The iPhone, as you probably well know by now, is the death of the Bar Argument. Not so much the device itself as what it represents — not the ubiquity of information, but the ubiquity of our access to information. Sparse, desolate and frightening are the corners of the world without some sort of accessibility to an endless cache of data. With only half a bar cell service in the depths of Bed-Stuy I can still text message Google to find the address of this dive bar with no goddamned sign we’ve been trying to locate for two hours, or Google text to spellcheck the word “discommodious.” Soon, nearly everyone will have some sort of iPhone or similar device, making us all a constant march of burros carrying around the heavy weight of the internet on our backs at all times, putting the closest thing we’ve ever come to the sum of all human knowledge just a few finger taps away.
Google has previously eliminated or severely reduced the amount of wonder
and mystery left in the world, as it is no longer possible to let a debate with Jeremy Hsieh over how many As are in the preferred spelling of “Khaaaaaan!” simmer over for more than the length of a car ride home (6 is the answer. We would also have accepted 47).
In the past, those dark ages of the late 90s and early 00s, it was possible to sit with a fellow lass or lad on adjacent bar stools and spend hours debating at increasing levels of volume, vitriol and frustration, exactly what the original TGIF lineup was. (Sure, you know the three: Perfect Strangers, natch, Full House, duh, Just the Ten of Us, the first of many crap Brady Bunch redos, but do you know the mystery fourth leg of this Friday night relay of 1988 entertainment? In college, this debate spanned the better part of three years, involved no fewer than 30-37 people, led to several incidents where an iMac was threatned to be sent hurtling outside the office window every time someone mentioned the words “Family Matters,” a deep, reality shaking discussion on
the nature and programatic citizenry of “Mr. Belvedere” and an elaborate plan to call the ABC Records and Control Department under the guise of doing an investigation for our college newspaper to get the answer. But then this was invented. And the answer was anti-climactic and in retrospect not worth destroying necessary newspaper production equipment in the heat of debate. Then we sat quietly and waited for graduation, out of topics to talk about.)
Now, in a scenario such as this when a similar unknown query is proposed, a debate over, say, what the name of protagonist of Elevator Action was (Otto) or what is the longest suspension bridge in the country (the Verrazano. Suck it, San Fran), the conversation can only ever wade into the shallow waters of textured debate before a level of futility is reached because we know the answer is out there and readily accessible.
This is the Efficiency Drive (located next to the Flux Capacitor) of our minds kicking it. It sends a signal to your alcohol-sotted mouth telling you that continuing to argue this point is futile as the answer is almost certainly just beyond the tips of someone’s fingers, at most is sitting in someone’s pocket or awaiting back home at the click of a mouse. ‘Why waste your time?’ your brain asks.
Someone with their face lit by a tiny screen will interject and say, “Oh, the answer is this,” then you and your opponent allocate the demarcation of right and wrong, briefly pontificate on the confusing nature of information that led the the initial disagreement, then you order another can of blue-ribbon adorned swill water and sit and stare at the wall quietly until it’s time to go home and look up more stuff on the internet.
The next evolution will clearly be when Google becomes ethereal, like some sort of GoogleCloud (beta), when you the search giant is able to transubstantiate and surround us in an imperctible form like hydrogen or radio waves. Then you will be
able to reach out and pull Google from the air surrounding you, a quick search box will appear hanging above the street and will disappear when you hit the X in the top right corner. Think I’m joking? Yeah, well, people have already figured out how to send energy without wires and some scientists somewhere are developing real invisibility cloaks. So yeah, don’t even stunt like you know what’s in the future.
