Dipping My Toe in the Digital Flow


I recently upgraded my computer to a brand new and lightning fast Mac mini. In the months as I planned my leap to the cutting edge from an older and sluggish Apple (with the Power PC chip that the company abandoned and rest of the digital world stopped updating for), I was jazzed at the prospect of all the stuff on the Internet I could access more easily and quickly (if at all).

The Web has, after all, become for many of us a primary source of entertainment. And a major way 21st-century people socialize.

Once I got my new ‘puter, however, the excitement about how much more and more entertaining my web surfing would be wore off with unexpected quickness. I may quip when I say that the Internet is all about cute kitty videos and posting what we had for breakfast on Facebook, but there is a good measure of truth in that. (It’s also about Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears and Snooki if that sort of stuff floats your boat.)

A good number of friends even agreed or at least got the joke when I posted on Facebook: “I like all of you and love a good many of you. But the minutiae of many of your lives is starting to bore me. Please don’t take it personally. The minutiae of my life bores me too.”

Not that there isn’t a place for our silly little life details and mundane or trivial thoughts on the Web. But I have come to the conclusion that what the Internet can be and how most of us use it are too often like the difference between high speed rail and a miniature kiddie train.

Then just after I began work on a project that reinvigorated my excitement about the power inherent in digital technology and the Internet. I write and edit for a local “online newspaper” – yes, the “paper” part feels a contradiction in terms, but you get the idea, right? – in Austin, Texas, where I live. Our mission is community journalism, and our goal is to fill gaps in local media coverage by combining the best of old-school reporting and new-school Web news and writing.

The editor roped me in to help develop a “hyperlocal” initiative that focuses some of our coverage on our city’s neighborhoods. As Austin experiences rapid population growth and the resulting development, urban infill and gentrification plus the many attendant issues that are part of modern urban living, the effects as well as pressing matters are evident at the grassroots level. Using an RSS (Rich Site Summary) feed of neighborhood association sites, blogs and other resources, we can quickly get an idea of what is happening and important to residents in various locales around the city as well as a read on the bigger issues coming into play from a grassroots level.

Admittedly, this is just using some basic web tools as well as some good old human elbow grease and grey matter. But it excited me about the possibilities for compiling and using information in a way that affects peoples’ lives directly. Yes, the Web is all but killing the traditional print media, especially daily newspapers. Yet within the power of digital technology are potentially amazing modes for disseminating and sharing information as well as connecting individuals and communities.

This translates to entertainment possibilities we may not even as yet be able to fully imagine. Certainly this can be glimpsed in online gaming. I see it in how the music streaming service Spotify (about which I wrote recently) allows me to see what Facebook friends are listening to, which has led to some delightful discoveries. You can play movies from Netflix all but instantly (with the right devices). HBO GO enables access to all the seasons of the premium cable channel’s shows as well as movies, documentaries, sports, comedy and more.

To those of us whose lives have been primarily lived in the analog age, even such basic stuff can be exciting. And even if many of us are using the Internet simplistically – and sometimes that’s just fine and much fun – the mind boggles at what may come in the future.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, February 15, 2013



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