5 ways modern technology steals our humanity

Let’s start with the obvious.

1. Automatic flush toilets (and soap dispensers)

Yeah, that's EXACTLY what I was thinking about the misdirected shots of soap.

Yeah, that’s EXACTLY what I was thinking about those shots of foam.

Not everyone overflows with creativity, but one masterpiece (‘fess up) that anyone is proud to admire is that morning dump. Don’t mean to be crude. Part of the enjoyment of “going,” though, has gotta be reviewing where you’ve gone.

Pooh on automatic flush toilets for stealing our glances. Meaning: Neither my doctor nor my mother gets the information they need at routine check-ups. You have to be gymnastic and quick on the uptake, or downtake, as it were.

It’s even more annoying when just a shift in your seat prompts a premature flush (some toilet designs double as bidets, in those cases). I’m left feeling: What?! Am I invisible here?!

The automatic flush also trains people not to flush; when suddenly encountering the rare hand crank, they then neglect to clean up their business, which is just wrong and leaves the next person thinking: “Animal!”

Automatic soap dispensers (also known as “hands-free” — ah, the irony!) are simply toying with us. It’s like the bully at recess who takes your cap and won’t give it back, raising it higher and higher … we keep swiping in the air — c’mere sensor … where are ya’? … ahhh, gotcha! … oh, crap, on my sleeve. Embarrassing. You end up talking to the sink, or yourself, or worse — some waiting stranger not in the mood for discourse who might decide to just leave without washing her hands.

2. The DVR

Sure it was a marvel when it first came out. Just like in the Seventies, when VCRs were replicated everywhere and, upon receiving the monthly cable movie guide, I would start with the A’s, cross-reference each movie airing against my AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies of All-Time tome (a book) and then set the must-sees to record so I could knock them off my bucket list then transfer them WITHOUT COMMERCIALS to a pristine tape to keep FOR ALL TIME (until the tapes disintegrated, which they now have done) and decorate each tape spine and load them into the bookshelf sorted alphabetically and by genre to admire.

I’m sure you all can relate. A very human thing to do.

Looking forward to the next time Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert take their synchronized vacations so I can catch up.

Looking forward to the next time Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert take their synchronized vacations so I can catch up.

Problem with the DVR: You can’t see or touch your stash. And you can’t possibly “save until I delete” all of it. You must constantly choose what to part with, or set it to “save until space is needed,” in which case things get recorded over each other that you never even see, and before you know it, you are missing “American Idol” Season 12 Audition No. 3, or the entire week of Feb. 18 Daily Shows and Colbert Reports. You just can’t see it all. I repeat: You can’t see it all.

Moral: If you don’t have time to watch a show in the first place, chances are you don’t have time to watch the accumulation of shows you’ve missed, unless you sentence yourself to sucking up all of your “free time” with “West Wing” marathons and “Game of Thrones” binges, in which case … you are left with no worthwhile life with which to live.

3. Speech-to-text tools

Yay, now everyone on the street can hear your texts!

Yay, now everyone on the street can hear your texts.

Rewind to when predictive text was new and we were all carrying those phones with the alphabet clustered by threes on the number pad keys. That design dates to the mid-20th century when people memorized phone number exchanges by province (like the old Glenn Miller hit “PEnnsylvania 6-5000” or the Liz Taylor movie “Butterfield-8”), giving rise to the 1960s touch-tone phone. We bravely attempted to tap out texts based on this arcane schematic, which never would have been designed this way if They could have seen the future and spaced out the most frequently used letters more logically. And we would hit the wrong keys and have predictive text predict the wrong words. This also emitted big chuckles and sometimes, yeah, we sent it with the typos because we knew the recipient would be perplexed — superfunny.

Speaking into a phone to coax it to text seems even funnier, not only due to the warped results but the image of everyone talking into their wrists like special agents … then raising voices louder when it doesn’t work. WHY NOT JUST CALL THE PERSON INSTEAD?!?!?!? ‘Nuff said.

4. Keyless entry

Feeling password strong!

Feeling password strong.

This includes push-button car ignition devices and such. If, eventually, no one carries keys, what clue will we have that we are experiencing “senior moments”? The “where are my keys?” routine is eliminated. Instead it’s “What was my password?” repeated 50 billion times across America every nanosecond. Or “Can I have your digits?” in the case of a car-jacking and other crime.

What’s funny is that with an average 2,738 passwords per person per lifetime that we are forced to recall, we end up keeping the passwords mostly from ourselves. Reset, reset, reset, reset, reset ….

Remember in preschool when the password was simply: “Please!”?

5. Drones

Drones really bug me. They make me miss the bees.

Drones really bug me.

This inhumane advance is possibly the most devastating strike against humanity. We live in an age when video games have gotten too real and virtual reality stands in for actual reality.

Whether spying or killing, drones are the height of impersonal.

And with them, all of the apocalyptic artificial-intelligence specters and sci-fi plots about the robots we create turning on us and imprisoning us are finally coming true. We are the drones, and we’re the ones pushing the red buttons, mostly because it’s easy and makes us callous … and I’m not talking just our fingertips.

Enough with droning on already.

Why we laugh at losers: Dissecting Louis C.K.

Louie (TV series)

Image via Wikipedia

I’m a die-hard fan of Louis C.K. and Louie (Thursdays, 10:30 p.m. ET on FX Network, at the time of this posting). But C.K.’s seriocomedy isn’t offering much in the way of comic relief these days. The plot lines seem increasingly horrific. Maybe they’ve always been, and I’m just now noticing because I had to catch up on several episodes in one night.

