- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008

Information cloud

“A light rain was falling when I arrived in Seattle late at night after a long flight from the East Coast. A shuttle driver collected a half dozen of us by calling our names off the tiny screen of his pager. In the damp, woolly-smelling van, a GPS unit on the dashboard issued directions to downtown in a soft and soothing female voice, at least up to the point where she said, ‘Three hundred feet, turn right on Seneca.’

“The driver ignored her advice, going straight and muttering, ‘What the hell?’ The GPS lady retaliated by endlessly repeating, ‘Recalculating, recalculating,’ in that bland, passive-aggressive way GPS units have, until the driver reached up and shut her off. We then circled the block three times in silence, looking for a hotel that refused to appear, the neon signs of Seattle beautifully pixilated through windows spattered with raindrops.

“To travel these days is to plunge into an information cloud that, like a real cloud, can look more substantial than it really is. Booking travel online was among the first popular applications of the Web, to the great annoyance of travel agents. Now, with Web 2.0 and the ubiquity of user-generated information, someone setting off on a trip can dredge up all manner of suggestions and insider tips online, to the great annoyance of professional travel writers. Travel bees everywhere, it seems, are gathering nectar and bringing it back to the hive.”

Wayne Curtis, writing on “Weni, Widi, Wiki,” in the May issue of The Atlantic, or www.theatlantic.com.

No way out

“For three seasons, the ABC series ‘Lost’ used flashbacks to illustrate elements of the narrative the audience never saw. Now they’ve gone the other way; now they’re consistently using flash-forwards to show parts of the story we haven’t yet experienced. It’s made the series even more interesting than it already was. But something keeps occurring to me: Isn’t this a dangerous move on behalf of the producers? They seem to be giving its central cast members the strongest negotiating leverage in TV history.

“Let’s say the actor who plays Sayid (Naveen Andrews) suddenly decides to ignore his current contract. Let’s say he demands twice as much money as he’s scheduled to receive and won’t show up for work without it. What could ABC possibly do? They can’t just feed him to the smoke monster and write him off the show; we already know he definitely exists in an abstract tomorrow. By actively showing the future, the screenwriters have relinquished their ability to control the present.

“An even greater (and admittedly morbid) problem would be accidental death: What if Michael Emerson (the actor who portrays Ben) died in a car accident? Would the show simply have to end? How could his absence be reconciled?

“There is no ‘News Radio’ option for ‘Lost.’ Not anymore.”

Chuck Klosterman, writing on “Creative Myopia: A Case Study,” at www.esquire.com

Dumb videos

“Here’s a major problem in society that no one seems to address: We’re drowning in dumb videos. The Internet, of course, is full of dumb videos. I just watched one of a fisherman getting drilled in the groin by a fish.

“Of course, you can find dumb videos just about everywhere these days, not just on the Internet. They’re on the 11 o’clock news, on ESPN, on cable news shows. It seems as if everyone in the world is walking around 24 hours a day with a video camera and a lot of time on their hands.

“The thing is, with so many stupid videos out there, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s staged anymore. For instance, I wasn’t sure how real that video was of the fisherman getting tagged by the fish. Because you have to ask yourself: Why would someone shoot video of a guy fishing? Have you ever watched someone fish?

“OK, I realize that a lot of this sounds like old-fogeyism and that there is a vast generational divide at work here. I realize that a lot of young people today can’t seem to live without videos and will watch just about any video they can access — including one of a guy stealing a bulldozer, which I watched the other day in the interest of research. But I’m totally videoed out.”

Kevin Cowherd writing in “A society overrun by dumb videos,” March 31 in the Baltimore Sun

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