I reiterate my hatred of Buzzfeed.
  • Pinterest/Flickr/Vine/those guys- Happy Meal Fries 8246802_orig                                                            There’s no pretense here. Just superficial savory morsels, and that’s fine right? Gotta have some fun every now and then. But buyer beware: there’s more in these than meets the eye. The originals have been heavily altered. Think those fries are naturally that thin? Think that nice golden tan is really meant to last thirty years? What is lost when we opt for the cheaper, tackier version of fried potatoes or a coffee table book?
  • Tinder- Dominoe’s Brownie Bites da91c1d3                                      Yummy yummy in the tummy. Skip the gross ones that got squished on their journey to you and take the ones that still smell like chocolate. More fun for you than the brownies; the brownies won’t ever know they’ve been rejected…they’re brownies! These stopped being so popular once people began feeling embarrassed about being seen with them in public. And ask yourself this: are you really going to find a happy ending with DOMINOE’S?!?! If you are, then, can I be honest? You’re either really shallow or you don’t expect a lot out of life.
  • MySpace- Roy Rogers’ Roast Beef Sandwich roy-rogers-roast-beef.jpeg                                                             Is there an explanation necessary? Maybe just this: there are still 1 million users of myspace. And also, chances are if you’ve ever ridden from New York to Washington DC along the Jersey turnpike and I-95, there’s probably a Roy Rogers’ sandwich from 2003 lost somewhere under your car seat. But you don’t want to go back there. Ever.
  • Facebook- Starbucks Caramel Macchiato CPM Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?  What is this even doing here? Isn’t it better than fast food? Doesn’t it provide, like, a usable service for the good of mankind? How many people at work have been able to get through the date without it? It’s changed our lives. For the better? Who knows, why place a value judgement on it?                                  Because, at the end of the day, something more sinister is going on here. Some people are using it just for the status. Riding the wave of the future, the explosive wave of popularity? Some people might even have an addiction, whether they admit to it or not. By turning to the same old brand, how many millions or billions of people now think they are doing something culturally or personally significant when really they’re just being lazy? Here is the most important thing to remember: A caramel macchiato is not actually a macchiato. You want a macchiato? You still have to do it the old fashioned way; going out into the real world. And research has been inconclusive as to whether or not getting Starbucks to sell your music has actually boosted your profile. Not that any of us are going to stop using these things any time soon. But a little self-awareness is good every now and then.

-Dakota

Science Problems in “Interstellar”, Part Two (Global Warming/Environmental Issues)

In this segment I’d like to focus on the environmental science of this film and the climate-change scenario they portray.

interstellar2

Credit where it’s due:

Dust-bowl conditions could happen again. And millions/billions could/would starve. Even on a decadal time scale, we will see the bread basket of America suffer from severe drought, water depletion and top soil removal, not just in the “heartland” but in California and the northern Midwest (Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, the Dakotas, etc). We already are witnessing the rapid (and fatal?) decline of the Ogallala Aquifer which supplies water to large swaths of corn country. People say that the dust bowl could not happen again only because we know WHY it happened and thus presumably can take steps to avoid a repeat. But those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, and once again we are witnessing some very very unsustainable agricultural practices in this country. Eventually it is entirely conceivable that the corn belt could become extremely vulnerable to climate conditions in the next 30-50 years.

Dust-storm-Texas-1935

BUT

It is highly highly unlikely that crop loss and monoculture issues would exacerbate to the point where only one or two crops can be grown on planet Earth. As areas such as Oklahoma become unsuitable for crop growth, places in the northern USA and Canada will become possibly more suitable. There are also plenty of other places in the world where crop growth could take place. It is easy to imagine a future Earth where agriculture takes a bit hit and we no longer can support a population of this many people. But for the whole thing to collapse? That’s a lot trickier. It would take far more than climate change to have this scenario. We’d have to do some serious butchering of agricultural practices (not impossible I suppose) to reach a situation depicted in the film.

We will not suffocate from crop loss.

It is suggested at one point, I believe, that because of the loss of plant species which produce oxygen, the composition of the atmosphere is changing too rapidly and humans will suffocate as a result. However, this would be a near-impossible trick to pull off even within the time scale of hundreds of years. CROPS are not the same as ALL PLANT SPECIES and even if we lack crops for food, without many humans left native species would thrive again in many areas of the world, certainly enough to sustain the oxygen cycle and an atmospheric composition which can still support animal life. Also, as long as there is still water and other sources of oxygen, a small number of humans would be able to survive even in the non-existent scenario of dramatic atmospheric composition change.

