Cars, Cell Phones & The (Sponsored) Culture of Narcissism

Raymond Williams called it “mobile privatization.”

I think of it as “life behind screens,” or “bubble life.”

It — experiencing life predominantly through video screens, work sconces, and automobile glass — is not just part-and-parcel of corporate capitalism, but perhaps its #1 intention and requirement vis-a-vis the organization of the lives of the masses.

The latest bubble life news confirms, in spades, that the private automobile may be, as Plan C author Pat Murphy posits, “the greatest creator of alienation between humans that has ever existed.”

To wit, some excellent reportage from a July 18 New York Times story:

Extensive research shows the dangers of distracted driving. Studies say that drivers using phones are four times as likely to cause a crash as other drivers, and the likelihood that they will crash is equal to that of someone with a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the point at which drivers are generally considered intoxicated. Research also shows that hands-free devices do not eliminate the risks, and may worsen them by suggesting that the behavior is safe.

A 2003 Harvard study estimated that cellphone distractions caused 2,600 traffic deaths every year, and 330,000 accidents that result in moderate or severe injuries.

Yet Americans have largely ignored that research. Instead, they increasingly use phones, navigation devices and even laptops to turn their cars into mobile offices, chat rooms and entertainment centers, making roads more dangerous.

A disconnect between perception and reality worsens the problem. New studies show that drivers overestimate their own ability to safely multitask, even as they worry about the dangers of others doing it.

I’ll let the excellent CARtoonist Andy Singer have the last “word” on this totally unsurprising phenomenon:

screenlife

HGTV: A Running Documentary on (Sponsored) American Narcissism

As the kids say, OMFG!

Spent an hour in my apartment exercise room watching HGTV on the idiot box above the gym machines. It would be impossible to make a better documentary on the profound mental illness of the quasi-privileged sector of the American population at this ripe moment in our imperial history. Every second and every image — the appalling commercials very distinctly included — transmitted by HGTV is both an encouragement and a reflection of the stunning narcissism, vapidity, and ultra-petty acquisitiveness that pervades our greatly flattered and over-counted middle class. If you want to diagnose the cultural train wreck that un-checked corporate capitalism has made in its #1 citadel, this truly is must-see-TV.

This amazing TV channel is also powerful evidence of the inflexibility of our money-first social order. Thanks to Peak Oil and imperial decline, the logic of “home ownership” is now radically different than what middle-classers have been taught for the past 60+ years. Will paying a mortgage on a suburban casita ever again be a smart economic move? Perhaps, but this rote “dream” is now very far from being the no-brainer it’s been.

Nevertheless, just as the car corporations continue to advertise their rolling boondoggles as if it were 1987, so do the realtors, financiers, and house-equippers evidently lack any ability to deal with a future in which long-denied ecological limits are coming home to roost. HGTV trundling its way along the same old road confirms the Ceau┼čescuan bankruptcy of our played-out overclass. Their well is running very dry indeed…