Tickling with feathers

Let’s see: “Duckling” — an idea conceived by C.K.’s real-life 6-year-old daughter, Mary Louise Szekely — plopped the comic into the heart of the Afghanistan War, with all of its grim baggage. Still, it conquers with “heart” as his screen daughter, worried for her dad’s welfare, sneaks the classroom mascot into his duffel as an amulet. Scary war, with a warm-fuzzy touch.

The “Niece” episode explores child neglect and mental illness. “Eddie” is about suicide, while refreshingly non-judgmental. “Country Drive” riffs on racism and stars a corpse. (No disrespect to nonagenarian Eunice Anderson’s acting.)

Hats off to the comedian for gingerly handling sobering topics that have become his bread-and-butter: depression, divorce, meaninglessness, while always managing a twinkle in his eye, a glimmer of hope, like Tinker-Bell among marauding villains.

Revolutionary evolutionary comedy

Has modern comedy gotten too serious? Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s satirical news shows prompt side-splitting laughter, yet they’re merely telling it like it is. It’s actually hard to find any good escapist comedy these days. Louis C.K.’s genius offerings are so real and honest, they often make me wanna cry. Can’t remember the last time I LOL’ed watching it. My emotions puddle inside.

Licensed by CreativeCommons. “You’re rubber, I’m glue, whatever I say, bounces off of you and sticks on me?” Jim Carrey in Spain.

Laughing through tears is “soitenly” nothing new. As cutting-edge as Louis C.K. seems, his is a tried-and-true formula: stand-up from the down and downtrodden, laughing at the tears of a clown. From the woebegone Charlie Chaplin and Jack Benny, to Rodney “Don’t Get No Respect” Dangerfield and the nerdy slapshtick of Jerry Lewis … Jim Carrey’s “loo-HOO-seh-HER” springs to mind, an attack launched at others but landing on him … even the repressed/oppressed Woody Allen, “Hungarican” Freddie Prinze and countless other “subjugated” minority and female comedians — much of it stems from Schadenfreude, mirth at the misfortune of others. We’re glad we’re not that guy. Or maybe we are that guy, and that’s why we get the gag. Feeling ticklish, after all, is but the realization that an assault that could hurt us doesn’t — the momentary fear of an attack that proves non-life-threatening, so we laugh in relief and acceptance and trust-bonding, so they say. Here’s how the hilarious “Avenue Q” explains taking pleasure at another’s pain:

When at war, DUCK!! Or make “Duck Soup.” Licensed by CreativeCommons

Does that mean comedy is mean-spirited at its core? I don’t think so, but more and more it’s the absurdist view that sells, while the madcap-screwball variety seems passé. That must be a reflection of society, but someone smarter than I am can analyze it.

In terms of comic art, Louis C.K. is that rare practitioner who packs a lot of punch into his non-punch lines and running-on-emptiness perspective. The material he draws upon, his real-life fatherhood, is also what seems to inject the dark show with its bright spots. These innocents, his own duckling kids, ultimately make life worthwhile in spite of himself. The show is inconceivable without the drama of those little girls, just as it seems C.K. hit his stride only after their real-world arrival added charm and stark contrast to his act.

Kinda glad Louis C.K. didn’t dedicate all of his life to masturbation and squeezed in some procreation there.

As much as I enjoyed the heralded “Duckling” episode (based on C.K.’s own USO tour in 2008 to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan), it seemed a bit predictable for Louie. For me, the Louie episode dubbed “Halloween/Ellie” — touching on random violence yet somehow skirting Halloween horrors — may prove C.K.’s most telling of the season. For all of the “loserdom” the show glorifies, the Louie character acts almost heroically  — granted, only after taking a cue from 5-year-old Jane.

The episode also seems to sum up C.K.’s approach to his art, when his character gets a golden chance to be golden boy to a Paramount Pictures exec, who sees promise in him and could help turn his life around. Of course, he blows it, with this movie pitch:

“You know how movies … there’s always a guy and, like, his life is always OK, and then something happens, there’s a conflict, and he gets to resolve it and then his life gets better? Well, I always wanted to make a movie where a guy’s life is really bad and then something happens and it makes it worse, but instead of resolving it, he just makes bad choices and then it goes from worse to really bad, and things just keep happening to him and he keeps doing dumb things, so his life just gets worse and worse and, like, darker and … he lives in a one-room apartment, he’s not a very good-looking guy, has no friends and he works in, like, a factory … a sewage disposal plant! and then he gets fired, so now he doesn’t even have his job at the shit factory anymore, and he’s going broke, and he takes a trip and it rains … just stuff, shit keeps .. horrible .. and then he meets a girl and she’s beautiful and he falls in love, so you think that’s gonna be the thing, the happy thing! but then she turns out to be a crook and she robs him, she takes his wallet and now he’s, like, stuck in the middle of nowhere and he’s got no wallet, no credit cards. Like, what do you do? how do you even get home …?”

I like to imagine that was close to the pitch C.K. made to get his Louie pilot off the ground two seasons ago. Don’t miss the season finale, “Airport / New Jersey,” this Thursday, Sept. 8, at 10:30 p.m. on FX.

Louie, Louie, Louie, Loo-whee!!

And here is, not a clip from “Duckling,” but part of his bit on “duck vaginas,” which he recasts in the Louie stand-up segment. Warning: This is not “Duck Soup.” Also, it’s striking how peppy Louis C.K. is compared with his dour doppelganger on Louie.