We Wouldn’t Live in the Dust Bowl Anymore. Humanity Would Survive Elsewhere

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where humanity is limited to surviving in the dust bowl. Relatively large regions of the United States and Canada are expected to whether the decadal and even centennial affects climate change. The 2075 New York Yankees might be able to stay in New York after all. The idea that both coasts of the United States are no longer tenable population centers is just some Bible belter’s fever dream.

Organizations-renew-their-commitment-to-stopping-climate-change

Metaphysical bullshit:

What is love?

Baby don’t hurt me.

What is gravity?

NOT another dimension. We (“humanity” at large) have a pretty good idea of what gravity is, moreso than the Nolan brothers apparently. Newton’s concept of gravity has changed since Einstein and friends but is still essentially the same concept: big bodies in space exert forces on each other. Scientists understand gravity and how it works fairly well. They are looking for a “cause” (such as the ‘graviton’ particle), and how space-time actually bends is still somewhat left to the imagination (models are tricky) but there is no possibility that a “gravity equation” could transcend space-time and that gravity is another dimension. Like the insipid suggestion that love is another dimension, it’s a fundamental misunderstanding not only of “dimensional” space but of what we DO know about these concepts.

If love can be another dimension than so can hate, shame, or that feeling you get after you’ve had a really good poopsie time.

Similarly, if gravity is another dimension, so are quantum forces, electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces, etc. None of this means anything. It’s all bullshit.

The fourth dimension is a concept humans can somewhat understand, especially if we think of it as time. I have not read a lot about theorizing on extra dimensions but I do believe it is somewhat futile to visually conceptualize anything past the fourth dimension.

Actually, I take that back. The fifth dimension has been pretty clearly defined as an aspect of space-time which includes catchy pop tunes and some good covers of new-age trippy show-stoppers like “Aquarius” and “Puppet Man”.

Classic-R-B-Music-image-classic-r-and-b-music-36089583-400-316

Finally, I’m not sure if this counts as a science “mistake”, but the fate of humanity remains Earthbound. If we can’t live on this planet, we won’t be able to live anywhere. Humans evolved to require the specific conditions our planet provides and almost no technology we would utilize in space (terra-forming, generating gravity, breathable oxygen, etc) couldn’t be used to better effect here on Earth, to make THIS planet habitable.

Even if we begin to run into survival issues, space stations are likely the first step towards interstellar travel. Didn’t the Nolan brothers watch “Elysium”? Matt Damon is in that. He was terrible and the movie was terrible…but it’s a quasi-plausible scenario for a future world that’s overrun with urban poverty and environmental degradation.

Elysium-director-Neil-Blomkamp-interview-header

Another, better movie called “Dr. Strangelove” recommends, albeit satirically, that we all move underground and become mole people (particularly in the aftermath of nuclear war).

We could go underground. Or into the oceans. Or into the clouds/upper atmosphere. But through a wormhole?

Why does any of this matter?

“It’s just a movie”, you say! But this is not just a movie, according to the media, the Nolans, and the millions of filmmakers who went to see it this past month. The film is an event. 

And this film’s pretentious ad campaigns forcefully alert everyone that KIP THORNE was consulted for the wormholes and black holes. It must have worked because the last three bar-room conversations I’ve had with people about this movie insist that the science must be accurate because Kip Thorne worked on this movie.

The science in this film is NOT impressive. It’s about on par with that of “Disney’s the black hole” and other silly space films. The writing is slightly better, with the exception of Ann Hathaway’s dialogue.

People should not confuse this film as anything more than fun entertainment. And I’m also annoyed that this is yet another sci-fi climate-change scenario that confuses prediction with projection. 

Please note the difference:

If I told you recently-retired Derek Jeter was projected to be the worst shortstop in the league if he kept playing, this would be a good EXPLANATION for why he stopped playing.

If I predicted Derek Jeter would be the worst shortstop in the league…well, this would be dumb, as he’s already committed to playing golf and family time instead.

That’s not a great explanation. But the distinction is in the expectation. Climate projections are made in the obvious hope that something is done to curb fossil fuel emissions and avoid the worst-case scenario. The worst case scenario would occur if all variables stayed the same and nobody attempted to make a change.

Climate deniers and industry lobbyists try to confuse these as predictions in the mind of the public and obnoxiously argue that the future is uncertain and of course we can’t be too sure what will happen.

Unfortunately, well-meaning (or not) films about climate dystopia, from this to “The Day After Tomorrow” also confuse the distinction and depict worst-possible outcomes, regardless of the inevitable fact that technology, humanitarian concern, and even heretofore unknown factors will shape the future world in ways that we cannot yet predict.