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Dawn of the Age of Limiting Returns


Last week in a grandiose moment I wondered about the screenplay coming soon to a theater near you about a strange blog in which everything the author conjectures turns out to be true. It would be a movie about a blog that no one reads that someone is reading, layered with metameaning and complicated but simple enough to tell in 90 minutes with a few necessary bare breasts and explosions thrown in for emphasis. You saw this narcissistic delusion (and others) here first.

So the Government is officially shut down, and in my last post I mentioned that when it becomes unclear whether the Leviathan is mostly good anymore, the ethical statesman has no choice but to shut it down. One head of the hydra was temporarily severed, though we failed to cauterize it because it doubtless will grow back soon because China doesn’t want to take an immediate 1.2% cut in their GDP if we stay shut down past the default. Plus, plenty of state agencies are still operating, but the national healthcare registry still posted your private health information in the system for all insurance companies to see, in strict violation of doctor-patient privilege, one of the foundations of a healthy relationship between a physician and her patient.

I’m sure the NSA and the Office of Fuck the People Using the People’s Money were both deemed “essential” and will continue running (business as usual) indefinitely, and nothing is thwarting the Utah Data Center’s construction and completion except the strange deus ex machina in the electrical system that keeps causing unexplained explosions (God and Joseph Smith alike must hate the UDC). Obama seems as convinced of the legality of his drone program as ever, Guantanamo is still holding prisoners, and we’re rendering terror suspects in parts of the world where we can torture people as I write this. Wall Street responded to the shut down in kind with an initial increase, because the companies are fine with or without the veneer of government to convince some people that the companies are not in precise control of absolutely everything, all the time. Everything here couldn’t have been more copacetic, except the economists kept reminding us that when Argentina defaulted on its debts in 2002, every citizen experienced an immediate 60% decrease in their net worth, and so the markets have started to worry. Pesky, terrible facts keep making us scared.

Meanwhile, the Occupy Movement misses its golden moment to put more strain on the threadbare resources of the National Guard and we remain without control over our Government of the People.

As we open our black lacquer boxes containing The Future That No One Wants like the dutiful, abiding consumers we are, we find that there are more devices, more device contracts, more adapters and dongles, and more buttons to push. While the buttons aren’t binding, everything else about the devices seems to be. The buttons also make up for their apparent harmlessness by doing less and less each time you push them.

Back when I watched TV through an old picture tube, when I pulled the knob on, it went on, and when I pushed it off, it went off. Now I have a flatscreen LCD TV with a power button with the 21st century symbol for “on” on it, and when I push this circle, the TV springs to life only about 50% of the time. No amount of added pressure to the button seems to improve my success rate, either.

I’ve started to notice the same phenomenon with the mouse on every computer I use, too. I click on something that is a clickable button, and I hear the mouse, witnesses hear the mouse, and…nothing happens on the software or the website. I often click mouse buttons only to find they need to be clicked again because nothing “registered” anywhere relevant. The power buttons on many of the computers I use also seem to have this annoying habit.

To make matters worse, the problem intensifies with every new button I am responsible for pushing or clicking on. If I get a Roku or a Blu-Ray player or a Nook or a PS3 I will guarantee myself a virtually endless stream of dissatisfying interactions with buttons, and more misanthropic opportunities to explore the feeling that we exalt “technology” for no apparent reason other than its own sake, which is precisely why I know the future is betraying us all and The Jetsons was just a bunch of modernist crap. I’m surrounded by stupid fucking buttons everywhere, and 50% of the time they’re completely wasting mine! Is this what “progress” was supposed to look like? Is this the curse of the Technoindustrial Complex?

But the button isn’t even a button even when it is a button. Not just because the “buttons” on websites aren’t real buttons and just computerized representations of them, but also because the button problems mentioned above are a metaphor for this new Law of the Internet: if a digital tool is around long enough, we will eventually find a way to render it useless.

Just look at how each new version of Microsoft Word hides all the tools you relied on constantly, relocating them to new folders, so that each time a new Office package comes out you have to re-learn all the software in it? Why was your useful shit relocated to an arcane location? Because some other douchebag users demanded that Microsoft include a nutsack-polishing feature in the newest version with its own button, and Microsoft actually complied! This is how software bloat happens, and it is killing every good program you know that you don’t use for recreation.

Also, look at what the Digital Age did to our writing in general. There’s much more of it, so there’s more terrible examples of it floating around, and all your saved files are a software upgrade or two away from being permanently unreadable. Remember all your WordPerfect and AppleWorks documents holding versions of your Great American Novel? Well, fuck you and your writing career–that’s not the software or version anyone likes anymore. I don’t remember spiral bound notebooks ever arbitrarily losing their ability to open in the days before word processing software.

Another example from hip-hop: all T-Pain and ‘Lil Wayne did for Autotune was make us wish we didn’t have to hear it anymore.

So the information age dawns and everyone is excited: now we can work from home and have more time with our kids, and telecommunications allow us to reach out to everybody, all the time. But Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard want you back at work, and that cellphone that the industry at first convinced you would be used to talk to grandma more often now just allows your boss to have more control over your personal time and life. All that newfound time with our families we were supposed to have because of living in a more connected world never actually happened to the most efficient workforce on the planet.

But fret not, because now you can showroom the expensive electronics store down the street and get better deals online! ‘Cept not only does this fuck the ma-and-pa shop down the street and also your whole neighborhood by default, but now with the rise in shipping costs and the addition of sales tax to internet purchases, there’s almost no point in even going to Amazon anymore. And if you pay attention to the amount of personal online information you’ll forfeit to shop there, maybe you don’t want to anyway.

And all those “free” apps that enhance our lives and do wonderful things for us? You probably wouldn’t want to use those if you really knew how much private and personal information they continually give away, including your GPS location.

Google even used to be awesome back when we were naive, there was no cynicism, and their company motto was “don’t be evil.” Now that we know every search you run will be handed over to the Federal Government upon request without subpoena, maybe it will turn out that finding stuff wasn’t so important to us after all.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll find out that neither is this Information Age. Maybe the grapes actually are sour.

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