Even private debates you wouldn’t expect the internet to answer — was she at the party? did those two ever date? — are still solvable through a perusal of pictures on the Facebook, the Flickr and the rest of the public domain that has become our digital lives. And subjective arguments are not immune either: Cribbster and I could spend hours debating which is the more culturally significant Larissa Oleynik movie, The Babysitters’ Club or 10 Things I Hate About You, or we could save tme by pulling up Rotten Tomatoes and looking at the percentage-measured critical concensus on the issue (Answer: 10 Things, but just barely)
But every so often,the brain can still win out over the iPhone. Take this example from last week during a TJ’s rawk show at Arlene’s Grocery in LES. As most good barguments go, this one was started well within the spectrum of hazy intoxication, so the genesis of it remains unclear, but suffice it to say, someone started singing “Ooh La La.”
” Good trivia question: Most people think that song was by Rod Stewart. Do you know who actually sang it?” I asked Charlie. Commence Bargument.
Charlie: “That’s easy. It was The Band.”
Me: “So wrong I want to die.”
Charlie: “What the hell are you talking about? It’s totally The Band.”
Me: “False. It is The Faces.”
Charlie: “I know it’s The Band. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”
Me: “You’re saying the most wrong things I’ve heard all day.”
Charlie: “Fuck you.”
Charlie proceeded with his argument, punctuating several points with a mention of cow defecation, until he remembered the touch-screen device in his pocket. “I’ll settle this right now!” he said, and clicked over to his browser screen. But … the screen froze! Googleblocked! And the unthinkable…
“Son of a bitch,” Charlie said. Our bargument was forced to continue! I felt confident in the veracity of my point, so I pushed forward, recalling bargument skills that had become as rusty as the skills needed to jump start a CD player or maneuver through an AOL chat room. “What is your supporting evidence?” I beseeched.
Charlie: Well, it just sounds like The Band [NOTE: It sounds nothing like The Band]
The debate entered the upper eschelon when a wager was made. A six pack of Simpler Times to the victor (street value: 38 cents).
I laid out my evidence: The Rod Stewart Discrepancy. Having been through a similar discussion in the past with Barry Schwartz, I was aware that while Rod Stewart later covered the song, it was originally sung by The Faces, which Rod was a part of (Barry later noted that it is not even Rod Stewart singing in that version; it’s Ronnie Wood).
There it was, evidence, hypothesis, scientific method, research, footnoted documentation and conclusion presented before Charlie. I had hooked, reeled in and hoisted victory out of the murky waters of the bargument, and Charlie was left on the adjacent dock casting his line, aware of the shadow of defeat quickly swooping in. All I needed was the final blow to cut the head off and declare the debate settled.
Suddenly Charlie’s iPhone burst back to life. Google had emerged from its inexplicable coma and was ready to reconnect us with the All Human Knowledge after a terrifying few minutes of disconnectivity.
Search term: “Ooh La La.” First result: “The Faces/ Ooh La La lyrics.”
The exhcange renewed my hope that perhaps all parts of the limited space of my brain have not ceded containment of small trivial knowledge or basic reasoning to the vast and limitless storage space of the internet. It is true that the ubiquity of access to information means we can free up gray matter that was previously employed for remembering directions, logging phone numbers or cataloging the three different actresses who played Catwoman in the 1960s Batman show, and instead engage that space in more complex algorithims of daily existence and stimulating philosophy. Like how the calculator allows you to bypass the time-consuming menial addition and subtraction and focus on the bigger issues of sine and cosine and negative parabolas or whatever (not a math person alert).
A few weeks earlier on July 4, Chris, Conal and I exited the subway en route to West Side Highway to watch the fireworks over the Hudson. We were unsure of our surroundings and destination, so we paused to figure out what direction to walk in to head toward the road, which runs along the western side of the island. The summer sunset was beautiful but
blinding as Chris whipped out his iPhone and booted up Google Maps and Conal reached into his bag to pull out a pocket compass. A moment later, still shielding our eyes from the bright sun, the sound of heavily grinding gears arose and someone interjected:
“Uh guys, I think we can just walk toward the sunset.”
Maybe this attempt at some basic level of function means there’s hope for us yet? Let me Google it and get back to you.
BONUS: No discussion of the Bargument would be complete without this: