Suzanne Fields

It's possible (and addictive) to sit for hours in front of a small screen, but what's offered comes in snippets and fragments, and competing dribs and drabs are just a click away, shrinking attention spans. There's nevertheless a reluctance to leave the creature comforts of home and office to go out for an expensive movie: "I'll wait for the video."

Even before the birth of the Internet, Marshall McLuhan reckoned the medium was the message, that (SET ITAL) how (END ITAL) we looked determined what we saw. Everything has sped up, and consciousness exceeds the speed limit, too. If movies link the separate frames of images into sustained narratives, the Internet separates those frames with disjointed data to create an intellectual blizzard of competing ideas. While much of the information can be useful, the appeal to the imagination and empathy is limited.

Personal blogs and websites fast-feed the appetite, suggesting that we know more than we actually know, misleading us to imagine we understand more than we really understand. Sympathies are shallow and synthetic. When a fan once told Cary Grant, "I wish I could be Cary Grant," he replied: "I do, too." The debonair man of the screen was carefully scripted.

Viewers of YouTube and MySpace don't want to be the people they watch -- they're usually not that dumb, and they don't have enough talent to imitate even if they were -- but viewers think they know them, and this naturally makes exhibitionists feel important. Personal identity and social intimacy are sacrificed to public presentation. To paraphrase Descartes, "I show, therefore I am."

Taste and technology threaten the psychological pleasures movies once afforded, and the shortened attention span, image fragmentation and celebration of the self aren't likely to sustain what we've affectionately known as the movies. And Al Gore is back lecturing about the gloom and doom of global warming at Middle Tennessee State University.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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