The Curmudgeon: Hey, Snapchart– Three Cheers for Nothing by Ron Steinman

The Curmudgeon: Hey Snapchat — Three Cheers for Nothing, by Ron Steinman

Hey, I have a great idea. We should create an app that allows anyone to send a message that will self destruct in one to ten seconds after it arrives at its destination. That means anyone, myself included, but especially the young who do not yet have any moral standards, can say what they want in words or in pictures that might be rude, angry or obscene. Poof, just like that, there will be no record of what I sent. Oh, great day. I am now free to be as ugly as I want without leaving behind any crumbs. Wait. I hear some background noise that says that someone else has that idea and it is already working. They call it Snapchat. Sadly, I am late to the party. Sorry that I mislead you into thinking that I am that creative. Now that I know that Snapchat exists and has made multi-millionaires out of s few smarty-pants from an elite university, I can relax. Snapchat’s success is overwhelming. I see that more than 700 million photos and words each day die almost as soon as they are born, probably good for what remains of an already eroded American soul.

Here are some things we know. All information is disposable. All deep thought these days is short-term. The attention span of people is fast approaching zero. Even multi-tasking, once a sign of high modernity is under attack because it does not work. Fear not, Snapchat has a plan to remedy all those problems. Snapchat is not resting on its success about furthering nothingness. Called Story, the plan is to cover events and spew out unlimited information about a story over a twenty-four hour span in short bits, and, once complete, whenever that is, then have them disappear never to be heard from again. So much for helping us understand the important issues of the day. Sounds like great fun, especially for the journalists who sign up to work that latest of beats. For the working journalist it beats unemployment.

It comes down to this: I can hardly wait, especially knowing that soon all information will be in the negative zone. Those who run Snapchat will be the richer for it and, here’s the rub, we, the consumers will be even poorer than we now are.

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Amy Who by Ron Steinman

Amy Who by Ron Steinman

Even in death the hype about Amy Winehouse continues. The recent documentary about her is making a lot of noise. But I have to ask, Amy who? I have never heard her sing. I have never seen her perform either in person or on stage. If I heard her voice now I could not identify her. I have seen her ravished face, except for her eyes in the ads for the movie. I know that addiction to drugs and liquor killed her, wiping out what had become a fruitful and supposedly legitimate career despite the mental and emotional lapses she struggled with and faced most, if not all, the days of her life. According to critics and fans, she had a future. But her addiction and her failure to overcome her demons relegated her to a wasteland of uncontrolled dependence. Well and good but in the world of entertainment and celebrity, her predicament was nothing new. Between the fan hunger generated and fueled by social media and her seemingly terrible inner life it is not surprising that a young woman succumbs to what free flowing drugs and alcohol bring to the party.

She had an addictive personality. It seems apparent that she could not cope with reality, with stardom, with fan fervor, with the ability to wake the morning following a performance and smile because of success. That is nothing new for entertainers, especially in the world of pop that feeds off emotional disability. The film about her life gets good reviews for its thoroughness, detail and revelations. I am sure it does its job well. But that does not mean we should ascribe to it a magic understanding of how the mind and soul of a pop star falls onto the scrapheap.

Winehouse lived badly. It is that simple. We usually say a person such as she was self-destructive. Her passing surely affected those who loved her and those who profited off her, all who think they failed her. That is nothing new when someone who seems to have a promising future dies a bad death. Realistically, though, is there ever a good death?

I am a naysayer by temperament. The power that pop culture has over the masses often eludes me. I am not a cultural philistine. But Amy Winehouse was a pop singer. Nothing more. Nothing less. Good music, from Bach to the blues to bop, or of all kinds has always been a part of my life. There are very few musical wonders, geniuses if you will, who changed the canon by the power of their creativity. Amy Winehouse is not one of them. I do not intend to hear her sing. Her voice, however good it may have been, will have no effect on my life. Her lost life means little to me. The hype surrounding her life and the film that documents it mean little in the broader context of life.

