Sunday, May 30, 2010

Roger Ebert's Quest for Frisson

Finally, I have a label for it. Frisson.

Roger Ebert pens an elaborate essay that incorporates Twitter, classic works of literature, and neurophysiology into an enlightening companion piece to a Wired article on how the Internet is helping to change our neural pathways.

The French word frisson describes something English has no better word for: a brief intense reaction, usually a feeling of excitement, recognition, or terror. It's often accompanied by a physical shudder, but not so much when you're web surfing.
You know how it happens. You're clicking here or clicking there, and suddenly you have the OMG moment. In recent days, for example, I felt frissons when learning that Gary Coleman had died, that most of the spilled oil was underwater, that Joe McGinness had moved in next to the Palins, that a group of priests' mistresses had started their own Facebook group, and that Bill Nye the Science Guy says "to prevent Computer Vision Syndrome, every 20 minutes, spend 20 seconds looking 20 feet away."

Like it or not, I'm exhibiting the exact behavior that Ebert describes. Long a voracious reader, it's unusual for me to pick up a novel or lengthy printed essay, and even more unlikely that I would spend significant time perusing it if I did.

Instead, I take my information in short bursts before moving on to the next thing I find interesting. Frisson.

I wonder about something. With the invention of channel surfing, and then web surfing, have we all become rewired? Has the national attention span dropped? Is that why kids like shallow action pictures and why episodic television is losing to reality shows? And why sports, which offer a frisson every few seconds, are more popular than ever? Is that why slogans are replacing reasoning in our political arena? Is an addiction to video games the ultimate expression of this erosion of our attention span?

Is that a bad thing, or simply an evolution of thought patterns in keeping with how the world operates these days? Unless you are in a position involving research, the ability to be adaptive and flexible is a required skillset. Agility is the key. The companies (and nations) that are agile are the ones that are kicking ass. Agility has becoming a mandatory trait for success, but not one that you'll normally see listed in many online job postings.

Try to be successful in the business world by leveraging your ability to spend a lot of time on one thing. A yearly performance review lauding you for singularity of focus? Good luck with that.

There's such a skitterish impatience in our society right now. The national debate is all over the place. Talking points take the place of arguments. Think up a snarky name for someone, and you don't have to explain any further. The oil spill is in Day 40 and enough, already. We've been there, done that. In some circles it has become Obama's fault, not for any good reason but perhaps because that breaks the monotony.
Something has happened. Do we even know it has happened? We look out from inside our brains. We notice differences in things. But how can we notice a difference in the brains that are noticing them? One reason meaningless celebrities dominate all of our national media is that they are meaningless. They require no study, no reading, no thought. OMG! Heidi is leaving Spencer! OMG! Russell Brand is a sex addict! OMG! Matt Lauer never dated or slept with Alexis Houston, and all that time he didn't know Alexis was a man! OMG! Top Kill has failed! WTF. ROFL.

When a culture moves from a one room schoolhouse to Wikipedia, it's understandable that how we seek and process information changes. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? Who knows? And frankly, who cares? The world is constantly changing, and as organisms of the planet, we're changing with it, seeking homeostasis.

How we incorporate technological ease in obtaining information with practical application of vast knowledge stores is the outstanding question. Embrace the future. I hear it's where we'll all end up someday.

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