I’m a child of the 80s (or at least enjoyed most of my childhood during the decade), so it was inevitable for me to begin to make the connection between the world we occupy now and the world of Max Headroom.
No, the name’s not one to immediately roll off the tongue if you can’t remember New Coke commercials from 30 years ago, but it best exemplifies our desire to function in a world where everyone is the center of attention (even if no one’s listening to you).
Max was the first thing to come to mind as Meerkat and Periscope were unleashed on a public looking for new ways to stand out (though I didn’t exactly focus on that aspect at the time). The angular face and sporadic loops are reminiscent of the sharp breaks accompanying stories curated by most Snapchat users. “Twenty minutes into the future” is now “seconds ago” as television reporters, sports fans, and the like let us watch the story of life as it’s unfolding before them or live tweet everything. As the mid-80s phenomenon approaches a notable milestone, some have already written about the eerily resemblance our world bears to the one of the digital download and his human counterpart, Edison Carter.
There are benefits to a world where there are Internet-based alternatives to avoid hundreds of channels not necessarily showing what you want; I get to do yoga at home – a lot. I get to continue to learn as much as I want and expose myself to any opinion I desire. Media companies chase eyeballs with uncanny precision as we know what you like, why you like it, and when you’ll probably check to see if there’s a new episode.
Yes, it’s scary.
I’m obsessed with trying to understand why we are reaching so far back for our future. Instead of it being Channel 23 fighting for millions of viewers, it’s each of us fighting for dozens (even during the Olympics) or hundreds. It’s a right of passage to see the spike accompanying a great post to your blog or to constantly feel your phone buzz as you rack up likes or hearts. There’s a desire to be heard, but if everyone is attempting to talk about the same thing, does anyone really listen anymore?
The obvious concerns about whether or not the video clips I’d create would be mine aside, it’s a big reason why I haven’t been nearly as active on Periscope or Meerkat as I thought I’d be originally. I’m still attempting to figure out how to produce something unique for my friends, acquaintances, and those who’ve found me interesting enough to follow in the first place. It’s a much harder thing to identify and outline as it took a long time to get comfortable enough in my own skin to share my thoughts in the first place.
It also asks people to be part of a world where, in addition to always being “on,” they must be prepared to be perfect in every way. It’s tough to live up to those standards (unless you’re Mary Poppins), and what tends to get viewers doesn’t always lend itself to the ideal and well-behaved either.
This is a world where people always “connect” but want to control the horizontal and the vertical. It hasn’t changed much from the days where Neil Postman said we were amusing ourselves to death. The biggest difference comes from not always knowing when to close the door on the rest of society. While it is helping push us to have conversations about issues capable of holding back humanity, it may be allowing us to bear witness to our desire to judge all things as though we are perfect – something far from the truth.
NOTE: Fans of the show really need to check out this page maintained by Ingrid Richter, the Flickr user responsible for the images used via Creative Commons within this post — especially if you’re interested in the differences between the U.K. and U.S. editions of the show’s pilot.
Photos: Max Headroom: UK Pilot (1986). ikrichter/Flickr.