As an individual, I have other more important things to do that require my attention than to wander in the hype surrounding the poor soul of Amy Winehouse. I have to wonder, though, with the Amy Winehouse phenomena and hype, is it genuine concern for an artist some think died too soon? Or are we witnessing the curse of the prurient that drives much of society today?

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The Day the Printing Stopped: An Obituary by Ron Steinman

The Day the Printing Stopped: A Short Obituary of the End of Newspapers as We Knew Them. By Ron Steinman

A recent news item stated that because of the current economic chaos in Greece, Greek newspapers were in serious trouble because they were running out of paper. Yes, running out of paper! That, coupled with a recent Pew report that has the news business dying faster than we thought makes the death of the newspaper, as we once knew it, more real. Many no longer read newspapers, anyway. But for those who do, the end is near. This story takes place on the day newspapers finally died. Consider this a foray into the future. Fantasy or reality – take your pick. Accept it. It is coming sooner than you think.

As I did every morning, I opened the door to my apartment at 7:30. I looked right. I looked left. I looked up and down the soft-lighted hallway. Nothing. My newspaper had not arrived as it had mostly done for many years. I did not know then that my paper would never again grace the hallway outside my apartment ready for me to read.

Disappointed, I went to my computer where I have my paper online as a backup. I saw the sad headlines in news alerts and on every news Web site. Newspapers finally had ended their run. It is about time, said many commentators, all of whom lived on the Web. Newspapers had been in trouble for years. As we know, they had been facing serious problems. Advertising had shrunk to almost nothing. Papers were barely readable because the stock of ink had almost run out. Pages had become as thin as tissue paper. Many of the few remaining papers had already shrunk to 8×11 letter size with editions having no more than a dozen pages.

Unknown to its declining audience, and without a word to the public, the last newspaper had rolled off the presses the previous day in those cities where there were still daily papers. As expected, there were no headlines announcing the end of newspapers. Malaise set in immediately for the remaining devoted followers of the skeletons newspapers had become.

As a tribute to the ignorance of the masses, hardly anyone, except the old, the infirm and a scholar or two, knew newspapers were missing. The loss of the information a newspaper once carried meant nothing to most people. The young distained detailed information anyway, so it was easy to understand why they did not care. They had stopped reading many years before. They mostly dealt in pixels anyway. And we know that pixels have no permanence.

The few remaining working reporters and editors headed to their favorite saloons, wept into their double whiskeys – water back, thin draft beer on the side – and wondered about their fate. Earlier victims of the change, and there were many, lived in trailer parks, in outmoded minivans, in SRO hotels or assisted living facilities. Retirees now, they existed on reduced pensions and limited Social Security. Their lives with their many endings would not have a reporter assigned to tell their story. Their stories would remain buried in bottom desk drawers, forever lost to posterity.

Next up is cable news, also dying a slow, tortuous death. News will soon no longer matter as people finally become one with their smart phones, the inevitable symbiotic outcome in a world where self is more important than anything shared.

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A New Memoir for your Consideration by Ron Steinman

A New Memoir for your Consideration: A Reminder, by Ron Steinman

For a reading experience like none you have ever had, I suggest you try “Survival Manual: A Memoir of Near Death, Illness and Survival.” Recently published by and available from Smashwords.com, and, hopefully, at most other eBook platforms, including iBooks, iPad, Apple’s free iBooks app and more. The price is affordable and well worth your time.

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The Curse of the Selfie from The Curmudgeon by Ron Steinman

“Photo-Op 2016: Of the People, By the People.” A July 5, 2015 headline in The New York Times about taking selfies on the campaign trail.

Self-effacing. Self-esteem. Self-expression. Self-gratification. Self-image. Self-important. Self-indulgence. Self-interest. Selfish. Selfie.

