Methods of Mass Distraction

I remember a day several years ago, shortly after a few hopeless Nike-friendly computer geeks covered themselves with purple shrouds, I was sitting on a sofa at my friend’s downtown flat. The Chancellor and I were watching his two piranha take some goldfish to task as we ruminated on the coming turn of the millennium.

“I’m going to be in a cabin in the woods,” I told him, “with a woman, a dog and an assault rifle.”

“Why?” asked the Chancellor.

“You think the crime rate is high now? On December 31, 1999, it’s gonna go through the roof! From September on, people are gonna be losing their minds. They’re gonna be coming in through the windows!”

“Who’s going to be coming in through the windows?” asked the Chancellor.


Since that day, a few more wars have sprouted up, a few have shut down, some embassies have been bombed (some “on purpose”, some “by mistake”) and a few more kids have shot up the schoolyard. However, I must admit that the prophecies I made on that day with the Chancellor, his piranha and their goldfish have failed to come true.

Certainly, there are some who also believed in the encroaching world riot and went the cabin-lover-dog-rifle route but the need for such action has simply not materialized. And frankly, I must say, I’m disappointed.

There have not been enough mass suicides, not enough prison riots, not enough social breakdown. What would have been the perfect display of Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection (accelerated and condensed for consumption) has become the biggest Molotov dud that my paranoid mind has ever concocted.

You call this the turning of a millennium?! The teams haven’t even showed up! I guess the anarchists just don’t have their sh*t together. Perhaps they’re too selfish to be martyrs.

So what was it that turned the tide? What took the fight off the streets?

One word: THIS.


Since the Internet became a commercial entity, millions of us have turned on, typed in and dropped out. We have replaced our mailboxes, conversations, libraries, shopping malls, newspapers, and ourselves with the binary P’s & Q’s of a central processing unit. Mind your 10000’s and 10001’s, McLuhan-San!

Since it was developed post-Sputnik, the Internet (née Arpanet) has had mass media written all over it. No doubt its many creators and legal guardians expected an eventual trickle down effect which would open the medium’s doors to the public.

For those of us who’d been hoping 1999 would be the year that the effluvium of humanity would find its way into the gutters of history, the timing could not have been worse. The murderers, thieves, psychos and scum will not be coming in through the windows – they’re too busy playing Yahoo! Checkers.

The riots have been replaced with a computer bug. How fucking pathetic.

If it seems to anyone that this is not the case, if it seems that there is more crime, more conflict, more struggle than in the past, it only seems that way because of the overwhelming speed and intensity of the numerous mass media. The world has become more difficult to decipher than a Jethro Tull lyric.

Before the teletype, it would have taken weeks, perhaps months, for some lost Pony Express rider to inform me about a mass killing or civil unrest on the other side of the country. By which time, the answers to the questions one naturally asks about such an act would have already been answered. I would not “need” to concern my compassion with the event. I could stay focused on the job at hand – standing in a cold Alaskan stream, trying to get more gold in my pan and avoiding grizzly bears.

The truth is, nothing about us has changed. It is only the methods of mass identity delivery (AM/FM-TV-WWW) that keep morphing into stickier and more distracting forms, until, eventually, many years from now, we’ll all be mucked up in each other’s bee’s wax and any sense of a personality will be, at best, an anomaly. A small price to pay for “peace”, I suppose; though dear Huxley might not agree.

As for me, I’m now most concerned with how the Chancellor and I are going to get the jump on the million other people traveling I-15 to Vegas for the turn of the “man-made abstract measurement”.

All the best to you and yours on this perfectly normal holiday season.

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