Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Glasses, The Past, And The Future

I realized today that I would have been entirely worthless before the fourteenth century.

Glasses weren't invented until 1286, you see, and weren't available for years after that. My vision is comically bad. I'm so nearsighted that I have to be closer than six inches away to clearly read letters that are an inch high. Without glasses, I don't know who I would have been.

What the hell would I have done in the the thirteenth century, exactly, besides die young?

Thinking about that made me wonder about how some of us fit into slots in history. There's the occasional multi-dimensional genius like Da Vinci, who we can safely assume would have kicked ass in almost any century, but for almost everyone else, their talents and personalities are more suited to a particular age.

Besides being damn near blind, I would have never survived an earlier time, because I'm just not a collaborative person. I do things on my own, mostly, and I've been like that since I was just a kid. I want to get so totally absorbed in something that--for a little while--nothing else exists. I always preferred individual sports over team sports. Dinner parties creep me out. Hell, any kind of party that doesn't have children running around creeps me out.

This would never have done in the fifteen century, for example, because it was almost impossible for people to learn things on their own. Knowledge was hierarchical. The printing press (1450) was going to change all that, eventually, but it would take a long, long time for knowledge to become democratized.

So, in summary: nearly blind. Not physically strong. Doesn't work well with others. An oddball. Chances of not starving to death: very low.

In this century, though, miraculously, my numerous liabilities are masked.

Can't see? I've got a phenomenal pair of glasses. Not physically strong? Lots of other people aren't, either, and at least I can Ginsburg. Doesn't work well with others? Don't have to anymore. Knowledge is totally democratized, and everyone learns in the way that's best for them.

Most importantly, in addition to knowledge, distribution has been democratized, too. Anyone who writes a book or makes an album or develops a computer game can get that product distributed. Sure, maybe it sells ten copies (in my case, maybe less), but at least it can get out there.

Like Penny Arcade.

Penny Arcade is the most successful creative brand of the Internet era, in my mind. Its success is no accident, either, because it's always entertaining and often brilliant.

What would have happened, though, if Mike and Jerry were part of a previous generation? What if they were born when I was (1961), and decided they wanted to start a comic in, say, 1985? They could have made something entirely brilliant, but depending on their abilities to impress a handful of decision-makers, it might never have even been distributed.

Maybe the lifetime that became Penny Arcade wouldn't have even existed in a different era.

It's hard to wrap my brain around that.

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