The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
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Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Billions and billions of auto-tuned videos
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Not as sublime as the first one—which was fundamentally good, not just neat-trick good—but I loved Bill Nye’s verse at 40 seconds:

10 comments

Au contraire, I think it’s also very beautiful. I particularly love the Powers of 10 nod.

I was thinking about how, from one perspective, these are very idiosyncratic expressions of a narrow generation–ours–which grew up during a golden age of PBS and popular science writing. When I was in high school, Feynman was a geek idol; last year my *extremely* geeky physics students had not heard of him. So much of the magic of these videos is 80s memery, it’s easy to think that its appeal signifies nothing more than childish nostalgia on the part of a particularly childish generation. (Much like this Owl City video, which seems calculated to unearth buried Christmas day excitement in people slightly older than the performer.)

And yet, afraid as I am of succumbing to generational narcissism, I have to wonder if there’s more to it than that. In the late 70s and 80s these titans of science made a tremendous investment in popularizing science and appealing to the wonder of children; those kids (us) grew up to be the first generation with commonplace web access and provided much of the consumption power behind the two cycles of internet economy booms. How much of our enthusiasms about technology and scale are a product of these cheesy video montages? How much of our creations–tomorrow and in the next ten years–were fed and inspired by their efforts in the 70s and 80s?

There’s something cheering about the idea that the science education of the late 70s and 80s mighht still be bearing fruit.

Now THAT is an interesting connection. There’s a Slate article in that, actually. (Or a featured Snarkpost!)

“In the late 70s and 80s these titans of sci­ence made a tremen­dous invest­ment in pop­u­lar­iz­ing sci­ence and appeal­ing to the won­der of chil­dren; those kids (us) grew up to be the first gen­er­a­tion with com­mon­place web access”

I think this is REALLY interesting. Specifically I’m now thinking about the kind of science education (and science TV programming) we got/consumed… and man we consumed a LOT of it. Bill Nye. Voyage of the Mimi. Cosmos, of course. 3-2-1 Contact. You’re right—that was something new.

Tim Carmody says…

Yeah, but do you guys still watch PBS science shows? They’ve still got game. Kids today have got Neil deGrasse Tyson. And Brian Greene. I think they’ll be okay.

No, but BEFORE us! Who did THEY have? Mr. Wizard…?

This isn’t a “kids today…” argument. It’s a “kids back then” argument.

Tim Carmody says…

Yours might be — but Saheli’s is totally a “kids today” argument. She cops to it!

Her students don’t know who Feynman is, or Sagan — but why should they? They’ve got their own scientists who serve the same function.

Tim Carmody says…

Heck, in 1925, Bertrand Russell wrote a book called ABC of Relativity. He’d go on the radio to explain new scientific breakthroughs. They also had great magazines — Nature, Popular Science, National Geographic. And there was a big-ass space mission that got the hell covered out of it, one right after another. Our parents got their science on, too.

Er, not quite, Tim. You’ve sort of got it turned around. Let me try again. My first observation about kids today was that they had not even heard of Feynman, and so the Feynman nod in the video above (which fills my heart with many soft layers of warmth) would bounce off them like ball bearings. Therefore it seemed narrow-minded to make any sort of universalist artistic claims about the appeal of this video, just as it seems narcissistic to thrill to the Speak-N-Spell appearance in the Owl City video and not acknowledge that that thrill is purely a function of the fact that I got a Speak-N-Spell for a birthday I had the same year Owl City was born.
My next observation, however, was that while Feynman may have faded from contemporary pop culture, the fact is the generation for whom he was a geek hero is still actually young and culturally and technologically active (I know we’re all turning 30 these days, but I’m going to maintain that that’s not that old) and so the fact that our pop art nods to Feynman may mean much of our other work and consumption nods to Feynman, now and before and possibly in the future. Feynman’s influence is still felt though his books don’t sell as much. (Cough, not including physics teachers who give them as graduation presents to their students, creating a new generation of fans.) So while I have appreciated your cycle of posts of generational warfare, my point was not that our generation was somehow better off, but that it–like any generation–has specific influences and inspirations which may have influenced the world in unpredictable ways because of what happened later. We were special in one particular way–we were the first generation where the whole class, not just the computer science students, arrived at college and was expected to use the web. I’m keenly aware of this fact because I started college early, when I was still in high school, and the contrast between my original registration experience and my “real” registration experience largely reflected this shift in expectation and availability. So my hypothesis is not that kids today are somehow worse off in this arena (though they may be) but that this 80s science education did actually shape web culture, indirectly, and is not merely a source of inconsequential nostalgia for me and the Snarkmasters who happen to be my age.

Tim Carmody says…

I was fooled by your use of the phrase “golden age.” Plus, being a college teacher myself, I am hypersensitive to the “these kids don’t know ANYTHING!” trope — enough to see it even where it’s not intended.

Tee hee, that’s funny, because I specifically inserted the article (as in “a golden age” to avoid such confusion. Given the enormous quantities of text you both produce and consume in a day, I can see how that might not have been enough of a signal. I feel like there’s a lesson there about how I should give in to my urge to use typography to indicate mood and emphasis more freely, but then I’d be breaking Snarkmarket on an hourly basis rather than a daily one.

My unresearched hunch, however, is that while the kids today are probably more than alright, we did experience something special compared to our parents. I’m going to have to do some more research before I back that up though.

Tim says…

Speaking for myself, I’d have traded Bill Nye and Voyage of the Mimi to have grown up watching the Apollo and Mercury missions. Just sayin’.

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