Saturday, March 25, 2023

Of Reels and the Climate Crisis

My most recent publisher reached out to me recently, along with all of the other authors in their stable who've written on the climate crisis.  It was a genial enough email, one notifying me that they were preparing an online marketing push around Earth Day this year.  "Hey, we're going to pitch your books," it said.  "We're going to use Reels, and here's a short guide on how to make one and how to put it up on Tha Socialz."

On the one hand, that's lovely.  Thanks!

But there's an irony in using reels...those short dopamine-bump TikTok-inspired videos that are now omnipresent all all social pitch a book.  Reels are the opposite of books.  Reels are the enemy of literature.  Reels are the shallowest, most trivial, most low-attention-span form of human communication.  They are to visual media what Twitter was for blogging.  They are the realm of the reaction take, the Blooper, the Push Up Decolletage, the Moment of Puppies and Kittens and Ooh Squirrel.  

Reels are radically subliterate, the sort of thing that wires a mind away from sustained argument, reason, and the deep patient soul-growth that a good book can nurture.

I mean, I do have a TikTok account, which I used to see what the platform had to offer.  It was, despite a couple of hours spent customizing it so that the Chinese Communist Party could better understand my personal preferences, brainmeltingly trivial.  Nothing it shared with me was of interest.

On Facebook, which I kinda sorta tolerate, I keep hoping for an option to turn the danged reels off.  

It was a reminder that the medium, as McLuhan so adeptly put it, is the message.  And the message of TikTok, like that of Twitter, is Heraclitan meaninglessness, an endless gorging on succulent nothing.  It is immediacy devoid of context.  It is Eternally Adolescent Now Now Now.  Here's a thing and here's a thing and here's a thing!  

Which means there's an inescapable irony using Reels to pitch books about our dangerously warming earth.  

This epochal shift in our planetary ecology is a long crash, a moral crisis that requires us to be seeing across the centuries it will take us repair the damage we've done.  It's an event occurring on a timescale that will span generations.  To engage it, we need farsightedness.  We need a sustained sense of purpose and attention.  We need to slow down, to disengage from the trivial, to stop leaping after one thing and then another thing.  

And with every reel we watch, we are training our psyches to do precisely the opposite.