Saturday, October 08, 2011

Immediate Mediators

Last night, the Milwaukee Brewers played one of the most memorable games in the 41-year history of the franchise. In the nearly quarter century that I have been watching Brewer games, I have attended, watched, or listened to parts of probably a couple of thousand games--this despite the fact that in a majority of these games, the Brewers lost. In that time, the Brewers have played less than 10 postseason games. So with the relative value of my emotional investment, by all rights I should have been glued to the proceedings last night.

And I was in a way. I was following pitch-by-pitch text and graphics on a smartphone. I was not able to do more than that because I had a commitment to announce a local high school football game for a radio station. My broadcast partner and I got into a pretty good groove of following two games at once, talking nonstop about one but emotionally living and dying with the dramatic turn of events in the other (I was particularly impressed with my partners ability to also keep reasonably accurate statistics of the football game). It is an interesting experience and somewhat peculiar to our contemporary era to be living in two places at once. It's also somewhat of a paradox of our contemporary era that the wall between an immediate experience and a mediated experience is collapsing.

I think it is fair to say that in our society (and in others, including those of the past) simplicity is romanticized. We are often presented an idealized vision of a pastoral, bucolic, rustic existence, where individuals keep to themselves, aspire to nothing more than an honest day's work and its intrinsic rewards, and relationships with others are uncomplicated, based upon mutual respect and familial bonds (ironically we usually get this vision through media portrayals--it's amazing how often narratives in media attempt to subvert the vehicle through which they are conveyed).

But at the same time, it's usually been a characteristic of human societies that we have attempted to enlarge our zones of experience. For all the value placed on a simple life, for most of us that is an unrealized ideal. We seek to complicate our lives, with webs and waves of complications. We take on multiple commitments, sometimes leading to requirements to be in more than one place physically at the same time. We aspire to more than a day's work--we plan and plot future paths for ourselves, and we make contingencies for all of the possibilities that could arise in our plans. We subdivide and stratify our relationships with others (Google Plus wants us to designate people into "circles" for the purpose of sharing information). We "blend" families. And most of all (and not that this is a bad thing by any means), we want to know what is going on outside of our immediate sphere of experience. If something significant happens beyond the range of our senses to perceive it, we still want to know about it.

Of course, the subjective "significance" is usually created by mediated experience in the first place. Few would be interested in Michael Jackson's doctor's trial if not for the media phenomenon surrounding his death, and that phenomenon was only possible because of the widespread media exposure that his music received when he was alive. But of course, very few are truly affected immediately by whatever occurs in that particular trial. So in effect, we are constantly living double lives, perceiving and contemplating both that which effects us immediately and that which does not--again, waves of complication.

But these complications don't seem all that complex to us because society has more or less worked out how to balance it all. We've been born into a world where this is the normal course of affairs. The only thing that upsets the balance we've achieved is another vehicle for mediation. And that's where the smartphone/tablet/laptop comes into play. By carrying around one small device, our immediate "zone of perception" goes from the rather limited purview of our senses to the limitless possibilities of the web. And we've now reached a condition where many people, largely led by the youngest generation among us, are living the double life simultaneously, literally in two (or more) places at once, experiencing both the immediate and the mediate.

This is especially ironic for me when I consider my experience last night. My literal job was to be a mediator, to describe for people who weren't in attendance at the football game what was going on. But most likely most people who were listening to me were also multi-tasking, probably watching the Brewer game or looking at their phones or talking to others or negotiating curves while driving. And considering that I was also giving Brewer updates during the football game, they were probably well aware that I was also having a mediated experience at the same time they were, though it has become such a natural part of our existence that they probably didn't think twice. I know I didn't think much about it at the time. I just think we were all glad that the Brewers won.


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