Tuesday, June 3, 2014


The Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland (illustration by John Tenniel)
Every time you call a cell phone provider or a utility you get a text soon after asking if you would be willing to take part in a survey about customer care. It’s not bad enough that locating some non- automated voice to talk to is like looking for a needle in a haystack with endless prompts sometimes leading to a dial tone--just as you thought you were going to find the Holy Grail. Now Verizon wants to know how they can serve you better or make you even more miserable depending on which way you look at it. “We’re as mad as hell and we’re not going to take this anymore,” Howard Beale (Peter Finch) urges his audience in Network. In a New Yorker review of Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, (“No Time,” 5/26/14) Elizabeth Kolbert asks, “when was the last time someone you know complained of having too little to do?” There is a tradition of social scientists monitoring emotion rather than simply dry statistics or sociometrics. Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers was, of course, a commercialized version of this. But you then you had profound examinations of the zeitgeist beginning with Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit ofCapitalism, Tonnies'  Community and Society, George Simmel’s essay,  "The Metropolis and Mental Life” and in the past century two brilliant tomes, David Reisman’s The Lonely Crowd and Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Now Kolbert and Schulte and dealing with a condition of inundation, in part caused by the data explosion. E mails may contain viruses, but even when they don’t they tend to be viral with each e mail generating a whole new slew of responses. One wonders how anyone functioned in an age in which letters were typed out, stuck into envelopes and stamped. And forget Edward Snowden and the NSA, even the simplest quid pro quos are no longer pure to the extent that they're the gris for tomorrow’s marketing strategy with simple social gatherings turning into focus groups. Man may be a social animal, but his consciousness is being increasingly swamped by a bureaucracy aimed at recording an evaluating his every breath. If MetLife is an insurance company than metalife is condition in which humanity is buried by its own gift of self-reflexive consciousness.

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