Those are only a few words, singular and compounded, connected to the selfie. I admit I edited only what I want to apply to my theory about the selfie. The selfie is an overused prop in what is probably the most egregious use of how one perceives the self. The use of the selfie has the most unaware generation ever to have graced the world glowing with happiness and self-gratification because they can and do take their own picture. Often. Not much imagination there. And that is what makes the selfie so dangerous. This is my look at the selfie with my usual jaded eyes.

When I think of the selfie I think about Rembrandt, his self-portraits, and other artists through history who painted self-portraits. I think of their art as a look into their soul as they age, not their self-indulgence.

It seems everyone thinks the selfie is great fun. And it may be the case. I beg to differ. It is not. It is a malady.

As soon as a person sees only him or herself in whatever mirror he or she holds before his or her face, it means any sense of an inner self, the real person within, is dead. The imagination is not at work when taking a selfie. The selfie exists as a fleeting mirror. It is worth repeating that a selfie projects nothing of the inner self. The idea of the selfie is about what takes place immediately, the now, with no depth or history. The meaningless fun of the self-indulgent photo is a roadblock that prevents any possibility of an interior self. The myth of Narcissus applies here as nothing else does.

We know from mythology that Narcissus fell in love when he looked into a clear pool of water and saw his reflection. He did not comprehend that the beautiful image he saw was his own. Falling in love with that image, he became fixated, perhaps even hypnotized by hidden desire. Something inside him sent a signal that he could never fulfill the love he had for what he saw in the pool; that the object of his desire would forever be unrealized. In what had to be his despair over the hopelessness of his situation, he committed suicide.

Does this mean that everyone, and it seems almost everyone and not just a few, who take selfies, are doomed to die as Narcissus did? We can’t be that lucky.

Consider, too, is there ever a sad selfie? Most selfies are happy. Everyone is smiling or making a face that is funny, dumb or crude. Try to reconcile those expressions, and more, with real life. It leaves me cold for its vanity and immaturity.

Despite criticism and constant jokes, the selfie continues to thrive as part of popular culture. Advertisements proliferate with selfies as part of the sales pitch used by every product imaginable. I know that the selfie is not going away. People’s lives must be so wanting in meaning and so fruitless that they obviously need the reinforcement that comes with the selfie. I am not crusading for the end of the selfie. I intend never to take a picture of myself. I know who I am. I can look myself in the mirror and not flinch. I see changes. I see age creeping up on me and I know I can do nothing to stop it. I have no problem with what I see. I do not have to take a photo of myself to know that I exist.

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Citizen Journalism: Dead; Citizen History: Alive by Ron Steinman

Citizen Journalism: Dead. Citizen History: Alive by Ron Steinman

Here are a few names in the news that we would not have known unless people pointed a cell phone in their direction, often during an altercation with the police. Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri. Tamir Rice, Cleveland, Ohio. Ezeil Ford, Los Angeles, California. Freddie Gray, Baltimore, Maryland. Eric Garner, Staten Island, New York. The Dallas, Texas pool party. Often posted on YouTube, turned over to public authorities or to authentic news outlets, we would be in the dark unless someone turned on his or her phone camera.

These names and events exist outside the realm of citizen journalism and for good reason. Citizen journalism, once considered the savior of journalism in the new digital world of reporting, is dead. But these names are forever in our memory. Citizen curiosity, in the form of pointing and shooting a cellphone to take video, is creating history instead. The death of citizen journalism has been quiet, disappearing without fanfare. Just as well. Journalism takes conscious use of taught skills about technique, philosophy, morality, right and wrong, ethics, patience and time. In journalism, rushing to judgment usually means failure. Consider, too, that most “citizens,” read normal people, if you like, lack all of the above skills, especially patience when it come to developing a story that people will understand, read or watch on any Website or screen. Journalists do not always have fun when covering a story. That is how it should be. So, citizen journalism died. It proved too hard for the uncommitted. And that is not bad.

