Saipan — In the early 1990s, the fax machine and alphanumeric pagers were considered two of the most amazing inventions of all time. You inserted pages of documents into a fax machine, enter the fax number, press “send,” and copies would come out of another fax machine thousands of miles away!
No need to commute or drive to the post office where you had to fall in line, which was usually long, before you could mail the documents for which you also had to buy an envelope or box and stamps. The recipient would then have to wait for days or weeks for the document’s arrival.
In newsrooms back in the day, moreover, breaking news stories were phoned in, and the editor or his/her secretary must know how to take dictation. It was a tedious, error-prone process. And costly if it was long distance call.
For my generation, the fax machine was Da Bomb.
As for alphanumeric pagers, they were considered essential if someone was way out in the field and “unreachable.” Back then cell phones were expensive, bulky and unreliable. But with an alphanumeric pager, you could call an operator to whom you relayed your message, and voila! That message would appear as text on the pager of the recipient wherever he or she was.
Yes, that was the sound of minds blowing in the early 1990s.
And then in the mid-1990s, internet use became more widespread, allowing us, among other things, to send emails to one another at nearly half the speed of light (which is 186,000 miles per second.)
Meanwhile, cell phones were becoming more affordable while acquiring more and more features. By the late 1990s, they could also send and receive text messages. No need to call an operator.
Today, cell phones are known as smartphones because they are powerful multi-function computers that you can also use as a phone. A smartphone is the high-tech equivalent of a Swiss Army knife It’s reasonable to expect that the smartphone will continue to improve and astonish.
And it’s probably because these inventions and innovations are so incredible that many of us will readily believe any information relayed through these gadgets. If it’s on the Internet, then it must be “true.”
It’s the same thing with celebrities. If they speak out, we listen. They’re famous. We like them. They probably know what they’re talking about. But sometimes — like the internet which is now a well-spring of misinformation — celebrities say something foolish. And then we feel duped.
Recently, multi-awarded actor, author, comedian and TV personality Whoopi Goldberg shared with the viewing public her boneheaded opinions about the Holocaust. Like many celebrities with a platform, Whoopi “was enthusiastically ready to educate her co-hosts and her audience about a subject on which she couldn’t write a serious two-page essay,” as New York writer Rebecca Sugar put it.
“Who does this?” Ms. Sugar asked. “Who speaks with presumed authority and moral superiority but next to no knowledge? In our culture, that would be everyone with a Twitter account, an iPhone, a classroom full of students, an election coming up, or a TV show. Our entire culture is marinated in people mindlessly mouthing off simply because they have an audience. Everyone is Whoopi Goldberg in his own small way.”
Who’s to blame?
According to Ms. Sugar, “No one mistakes Ms. Goldberg for [historian] Bernard Lewis. But [people] tune in for her history lessons anyway, and she is all too happy to provide them.”
This hullabaloo, of course, is not the first of its kind, and it won’t be the last.
More and more of us will continue to rely on the internet — through our smartphones or laptops — to get the latest information or to be entertained, and one of these days many of us will no longer be able to distinguish which is which.
Another celebrity, stand-up comic Ronny Chieng, is right about the internet. “It is making people so [expletive deleted] stupid.” He asks, “Who knew all of human knowledge could make people dumber? Like, in 50 years, we’re going to look at the internet the same way we look at smoking right now. It’s going to be like, man, I can’t believe 50 years ago we just let pregnant people use the internet. What were we thinking? Pregnant people were just using the internet.
We would use the internet in front of babies. We let babies use the internet. Yes, in 50 years, we’re going to have special areas outside buildings where you can use the internet. Internet-designated zones 50 feet from every entrance. Don’t bring the internet indoors. Secondhand stupidity is the real killer.”
Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety. His fourth book, If He Isn’t Insane Then He Should Be: Stories & Poems from Saipan, is available…on the internet: amazon.com/.