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Call of Duty

June 10, 2011

Chuck Klosterman writes about the sourness of watching a DVRed sporting event in a compelling piece at the new Grantland site. I like his argument here: that sporting events are “the last scraps of mass society that are totally unfixed”; he is pulled to them for their unknowable-ness. Carrying the argument further, one could extend this to highly anticipated live events like the Royal Wedding or Michael Jackson’s funeral– even though these events were meticulously scripted, something crazy could happen and you would see it live.

In his third “Rational” point, “Recording gives me too much control”, Chuck touches on a larger issue: rather than subverting autonomy, modernization gives us TOO MUCH of it. When you’re sitting there watching  a recorded game, you feel like you’re wasting time. Big Papi’s at-bat in the 5th is not really that interesting, even if he hits a home-run and flips the bat. You can just fast-forward to the home-run! How much time do you have to just sit around waiting to watch something that already happened?

The act of submitting yourself to a live NBA Finals game is immensely pleasurable, because you’re finally off the hook. It’s  analogous to forgetting your cell phone at home: now I don’t have to call anyone. I don’t have to tell them where I am. I can just go where I was supposed to go, and hope the other person shows up. The problem is, a rational 21st century American would never conscientiously leave their phone at home. What if something happens?, you think. Someone might die if I don’t have it. I’d better bring it, and my charger too just in case.

Herein lies the major downer of modern communication technology. It’s not that it’s “inescapable”; it’s not. When I go on vacation, I’m amazed at how little I need or want an internet connection or cell phone– yes, I periodically check in, but once a day is more than enough. But when I come home, my over-inflated sense of duty takes over. Something might happen,  I think.  The world won’t be able to go without me for more than an hour. It’s stupid, and repeatedly checking a barren email account makes me feel empty. But I can’t let go. My computer gives me the option to check my email– I have to do it. The DVR gives me the option to fast-forward the boring parts- I have to do it. By not doing it, you’re admitting that your time and input are just not that important.

Of course, you’re not that important. Or rather, you’re only important to a handful of people. You need a cell phone when your wife goes into labor. You need a computer to check the flight status of an old friend. You need email to tell your boss that you’ve made some changes to the presentation. But that’s it. No one else really needs you. Even your loved ones can do without you for a while. Relax! Let go. No one’s going to miss you on Facebook, at least not for a while.

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