Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Video Driving Games and Trump Scandal Hobbyism

When I was first learning to drive, I was also playing driving video arcade games. And one day while doing the latter, I realized something that made me gulp: since I was crashing frequently in the game, doesn't that mean driving's super dangerous?

The next time I got behind the wheel of a car, I shifted my frame of perspective, and imagined myself inserted into a driving video game. And I instantly realized: real world driving is really, really, really slow. Crazy slow! That's why people only rarely crash.

Driving normally doesn't seem slow. After all, it's ten times the speed of walking. And there are tens of thousands of annual fatalities. But cars aren't poised to kill you at every given moment, and that's because they're really, really, really slow.

I've been flashing to this memory throughout the progression of the Mueller investigation. It's seemed like a relentlessly intense roil of activity; so many revelations, so many puzzle pieces endlessly being filled in. The Friday night news dumps. The indictments. The talking heads and their hot takes. I know people who've hardly taken their eyes off their iphones and TVs. They feel exhausted and aged by the speed of it all.

But it's an illusion. It's all been happening really, really, really slowly. All the fantastic reporting from WaPo, NYT and Daily Beast has been so minutely incremental that one has scarcely needed to read beyond the headline. A vanishing drizzle felt like a hurricane. You could spend all day watching cable news or digesting newspapers without aggregating much more useful new data than you could via a fast rake through a few smart Twitter feeds. The daily movement of the progress thermometer could easily be encapsulated within a few 140-character Tweets.

Take a James Fallows article that came out this morning: "Serving Trump Revealed Who John Kelly Always Was". I haven't selected some turkey to shoot at; it's a good article, well-conceived and well-written. But there's no new news, no fresh theory, and nothing not entirely understood by virtually everyone. The article could be boiled down to a single hashtag: "ETTD", the signature acronym of Rick Wilson, author of the bestselling "Everything Trump Touches Dies", from whence the acronym draws.

We've become so meme oriented that we endlessly re-wield the same bag of memes and feel expressive...and we endlessly re-consume those same memes and feel full. We keep sweeping the same pile around the floor. Very little's actually happening but we're plumb exhausted not by the speed or the complexity but from the sheer density of our own collective repetition. We're perpetually crashing from memey sugar highs augmented by the starchy ingestion of mountains of padding. It feels like the bracing rush of a car race though the car's actually been just barely inching along.

Some try to rectify the contradictory sensations by diving into minutiae. I know people who can name all the relevant Russian oligarchs; who've mapped the corporate spider web of Cambridge Analytica and mastered the time line of the Trump Tower meeting and its foreshadowings and after-tremors. These Trump Scandal hobbyists are even more frazzled - but hardly more clued-in, generally - than the rest of us.

The solution, I think, is to do precisely what weighty folks rail against: skate. Grab the minuscule daily bait in the form of headlines or tweets, swallow quickly, and move on to other life stuff. In so doing, you'll know 95% as much as the hobbyists, and what's missed can easily be filled in later when our First (Crime) Family is in orange jumpsuits and the networks produce slick retrospective overviews (which will have the added benefit of being accurate and thorough).

I made some of these same points 1-1/2 years ago, including links to the Twitter Feeds I find helpful.

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