Saturday, April 19, 2014

Hodgman's Moment

If you aren't following Alton Brown's podcast, you should take a moment to grab this week's episode which featured John Hodgman, he of Mac-PC commercials, collaborations with Johnathon Coulton, of fake trivia and fact books and his own podcast.

Today, however, I wish to pay homage to genius -- sheer genius -- in the elaboration of that moment when internet life changed for everyone associated with it.  Alton had asked John about the "special" relationship he must have had with Apple during those days, and Hodgman said not as much as you'd think, but he remembered very distinctly the day -- unannounced -- a first generation iPhone arrived at his house:

We all knew it the moment we held it, well, this is the future. Books will be written about how culture flipped at that moment. . . . What it did was put the internet, which until 2007 was still a relatively esoteric niche world of relatively affluent gear heads and nerds, and publishing and media types, and put it in the hand of everyone who had a phone and that meant it expanded demographics of who was using the internet dramatically.

There it is -- Hodgman's Moment.  Books to be written indeed.  Hey kids following this feed, there's your next media studies thesis statement.
The internet into your hand and literally changed the world. The internet penetrated your world and it has never gone away. It left the confines of a tethered world - physically attached to infrastructure, electric, LAN - and became mobile, a digital parasite and we became it's very willing hosts. We became like Chekov receiving his Ceti eel in Khan; or assimilated into the Borg. 
When I first heard this section, it really didn't sink in.  In fact, I thought, why John, please.  We were starting social media, we'd had websites since the mid to late 1990s.
And then on the second pass through while cycling (because I wanted to hear more about the specific BBQ places around Oxford, Miss.), it hit me.  He was right.  I indeed was one of those gearheads.  A media person.  A connected by affluence individual.
Mark it down -- Hodgman's Moment.
It also signaled the end of the elite of news decides, but a utopian democracy did not replace that void. We did not become better by some meritocracy of thought or message. Instead a new tyranny of the deliberately exploitative took control. By algorithm, by advertiser, by monied interest - the public discourse went from the control of the learned elite to the power of the systematic hustlers. (Oh now go find my other guru of these memes, Neil Postman.)
From controlling elite - who themselves beholden to paid special interest thru advertisers, but not always fully controlled by them - to the direct connection of those who could game the system or purchase it. It cannot be reversed. No matter the level of societal control, no amount of Mullah desire to reverse liberal progress or dictatorial power to command a society - once unleashed the society is forever itself lashed to the connectivity. 
The deliciously ironic conclusion of cutting the cords is the maniacal, absurdity of being wirelessly connected. The prison is without walls because the world now becomes the prison. The most Faustian of choices and fates. (Or as Alton admits in listening to John's Apple story -- he has days he carries only a non-SMS, non-data flip phone.  He has to be accessible, but it is without that oh-so-tempting internet in his pocket.)

Hodgman's Moment is diminishing, and in time may be forgotten by the general public. The particular technology - the iPhone - disappears, but no one is left who can remember a time in which everyone was not connected. Once it happens it can't be reversed.  A digital native will have it delayed, but anybody born into an area where Hodgman's Moment has already occurred has no real ability to escape. 
It's like a wildfire as it moves across societies and it can result in a moving definable line; a border defined by the 3G changeover between a pre-Internet network to the device in the hand. We are left with places like the remotest areas of certain countries and regions of the world, or a North Korea where a whole population is still in the pre-Hodgman's Moment by the sheer force of the old political guard, an elite who themselves are digitally connected but fearful of their ability to control their analog masses should the Hodgman's Moment flash across their borders.

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