Month: February 2014

Love Your Addiction

Up until today, I did not know what Flappy Bird was. Now I know. It’s an downloadable game, an app, and I have decided that I love it, without ever playing it.

And I will never play it: it’s unavailable as of a few days ago. After millions and millions of downloads, the creator took it down because he thought it was too addictive.

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Interesting, right? Evidently it is for Forbes, CNNNewsweek, Slate, IGN, and a dozen or more mid-level news outlets. Here’s what happened:

Awesomely-named Vietnamese game developer Dong Nguyen threw together the ultra-simple game in a matter of a few days, and put it up for grabs on May 24th of last year, eight months ago. Since then, about 50 million people experienced what often comes with ridiculously good games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush. They got hooked. Really hooked. More information available here.

I’ve enjoyed my quality time with video games, Street Fighter 2 when I was a kid up through the required 24 hour Angry Birds phase, but Lord…

What’s crazier about all this is that, despite some people saying the entire situation is the mass scale equivalent of an inside joke, others really seem to think that video game addiction is a big problem. The most obvious example is Mr. Dong himself, saying, “I cannot take this anymore.” It looks like a crack dealer coming out and saying that he finally figured out that his product is dangerous, a conscience thing.

Naturally, lots of people in the press don’t buy this. I’m not talking about the addiction thing, but rather, the conscience element: they need a bad guy. The big conspiratorial rumor revolved around Nintendo making noise over trademark infringement, which sounds likely because even the most casual screenshot look at this thing makes it clear that the gaming environment owes an awful lot to Super Mario Brothers. But Nintendo has now killed that rumor itself. That doesn’t mean the rumor died: some investigative reporting turned up a couple of friends who, despite the denials, insisted that Dong had received a warning after all.

This was important enough to make it into Forbes, as you can see: the opening quote on their website when accessing the story was by Hugh Cameron, saying, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”

Let’s say that Dong was serious, and he pulled the game because of addiction issues leading to a guilty conscience. Is this the way that addiction is actually seen by people? Because I don’t think it is. I think this is the way that addiction is seen by the press.

On a more respectable note, CVS recently decided to do something similar: they pulled all the cigarettes off their shelves. People lauded this move immediately: every major news outlet covered it in a positive light, with all the holy-roller Puritanism we’ve come to expect from the left when dealing with any issue related to public health.

Now, do you have to ingest a substance to be addicted? Certainly not. Really, all you have to do is not take responsibility for your actions. Oh yeah, remember, you live in a victim culture. Like Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, the thing to keep telling yourself is, “it’s not your fault.”

This is what separates conservatives of most stripes from liberals in the American context: conservatives understand that individualism requires a sense of accountability to go along with the prerogative to do what you like. Now, since this could clearly lead to justifying absolutely anything, any exploitation or assault, on the grounds that the individual holds all responsibility for dealing with it, the balance between prerogatives and responsibilities is understood to be cultural and to hold a traditional component, for the sake of establishing expectations and allowing the individual to adapt to those expectations. In the case of addiction, a conservative might accept that those peddling addictive wares might need restrain themselves from targeting children, for example, but adults can make their own choices, and pay for them. Hence, there is freedom… of a sort. It’s kind of a mess of arbitrary culture management, but the individual has to have the burden of his own welfare primarily on his own shoulders.

For a liberal, addiction is simply an evil, because the resulting desire creates a power inequality. Living in a society where people are allowed to exploit each other in this manner is unethical, so they will push to kill vices, down to the lowest common denominator, going as far up the social ladder as possible when placing responsibility. This means the management, the inventors, the investors, the patriarchs of all kinds, who create the pitfalls which swallow the theoretically innocent. To create freedom, they must create fairness, which means managing the social environment rigorously to give everyone a chance.

There is a certain moral totalitarianism going on when you buy such a narrative. In order to prevent a culture of exploitation, it’s fairly easy to see how a concerned group could come to the conclusion that they must control the culture themselves, in the name of freedom. And, yeah, there is a lot to be said here about the coherence of that ideal of freedom. What does not need to be said is how this is an obvious exchange of one set of dependencies for another.

I know people are pathetic, but I’m not convinced that they’ve always been THAT pathetic. We seem to be getting less and less capable of good personal judgment as dangers in the world are removed, less inclined to value the decisions that push the long-term over the short-term, to watching our step even if it means missing out on some marginally intriguing pleasures. Some people are obviously more vulnerable to vice than others, and on those grounds, choosing one’s vices is evidently not expected to be our choice anymore.

Because of this attitude, I have no real problem believing that a kid made what he sees as a moral decision: he created something that trapped people without meaning to, so he saved his soul by ceasing to offer it. Instead of making a dump truck full of money, he’s relegated himself to filling a mere hatchback. We should all be very proud of him, and may his shining example convince inventors of the Next Big Stupid Wasteful Thing to do sleep in tomorrow.

