Analog Stories in a Digital World

One absolutely guaranteed way to mess with people comes when I tell them I don’t have a cell phone.  Well, technically I do have a nice Nokia – it takes great pictures and I can even play music on it – but I have yet to use it as a phone.  It’s always a kick to see that look of confusion in someone’s eyes as they ponder the imponderable, like Dave Bowman pondering the mysteries of the Monolith.

“No cell-phone?  But … how do people get in touch with you?  How?!”

First, I actually maintain regular and consistent office hours.  From 8am to 5pm I’m in my office, at my desk, typing away until my fingerprints are worn down like old tires.  During regular work hours I’m totally reachable, by phone or by email.  Now, once 5pm hits, the computer’s off until 8 the next morning.  Usually once work is done for the day, so am I.  Once the computer’s off, so am I, for the downtime is as important to the work as the actual work is.

The other reason I haven’t bothered to activate my cell is because, frankly, I don’t want to be bothered by anyone on those occasions I’m out, either running errands, or taking a walk through the park to clear my head, or at a meeting downtown, or at a movie.  I’m good with getting back to people promptly; a voice mail is responded to; an email is replied to within 24 hours of receipt (because if it’s urgent, they can call me).

There’s also probably a psychological reason – given how the advent of the cell phone has made writing a suspense or horror movie fucking impossible, as some smartass will always ask “Why don’t they just call the police on their cell?” and “Lost in the woods?  Doesn’t their iPhone have the GPS app?  There’s totally an app for that.”  Probably.

I know, you’re going to say “But … what if there’s an EMERGENCY?  What happens if there’s an emergency and THEY CAN’T REACH YOU RIGHT AWAY?!  Well, I imagine the same thing that happened before cell phones.  Every time I’m asked the “emergency” question I have to ask in turn; has that ever happened to you?  So far, nobody has produced an instance where an emergency occurred that would have resulted in disaster because they weren’t reachable (unless “I need you to pick up juice on the way home” can be called an emergency).  In fact, with so many stories about people getting into fatal car accidents or bus crashes or train derailments BECAUSE they were focused on their cell phone or Blackberry or iPhone or iWhatevr , one could say that they have become the problem, not the solution to it.

Look, I know I sound like a Luddite, and the fact I’m writing on a blog would also make me a hypocrite.  I’m on FB, and the web has made doing my job so much easier.  I can’t recall the last time an agent or a producer asked for a hard copy of a screenplay – they just want the PDF of it so they can read it on their iPad while on the subway home.  But it’s the insidious nature of technology that gives me pause, and I don’t think a lot of us realize just how much it has taken from us by giving us everything.

I can’t even call it a generational thing, given everybody and their Grandparents has a cell phone.  But it makes me wonder about the people who’ve never known a world without cell phones or the internet.  I would not want to be a teenager these days – not if there was some elixir I could drink and – poof – be twenty years younger; not with the dominance of cell-phones and the internet, of social media and all these things that, in making our lives better have really made them much worse.  I wonder what will become – hell, what’s becoming – of a generation raised under a microscope and living in a 24/7 web-cammed world, where being “out of the loop” for even an hour means the death of your social life and social standing.  It’s the worst elements of High School ballooned up to global reach.

I spent my teen years in a small town where everybody knew everybody, and a rumor – true or not – could spread through the halls of my school and the streets surrounding it like a brushfire after a lightning strike.  Now, that rumor can spread across town, across the country and over the world, all aided and abetted by people you don’t even know.  Lately there’s been a rash of cases of high school students and college students committing suicide because some deep dark secret was exposed online; that’s not a sign that kids today are any more cruel and messed up as they were 20 years ago – it’s just proof that we’ve made it that much easier to be cruel and messed up, by making it easy to be reached in case of an emergency.

Kids are not innocents and as adults we tend to forget that, deep in the recesses of our own memories we know just how cruel we could be.  Looking back over my own life, I can recall my less proud moments with surprising ease.  I have been mean to people for no reason other than their reaction.  I’ve been cruel to people who only wanted to be my friends (and thought I was their friend when I really wasn’t).  I have even been cruel to people who wanted to be more than just friends and I regret all of these acts committed by someone who didn’t know better, or knew better and did it anyway.  Maybe that’s the boon that comes with adulthood; we’ve matured to the point we know right from wrong, and know that our actions indeed have consequences.  But we never forget how cruel we can be to each other – it can still be a struggle too, and you needn’t look very far to find people who should know better performing any number of awful acts, then trying to shirk blame entirely and deny it ever happened at all; the “I didn’t do it” exclamation kids use all too often.

Do people change, really?  I recently finished a screenplay that addresses that very question, and the answer is one a lot of people probably won’t like.  Of course they don’t – they adapt and they evolve and they have to, to survive a world that demands it of us.  That’s been the appeal of the MIXTAPE project – what is essentially an Analog story for a Digital age.  The world of 1990 is far away, yet still close enough for those who lived it to see how much has changed, but how people are essentially the same.

Anyway I’ll be saying goodbye for a short spell as I descend upon the New York Comic Con this weekend to meet and neytwork and prompte and shop a bunch of projects, MIXTAPE among them.  Hopefully once the dust is settled I’ll have some news to report on where MIXTAPE is going and when you can expect to see it.

Oh, and if you’re going to NYCC  too, keep a look-out for me; I’ll be the guy not talking on a cell phone.

2 thoughts on “Analog Stories in a Digital World

  1. There are days I hate my phone, and the way we live life these days, so much I want to cancel my cell phone, disconnect from the internet and move to a farm and grown organic vegetables. And stories like the ones you mentioned about the teenage suicides are exactly the reason why. No, kids are no less cruel than they’ve always been, but the internet does indeed make it easier for “haters to hate.” No matter what you’re doing, there are terrible people out there who are going to hate you for it. Life just seemed easier when I didn’t know John Q. Nobody in Bent Armpit, Idaho thinks gay people should be shot to death or that some anonymous poster despises me simply because I’m a woman doing things only men (preferably fat, lonely men) should be doing. Thanks internet.

    Have a good time at Comic-Con. Remember when you had to visit and post at physical message boards at Comic-Con to meet up with people?

  2. The internet has definitely enabled people to spew their hatred without fear of consequence. That’s why they do it — because they’re cowards who, when you get the chance to confront them in person like I did once, will either run or cry, or do both. I can’t blame the internet — it didn’t invent assholes. But the internet has just been inherited by a generation of jerk-offs whose lives are so devoid of potential and fulfillment that they are reduced to seeking pleasure in the hollowest and emptiest ways possible, other than to get off on the possibility of making people feel bad without having to suffer the consequences.

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