Tuesday, August 21, 2007

If I were an inventor, I'd totally be the old-timey kind with a handlebar 'tache

I just realized today that Facebook bills itself as a "social utility." Those two words together seem a bit much to me, and as a fan of exploring semantics, word-feelings and seems-likes-in-my-heads, the imagery that comes to mind is all wrong. The grandiosity of it makes me think of those old inventions where the absence previously of the concept it now represents made for names that try to describe the entirety of the object. Almost like one of those cliched "wink-wink-nudge-nudge" jokes you'd find in a period comedy sketch where Merlin comes waltzing in interrupting a meeting at the Round Table by showing them his crude magical contraption that's obviously a radio, and when asked what it's to be called, Merlin looks at the camera and as the shot closes in his face, he knowingly, yet with a grand show of pride waggles his brows to declare, "I call it...Voice Capturer Box!"

It makes me think of steam punk Victorian flying machines, with extra cogs, and steam whistles and gears that spin connected to nothing at all. Excessive and slightly dubious like one video reel image I've seen of a flying machine that looked like a vanilla wafer, minus the vanilla cream with about 5 sets of "wings" stacked on top of each other, only to have it fold into itself because of its weight. The clunkiness of it manifested right down to the mashing of those two words that make you read it and go, "Wait, did I read that right?"

Especially the "utility" part. It makes me think of John Stuart Mill, which in turn makes me think of Jeremy Bentham, which then makes me think of the Panopticon, once again bringing me back to invented things with grandiose nomenclature.

AFKN (now AFN), did not show any commercials. It was drilled into your head often enough that all the shows they showed on AFKN were subsidized or donated by networks back in the States, meaning no commercials so that the armed forces would not profit from these shows. Instead, we got interstitial "advertising." Usually it was homebrew stuff telling soldiers to hurry up and go get their antrhax vaccines (The Anthrax Ninja, I shit you not) or don't shoplift from the PX (which had me and my friends singing the theme from "Baretta" for a long time..."Don't do the criiime if you can't do the tiiime oh noooo [don't do it!]..."). Then there were more slickly produced odds and ends that must've been produced back in the States with government sponsorship that were more infotainment. Some of it were what'd you'd expect. Things like famous historical military battles, depicting certain military maneuvers, or even parts of the Military Code of Conduct. By the time I was 11 I knew that "I will never surrender of my own free will. If in command, I will never surrender the members of my command while they still have the means to resist," and that if captured by an enemy combatant and questioned, I could only give my name, rank, date of birth and service number. One of these particular ads scared me for a good time as a kid because it was accompanied by photos of POW soldiers in the background and one particular image was a sepia-toned picture of a very skeletal POW soldier running, looking a bit like one those unsettling anatomy drawings from the Renaissance.

But there were other non-military themed things as well, such as random roadside attractions in the states or my favorite and the point of this meandering sidetrack, Back to the Drawing Board. This particular spot was all about terrible inventions. They were usually accompanied by animation that looked like 19th century figure illustrations of these inventions.

For example, there was the automatic hat tipper. A hat with a spring-loaded thing that sat on one's head, so that if he were to pass a lady on the street he'd just have to bow his head a little and the hat would politely tip itself. Or the more polite automobile horn. Instead of rudely honking, you'd talk into a long-trumpet shaped item asking people to politely get out of your way. THESE are what "social utility" says to my brain.

But come on, people, what are you usually doing with Facebook? Be honest. Stalking exes, right? Reading the minifeeds and looking at pictures of people you don't even talk to anymore (or ever did anyway) and quietly judging your (former) friends' choices in life while you're on the computer at 8 in the morning on a Saturday sitting only in your underwear while eating ice cream for breakfast, right? Passive-agressively flipping the bird to people with cleverly worded "status updates" that artfully show off your obviously superior social life, right? Come on. I'm not saying it's bad, but seriously folks...yea I've had my "social utility" moments with Facebook, but for the most part it's social if you ask me, and if it is to you, ssshhh, I'm pontificating and counterpoint is entirely unnecessary in a pontification. That's right, take a long hard look into your "social utility" mirror there, my friend. The damned thing's called "Facebook" for crying out loud.


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