There is nothing new under the sun…turn, turn, turn

Does technology breed stupidity?

Of course the answer is “yes,” but I’m going to look at the question from an extremely limited sense – does technology provide us with new ways to share stupidity with others?

Steven Hodson has written a post entitled The Rise And Glorification Of Stupid In Our Social Media World. Hodson goes through great pains to clarify that stupidity is nothing new – but he has found something that he asserts is new.

[T]here is a difference between what great actors like Charlie Chaplin or even Red Skelton did as entertainment and what we see propagating through the web today.

Where Chaplin, Skelton, and other comedians like them made an act out of stupid things, and part of a larger humorous look at life, today we find that stupidity is the act and the only act, there is no larger part, there is no explanation; humorous or otherwise, just the stupid act there for all to see.

This is the new generation of stupid as being made famous by the likes of the Jackass bunch [whose] whole intent is just to get other people to do stupid things. Not to do anything else, not to provide any life context, just perform the stupid act….

From my perspective, I was sure that this was untrue, and that other generations made themselves famous by doing stupid things for no good reason. So I thought about it, and realized that stupidity goes back at least as far as 1989. That happens to be the year that America’s Funniest Home Videos first appeared. If you haven’t seen this TV show, it consists of clips of people unintentionally or intentionally doing stupid things, accompanied by comments from the host(s) and laughter from the audience. Back in 1989, before YouTube existed, this is how we watched stupid stuff.

But as I continued to research this, I discovered something. America’s Funniest Home Videos was itself based upon something that originated in a Japanese show, Kato-chan Ken-chan Gokigen TV. The show was not exclusively dedicated to funny videos – this formed only a part of the show. However, it’s interesting to see WHY the funny video segment was introduced, according to Wikipedia:

[The show] is notable for having a segment featuring funny home videos sent in by viewers, as the home camcorder became more popular in Japan, which Ken and Kato would comment on.

That’s when it struck me – whenever we get a new technology, we try to do something stupid with it.

We obtain access to a technology like Facebook, and millions of us (myself included) use the technology to play games that consist of constant mouse clicking.

We obtain access to a technology like YouTube, and we create and watch videos of people doing really stupid stuff.

Japanese people obtain access to the camcorder, and do they use it to film beautiful vignettes of the Japanese countryside, or instructional videos in the (then) dominance of Japanese industry? No, they use it to film regular people doing stupid stuff.

Take television itself. Some people thought that television could serve as a university of the home, providing access to the wide world around us. But what do we remember from the first decade of television? Lucille Ball being wacky at a conveyor belt, Jackie Gleason exploding, and Milton Berle wearing a dress. And those were the GOOD shows.

But let’s look at an older technology – newspapers. Publishers of newspapers were often threatened with imprisonment or worse, with the 1733 trial of John Peter Zenger marking an important turning point in freedom of the press. And when the press obtained this freedom, what was the result? The Election of 1800, which makes the Election of 2012 look like a lovefest.

I think if we continue to look back, we’ll find that the inventor of the wheel probably used it to drive off a cliff.

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