It is easy to take still photos or videos with a smart phone. In fact, it is too easy. The companies who make these devices know the simpler the better to aide users in their pursuit of picture taking. People are not aware that citizen journalism no longer means anything. But they use their smart phones to record what they see. As a record of the event, those pictures often become history. The poor quality of the recording makes no difference to what the image portrays. The image means everything. The image is all. Stick the phone in front of an action, allow the phone to record what the lens sees – not necessarily what you as the so-called cameraperson sees – and you have a record of usually ungainly participation in untoward acts. Those images are frequently shaky, out of focus, badly framed, and often show only one angle or view.

CCTV and security cameras sometimes add to what a smart phone enthusiast captures on his pocket computer. Almost nothing of how the image is recorded matters. The historical record is important. Without such a record, perpetrators may go free for lack of evidence and social change might never happen. Hail to the citizen historian for having the tenacity to turn on his or her camera phone to record an event when no one else is around. Rest in peace citizen journalism, but thanks for paving the way for the citizen historian.

Without the cell phone, we the public might continue in the dark especially when force rules over good sense. In some cases, force might be necessary. Even when that happens, having a record of the action can add clarity to the confusion that surrounds sometimes-deadly exploits.

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Twitter: To Be or Not to Be by Ron Steinman

Twitter is in trouble. It is not enough that it has more than 300 million monthly users and is the darling of the Internet intelligentsias. There have been management changes at the top. Investors want more revenue. Twitter has never made a profit. It lives off those who invest in it. Is it a niche or something more? It is that simple. What should Twitter do? Should we care?

Twitter as a company is imploding. Still the darling of critics, though many are telling Twitter what the embattled social media site should do to polish what had once been a high sheen. Commentators are advising how Twitter should change to become something it never envisioned being and how this micro blogging service should move forward in the face of social media competition. As an investor, you may think that is all to the good. Maybe that is not the case.

Until now Twitter has been freewheeling, enough to allow people to react impulsively to events large and small, to ideas major and minor, all usually without much thought. When thought accompanies a tweet, it is usually to promote a product, a happening or, excuse me, even some potted philosophical notion, something the twitterarti is good at doing.

For all the tweets each day, Twitter deals with nothing important. That is worrisome enough. It worries me more when Twitter deals with the news. I don’t trust tweets about news events. It comes down to no one is watching the henhouse when the guards are asleep. Twitter is unregulated. Dangerous at its worst, it is impossible to control. There are no gatekeepers in Twitter’s world. They probably will never exist. The hoax abounds on Twitter.

Without gatekeepers, no one should trust news reports that erupt on Twitter without anyone vetting what is in the tweet. Professional journalists are at fault for trying to be first with the news rather than trying to be accurate. The companies they work for have to share the blame. Competition is at times more important than accuracy in the increasingly dominant world of digital news purveyors. I do not think that will change because in the new world of journalism, the audience count is more important than the truth. Investors care little for accuracy and truth and only about profits. They are concerned about where Twitter is heading. Investors who smell big money are in the lead to affect changes to Twitter. They hope to succeed.

Equally important is the idea that many commentators are offering ideas that will intensify multitasking to save Twitter. It is not enough for these writers to allow Twitter to exist as a messaging system. Investors and critics want Twitter to distinguish itself by becoming different from what it now is. They want Twitter to become part of the action – either at a concert, a movie, a play, and especially a live sporting event. In other words, tweet thoughts, ideas, likes and dislikes during the event. That for me spells failure. It is great that you have an opinion. Not so great that when tweeting, you miss a portion of the action. But care not. The advertiser gets a piece of the action. Money changes hands. Multitasking increasingly derided by study after study wins the day. The enjoyment of watching an event comes in second to the event itself. After all, repeated slow motion of what just happened seems equally important and energizing, as does the real thing. Not for me.

If Twitter changes, it will not affect my life. I do not tweet. In the increasingly crowded terrain of the digital world it is not clear the kind of player Twitter will be in the future. Twitter is unique. For now, at least, there is nothing in the offing to replace Twitter. For some it had better change fast or who knows, it might die before another digital darling replaces it.

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