Bumper stickers were an early form of Twitter: the semiotic standard for publicly sharing a political or religious standpoint in capsule form. And after a decade-long slump, auto-adhesive messaging is returning in a new form. I’m talking about decals representing family members on vehicle back windshields, scaled in height from adults to kids. Occasionally the kid icons are sporting baseball bats or balls, representing an interest in sports. There is even sometimes a dog and/or a cat in the line-up.
I appreciate that people love their families, and want to share the gospel on streets and highways, but do I really need to know how many times a stranger has spawned? And is this sticker-based short form census another example of the cross-generational craze to “share” beyond what others have the time, interest, or inclination to know?
It’s undeniable that the new normal is to tell everyone as much as possible about your world, intentionally and otherwise, through social networking sites.
In fact, NOT having any profile on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Tumblr is enough to have you tagged as a Ted Kaczynski on training wheels. When the cable news channels began speculating on the means and motives of the Colorado film theatre shooter, some commentator mused (mistakenly) on James Holmes’ lack of a Facebook profile. This was positioned as hardcore evidence for his pre-existing status as a weirdo loner.
Speaking of Facebook, 13 million users in the U.S. alone don’t bother to change their privacy settings, leaving themselves wide open. It’s astonishing how blasé people have become about their personal information in just a few short years. I hear a certain line with increasing frequency: “I have nothing to worry about, because I have nothing to hide.” It’s like Public Safety Minister Vic Toews is throwing his voice, and has a nation of ventriloquist dummies clambering to sit on his knee.
Perhaps it will all work out, as social transformations sometimes do. Perhaps there will be so much personal data to sift through that our swelling cryptocracy will choke on it. The other possibility is that we’ll all be GPS-tagged and algorithmically profiled to the point where most of our individual choices are predicted quite accurately in advance. There will be no reason for the authorities to fear the rabble, because dissent will not only be impossible, but unthinkable. It will be like Minority Report on crack.
The drug analogy is unavoidable. With so many people obsessively checking their devices every few minutes, we’re obviously talking about widespread addiction. The social networking sites supply the dopamine delivery system, while Apple and other tech companies provide the brilliantly engineered crack pipes. It was the iPhone above all consumer tech products that really changed the world. St. Jobs’ credo was to “think different,” and he definitely did that, with great intuition and a punishing management style.
The company’s logo, of an apple with a bite taken out of it, is straight out of the Bible. In the book of Genesis, Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil against direct orders from The Boss, resulting in the expulsion from Paradise. The story of forbidden fruit isn’t just about defying authority. It’s also about loss of innocence, alienation, and rootlessness. And it’s also the visual stamp for Apple’s global brand.
That’s more than a bit ironic. When I witness rows of people on public transit, in silent communion with their gadgets, it appears we’re in the midst of another devil’s deal, in which face-to-face conversation loses big-time to surfing, gaming, tweeting and texting. (Bear in mind, this is coming from a guy who wears his iPod in public more often than not.)
Apple’s first logo was of Isaac Newton studying under the legendary apple tree, emblazoned with a line from Wordsworth: “Voyaging through strange seas of Thought, alone.” The accent is on alone. Perhaps the navel-gazing digital age is responsible, in some small part, for the trend to decorate cars with icons of the nuclear family. It’s a whimsical, if slightly narcissistic, attempt to reconnect to real-world community, out beyond the digital gated communities we access through our gadgets. “Here I am,” the car owners communicate with their decals, “I’m a flesh and blood human being, and so are the people I love.”