In December of 2011, I was wondering: why do I care so much about sports?
Now that I have been engorged in all things pop culture since that time, while staying somewhat abreast of Anthro, Philosophy theory, I have come across a major realization: we care about sports, celebrities’ personal lives because we generally like to follow/trace trajectories.
“Trajectories” meaning trackable, “progress,” moving along one direction.
Progress. Progress of what?
Progress of individuals, groups, nations, states, objects, ideas.
We like to follow the progress of any entity we have built some kind of association with.
We like to follow the trajectory of any entity we have built some kind of association with.
I use “trajectory” instead of “progress” because it’s a more concrete, easy-to-visualize term, which if you have any passing familiarity with physics likely makes you think of an arc with definite beginnings and ends.
With the media today, you can easily follow anyone’s or anything’s trajectory. Whatever object, person, group, anything your heart desires, you can engorge yourself in following its trajectory. Highs, lows, peaks, valleys.
However, some trajectories are easier to follow than others.
In particular, people’s trajectories are much easier to follow than other entities. Following people is always interesting (as any Anthropologist would say!), but since our attention is very limited, we make decisions on whom we follow based on whether or not we have or (think we have) an association with them.
Sometimes we want to hear people’s stories, sometimes we don’t.
Celebrities, sports figures are easy to follow for a number of reasons:
- they are ubiquitous in the information infrastructures of television, radio, and the internet; its accessible, and easy to run into information about them without trying.
- the actions they are do are just what we do everyday: they hook up, break up, get married, fight, speed away from paparazzi in their Fiskers.
- their lives are “public meeting places” for conversational strangers to reference; they can be points of conversation in gossip or “water-cooler” talk
Most of the time what grabs ratings on television seems to be those programs with characters certain people know or are familiar with and/or storylines certain people know or are familiar with. Sitcoms, “reality” shows, gossip news, sports highlights: these are all about spelled-out and well-defined trajectories of people, stories, places, groups, etc. People talking about these things in their own time helps make it “spelled-out” and “well-defined.”
As I’ve been engorged in a variety of work places and settings, I observe that people talk about celebrity lives with ease. Celebrity lives are one big tv show, only real-life, but distanced from a person’s actual life. That is, the lives of celebrities are distant objects, and trading gossip about them has no real repercussions for any gossip participant. The celebrity’s (most) personal life is at once public information, but it’s still “personal” as in when you talk about the celebrity’s life, it’s like you’re talking about a friend, someone you all know. Only, you are at liberty to criticize, judge, shit-talk, and make smart remarks. If you know about celebrity lifestyles and find willing conversation partners, you have suddenly gained license into being an asshole yourself by making judgments, criticisms without any real repercussions.
The trajectory of other things, things that might have an implications for us, like a new law or policy are much harder to track. Objects/ideas/things are not as interesting to follow as people (or groups of people). They are very hard to find in the information infrastructure, especially on television. Thank od for Google, but even then it takes a bit of effort to locate information about something, like for example, here in Long Beach, a local highway being changed up: the proposed I-710 widening.
The issue isn’t whether or not you can find information on it. You google interstate 710 and you will come across the Metro page for it and an LA Times article talking about a different part of the I-710. The I-710 Corridor Project Page has its reports and public meetings on its page, sometimes inconveniently in pdf format for the really dedicated.
The issue instead is whether people who don’t normally follow this stuff, can cling onto information they can understand. Unless they work for Metro or CalTrans or some other kind of governmental decision-making agency, the 1-710’s widening in Long Beach likely isn’t a topic of conversation and banter. It takes a while to work through the transportation-speak and to figure out where this all came about. Moreover, objects/technologies are a topic of conversation only when one wants to talk about the technology’s potential to do/not do a job; we only care about the trajectories of a technology, the life of an object as it relates to its remaining ability to continue on with what we perceive is its function.
With this post being about “easy-to-follow” trajectories, I think it’s a given that if the I-710 was spelled out more and the terminologies used to describe properties and dynamics in the 1-710 more defined and ubiquitously used in our culture, people would love to trade information about it, and more people would care about it.
Since that isn’t possible in the meanwhile, to make it even more a topic of conversation, we’d have to think and talk a lot more about the functions of this particular technology, the freeway, in particular the 1-710 as it relates to our society. We’d have to talk about how on weekends, the freeway does function as a fast, efficient way of transportation across LA, but also at times as a traffic hell and an enabler for cars to spread smog. In the official words of Caltrans, the function of this widening project is to make trucks go faster and alleviate congestion for them, as if this is the only way to relieve congestion, as if there wasn’t a such thing as rail transportation.
If you were late to the show, like I was, they had a bunch of alternatives to relieve congestion, including using more railways to transport goods. But without much elaboration, they explained that they weren’t viable and “elements of the alternatives are included in alternatives where we still have to build something. Now were left with just 5 alternatives, 4 of which include additional construction.
When I realized that I was kind of late to the show, I realized that the trajectory of this project is really hard to follow. I plug into the local information infrastructure and I find NBC 4’s local news and I don’t see any announcements for meetings. I don’t see any discussion of the project at all.
At that moment, I decided that I want to counter that by making an easy-to-follow trajectory of that project.