When everyone has easy access to their favorite diversions and every diversion comes with a rabbit hole’s worth of extra features and deleted scenes and hidden hacks to tumble down and never emerge from, then we’re all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted. We’re on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever.
I know it sounds great, but there’s a danger:
Oswalt discussed a lot of topics that I care about, so I decided to share his article on Twitter, Facebook, and now here.
On Facebook, I wrote:
Patton Oswalt's essay on how the internet is making otaku culture weak. It mirrors what me and others (such as Toshio Okada) have been saying - the formation of otaku requires scarcity more than abundance. In my talks and papers, I talk about the otaku's information fetish, where true information = things that are unknown and unavailable. The problem described by Oswalt is what I talk about when I discuss "Otaku issues and challenges". I refer to it as "The Otaku's Dilemma".
This resulted in a nice little comment thread (shared below, with permission):
Mollie Dezern wrote:
I feel like there is a major flaw in this reasoning, and that is that with obsessive interest comes abundance. When I engage in searching for more of that thing, I am diligently hoping to increase exposure. I think what he is expressing is a sense of bitterness that people don't have to work to access the Old thing, and his infatuation with it makes him incapable of seeing that there is a new type of underground that is both away from but facilitated by the internet (for example: doujin collecting). I also don't think he wants to acknowledge that need-love, that is comprised of re-consuming and reconsidering the material, happens even in a supersaturated media environment. Just because there is always something new/now doesn't mean that everyone has transitioned to the new/now. Nerds are archivists, and we function despite the turmoil outside our archive.
In reponse, I said:
Thanks for the thoughtful response, Mollie!
I know there's a lot to disagree with in Oswalt's essay, but I'm not sure it's because his reasoning is flawed. It's not so much that obsessive interest results in abundance, it's just that abundance is simply what we have (now, compared to before; this is a real qualitative difference due to things like the low cost of data storage and transmission).
In terms of what he's longing for, it's a particular feeling. Yes, when we look for something, we hope to find a lot of whatever that thing is, but there's a different feeling associated with looking for and finding that which is uncommon versus that which can be attained with just two or three mouse clicks.
Perhaps he is a little bitter that 'people these days have it too easy', but I don't think it's just jealousy. There's also an understanding that scarcity (even if it's "artifical") has real value in terms of people's happiness and desire for creativity.
I agree with you that there are always going to be niches that are mostly unexplored or have not been co-opted by the internet. That's always been my approach to this problem--always look to the edges of mainstream experience (without falling off the cliff). However, the game has indeed changed. Even doujin collecting (and comic book collecting in general) means something different in this day and age of easily accessible scans (and legitimate digital distribution).
You're totally correct that re-consuming and re-consideration still happens, and I'm sure he knows it still happens, but I think there's truth to the idea that there's less of a need to do so (for many, but not all people). As someone who once watched Tron 8 times in 2 days, I find it hard to imagine doing something like that now (considering how much I own or have access to, including old school stuff, that I haven't had time to read/watch). It's not a purely either/or situation where people consume strictly for depth or strictly for breadth. The Otaku's Dilemma is about otaku optimizing their behavior to maximize their information intake.
Mark Yoshimi wrote:
I think that Oswalt's article reflects the thoughts of a "bitter" geek. Essentially, many of us who could be considered "OG-Geeks", are simply getting older and we've found that many of the things we used to find solace in has now become commercial and mainstream. Our niche in society is no longer a clique. Everywhere you go now you see is Apple logos. Atari, Mario and NES are stamped on t-shirts galore. Now comic book heroes are all over Hollywood (note that they are played by good-looking, non-nerdy actors!). It's now chic to be geek! "Who you gonna call? Geek Squad!" I know when I was little it all started with Star Wars and an Atari 2600. It was only natural for an imagination like mine to move onto the early home computers ala Atari 8-bit. At that time, I was one of the only kids at my elementary school typing my essays. Teachers and other kids thought I was "strange" because I was able to do this and had such interests as hacking and downloading files from BBS's. I was in band and hung out with computer nerds in high school! Who would ever have thought that one of my childhood 8-bit heroes, Steve Jobs, could become one of the prolific icons of the 21st century. One that I now despise as being the root of all corporate evil?
Thanks for your thoughts.
I still think it's possible to be an "OG-geek", as you call it, without feeling bitter or indulging in nostalgia for its own sake. I've decided a long time ago (with Carol's help) not to look down on mainstream/commercial things. I've met people who think I'm unable or unwilling to enjoy popular entertainment--and they're sometimes disappointed when they see how common my tastes actually are ;)
Of course, I still love niche subjects, and when they're co-opted (as so many good things are), the best recourse (IMO) is to move onto new things and/or use our knowledge (of previously-fringe subjects) that is now in high demand. So, maybe we can feel bittersweet instead of bitter, and hopeful (though possibly adrift) as we look for new challenges, unconventional diversions, and uncommon artifacts...until they invent replicators. ;)
PS: Hooray for BBSes!