Indignity Vol. 1 No. 17: Involuntary selection.

PERSONAL COMPUTING DEP'T.

The Interface Is On the Inside

IN MY DREAM the other night I dreamed I was taking screenshots of my dream. I would conjure a mid-sized rectangle and capture a piece of the image plane, then redirect my attention to the next unit of the dream.  

I didn't have a computer or a phone per se, to take the screenshots with. I saw something once—probably a tweet, maybe a tweet with a poll question in it—proposing that those of us old enough to have grown up without cell phones don't carry cell phones in our dreams. It seemed true, and it was comforting to agree with. 

Yet there was my subconscious, following device-logic without even needing to visualize a device. The first person my own age I told about this affirmed that he does it, too, the screenshots. As if it were the accidentally-back-to-school thing, or the teeth thing, another stock reminder that, underneath the useful illusions of selfhood and personality, our individualities all come off the same shelves. 

I should have known it was going this way. I asked a technologist friend, and she said she did not do screenshots, but her subconscious will keep playing Candy Crush or Tetris after she goes to sleep. I personally quit playing Tetris cold turkey one night in the winter or spring of 1990, after I was at a rock concert and caught myself idly visualizing the blocks drifting down through the lighting rig above the stage. Somewhere else at the exact same time, someone was inventing the World Wide Web.  

We know that these processes and devices have invaded our brains. We talk about it all the time. Twitter, obviously. So obviously, by now, that typing into the box feels like having a hangover before the drink. So obviously that they made a whole presidency out of it. (Concise, aphoristic—see?) Still, for instance, I think of myself as having a healthy relationship with Instagram: I post intermittently to a small, private account, which I refuse to link to Facebook, even as Instagram shows me follow recommendations obviously based on my Facebook profile. But I also know for a fact that when I read the word "Instagram" anywhere, I will reach for my phone to check Instagram. 

Sometimes I dream I'm at the wheel of the old Honda Civic that I replaced in 2000, the same year I would buy my first cell phone. It's night and it's pouring and the air conditioner doesn't work, which means the windshield defogger doesn't work, which means I'm driving nearly blind, panicked about overdriving my headlights and what's left of the lines that tell me where the road is. But the car is there. I know, at least, that I am not the car. 

REMINDER DEP’T.

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TELEVISION DEP’T.

Willard Scott, 1934–2021

By Joe MacLeod

WILLARD SCOTT WAS a classic Television Pitchman, someone with no apparent talent other than to be able to be in front of a television camera and be “personable.” The closest thing we have now would be Al Roker, the guy who succeeded Willard as the TODAY weatherman. The New York Times described him as (among other things) “the jovial, backslapping Rotarian of the mid-20th century,” and that is an apt description, summoning a feeling of—for me, anyway—a banal and somewhat terrifying “hail-fellow-well-met” who is about to talk you into buying a new car you weren’t sure you could afford while on the edge of telling you a joke you don’t want to hear.

I would have TODAY on my TV in the morning to hear the local segments as I got myself together for work, for a bit of news and information. Mr. Scott would bulldoze through the weather while dropping folksy knowledge about this great land of ours and attempting a sort of dad-jokes patter that frequently jumped the tracks into awkward moments with his train-wreck-bystander co-stars, such as Bryant Gumbel, who frequently seemed to be counting to ten in his head while Mr. Scott chewed up camera time. Scott also would do a salute to viewer submissions of people who had 100th birthdays, bumbling along over bungled readings and mispronunciations of names, and it got so popular they sold it as a branded spot in the show for Smuckers jam.

It always seemed to me Willard knew Bryant regarded him with contempt and thought he was a clown (the guy was an iteration of Bozo and the first Ronald McDonald), and Scott always seemed to be leaning right into it. He stayed on the air a coupla years too long, I think, losing his way on the remote segments, and toward the end of his run on NBC he was coming in for the Smuckers Jam birthdays chunk and that was about it.

Everything the culture says about clowns makes its easy to look at a guy like this and assume there’s something creepy going on. I don’t know, but I can’t imagine him on television right now on a live broadcast with no delay, honk-honk.