I really do think it’s great, because between the game and the decision to pull the game, this kid has created metric fucktons of entertainment for those of us who walk on the edge of misanthropy. Hopefully, thousands of dollars will be spent by in-withdrawal Flappy Bird addicts, doing the kinkiest of sexual favors in exchange for mere minutes with a beat up iPhone password controlled by their pimp, flapping their poor resolution wings before it’s time for the next pervert with a mayonnaise fetish.

How long before the media really moves on to non-substance addictions to scare people with, to make them feel out of control? Probably not long, because I think there are a lot of people who enjoy making the excuses, and I expect said people to look increasingly ridiculous as they lose all personal discipline and clamor for attention and pity in the future. It’ll make for compelling television.

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The Corps of Wannabe Writers

http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/01/tsa-screener-confession-102912_full.html#.UuyH19JDsXf

http://www.alternet.org/allergic-america-i-had-move-away-because-life-us-was-making-me-ill

These are the two articles that came through my Facebook feed JUST TODAY written by aspiring writers, both of them effectively failed in their field. Semi-anonymous article-length exposes or inspiring stories or harrowing profiles of the victimized written by these people thrive anywhere and everywhere in media. I’ve seen at least four this week. I’ve seen no less than ten this year, and January ended just a few minutes ago. You can’t get away from them, because it’s in this generations identity to write them.

The writing is usually decent quality. It should be, as your tax dollars certainly provided loans to finance the tens of thousands of dollars of tuition spent turning Jane Q. Public into a functional scribe, and possibly paid for it outright. English, literature, and creative writing majors, those are the media’s unpaid agents in the field.

They follow a predetermined path:

  • Wannabe writer naturally can’t find a job writing, so they take some other job they don’t like, at Wal-Mart or the TSA or a titty bar, who knows.
  • The new job turns out to be horrifying, to fold into topical subject matter, or to have “really interesting people” working or spending their time there, who’s stories desperately need and deserve to be told!
  • Wannabe writer engages in the highest form of social activism today: informing the public. And hopefully, making money and a name for themselves in the process.

Maybe they see themselves in that sort of secret agent light, penetrating the seedy underbelly of government corruption or corporate ruthlessness or the dank of the sex trade. Or maybe they see themselves as normal people who are also natural allies of the oppressed and hopeless, sharing their misery for a little while, getting to know their struggles, until they unveil their Secret Weapon: I’m a fuckin’ writer, yo! I can get people to CARE about this bullshit!

It’s inevitable. In a culture where being conventionally successful is passe and where uniqueness and authentic self-expression are values in themselves, writing looks amazing to a huge number of people. This generation breeds wannabe writers because writing has everything young people look forward to having in a career.

First of all, it’s respected by interesting people: if you’re an writer who manages to maintain a permanent address and make his electric payment, chicks will dig you more than, say, an insurance claims adjuster.

Second, writing is one of those jobs in which most people do it in wretched poverty but a few become wildly successful, and kids like that because beating the odds has narrative appeal. It looks like being broke is inevitable statistically, but much like being a pro athlete, an actor, a musician, or owning certain businesses, all the stats that make success look unlikely for normal people do not apply if you’re talented. The sky’s the limit.

Third, every American kid who’s been born since 1946 has had their ego souped up to make them think that they’re really creative and special, and therefore, super-talented. So this should be no problem!

Fourth, it means you can – in theory – make a huge difference by drawing attention to important causes, and therefore be a totally relevant everyday superhero in your own mind. Writing has the potential to focus people’s attention, and thus, it gives the writer power. Maybe you can gain a following, become a celebrity… it could happen, right?

Fifth, know that none of these kids think they’re going to end up doing the shitty writing, composing tampon ads or assembly instructions for Chinese toys. So most of them see themselves as future freelancers, beyond accountability to any sort of authority figure, typing on the beach and sticking it to the man, with his “rules.”

And finally, speaking of which, it’s flexible: no matter where you go or what you do, you can write about it. Egotistical people think they can make it all sound really, really interesting, too.

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So obviously, supply of people trained in writing has massively outstripped demand. No parent will tell their children today, “look, your dream of being a writer is childish and you need to learn how to do a real job.” Everyone knows those parents are terrible people, and since the state is paying for the degree more often than not, what do they care? Pursue your dreams, blessed child!

In some ways, it’s kind of funny. Marx thought of labor in terms of the capitalists’ reserve army, but what modern capitalist society has actually produced is a reserve army of writers. They are everywhere. If you’re in a position of responsibility, you’d better hope you don’t actually hire one by accident. If you see “English major” on an application for employment, then you’d better burn that shit. No matter how poorly they understand what you’re doing, they will think they get it, they will think it makes you an evil fuck, and they will publicize it in the worst possible light, until they bleed it of every microsecond of public attention.

Terrible, terrible people.

And I admit that, yes, at certain moments, I am one of them. I didn’t waste your tax dollars, but I do occasionally allow myself to think I can change something I don’t like in the world. The difference between the kids and myself? I’m old enough to know that most of the changes a writer can stimulate in this world would be for the worse in the long run, so I can occasionally wake myself up.