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Cultural Decay: We Can’t Have Nice Things

The Portal, a public technology sculpture that links with direct connection between Dublin, Ireland and the Flatiron district in Manhattan
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By: Christian Schneider – nationalreview.com – June 20, 2024

When we reward the trolls, it ruins great stuff for everyone else.

On May 8, residents of the Flatiron district of Manhattan were treated to what was being billed as a transformative new public art installation: The Portal –­ a large round screen — beamed live video of the New York street scene to residents of Dublin, Ireland, while live video of Dubliners appeared on-screen in New York.

It was only one of several planned “portals” meant to virtually teleport people across the globe. Organizers pitched it as “a symbol of unity and wonder that draws in crowds from far and wide” — a “technology sculpture that is built to last for centuries.”

It lasted six days.

Anyone who has actually spent any time with other human beings knows what happened immediately after the portal’s unveiling. The Dubliners greeted their New York counterparts with middle fingers and photos of the Twin Towers burning on 9/11 (so much for “unity and wonder”). The New Yorkers gave it right back when an OnlyFans model famous for licking toilet seats raised her shirt, displaying her “homegrown potatoes” for the unsuspecting Irish.

Perhaps this is a fitting way to portray America to the world, given that no matter which candidate voters choose, we are going to elect a boob to the presidency in November. But on May 14, the portal was shut down. Several days later, it went back up with limited hours and an added security detail.

The portal debacle is just one recent example of why we can’t have nice things. With America’s cultural compact fraying, people have confused individualism for selfishness, trashing our ability to take advantage of technological innovations.

In March, Walmart announced plans to change the way its self-checkout lanes are used, giving stores the ability to limit the lanes to people who pay a $98 annual fee. At the same time, Target stores announced a plan to limit self-checkout lanes to those buying ten items or fewer.

The stores themselves pitched the changes as something customers wanted to improve about their in-store experience, but that is nonsense. Too many people were using self-checkout to shoplift, so now the convenience has to be curtailed.

And the crackdown on self-service isn’t limited to big-box stores. During the pandemic, food chains like Chipotle set up easy-to-use systems where customers could order and pay on their phones, then dart into the restaurant and grab their food off a shelf. But now, many restaurants require customers to approach the counter and ask for their food, as too many people were pilfering meals off the shelf. (Pity the young man or woman who grew up seeing the Hamburglar as an aspirational figure.)

Of course, the impulse to make people miserable for the hell of it has always run deep within humanity. Back in 1993, Saturday Night Live ran a sketch called “Ruining It for Everyone,” which depicted a talk show in which guests brag about driving off before paying for their gas (requiring gas stations to then demand payment up front), attacking people who give them a ride (leading to the end of hitchhiking), and urinating all over a public bathroom (leading restaurants to restrict use of their restrooms to customers).

But it seems like ruining simple life amenities has been accelerated in the new era of expansive technology. Earlier this year, Airbnb announced a new ban on surveillance cameras within its rental units, leading consumers to say, “Wait a minute, surveillance cameras were allowed before this?” The landlords who had them may have damaged the innovative brand, which could send people stampeding back to hotels.

Recently, Disneyland and Disney World had to crack down on the rapidly growing number of people who claimed disability status in order to avoid long wait times on the rides at their amusement parks. Undoubtedly, word spread through social media and other channels that this was a way to game the system, leaving rule-abiding patrons waiting in longer lines.

People may not actually be acting worse than in the past, but their modern transgressions are often more shocking because they want us to know about their boorish behavior. We are adrift on a sea of “influencers,” and nobody can influence anything if what they’re doing remains unknown. Indecency is the passcode to attention, which is the most valued currency we now possess. (The OnlyFans model who flashed the Irish claims she raked in $10,000 in new subscriptions after the stunt, so there can also be a financial incentive. “Thanks for the mammaries,” indeed.)

That is why we now live in a world of truculent elected officials who blow up congressional hearings, goading fellow lawmakers or witnesses to yell at them to make sure the cameras are pointed their way and they get their one-minute clip. This same behavior is why decent, sane social media can’t exist — when trolling is rewarded, everyone else suffers.

Naturally, the desire to spoil things to suit your own end is a strong impulse on the left, as people who just want to walk across campus without being harassed or not bake a wedding cake that violates their own religious beliefs or start a taco truck while not being of Latino origin have found out. On a per capita basis, there are only a handful of climate-change activists in the world, but they are more than happy to deny us all the ability to drive to work or view a piece of great art or even to leave ancient, awe-inspiring structures alone to keep on weathering the centuries.

(The Right has a bit to learn as well. Like, maybe your hurt feelings over losing an election aren’t worth trying to push the country to the brink of a constitutional crisis.)

The lesson in all this: Don’t be the person yucking everyone’s yum by demanding they use your preferred terms like “Latinx,” don’t be the guy on social media trying to get someone else fired for telling a joke, and no matter how much you love animals, don’t harass me if my next meal isn’t soybeans dressed as a hamburger for Halloween.

In other words, just be cool. Because now if you’re a lunatic, people can see it all the way from Dublin.

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Source: Social Media & Troll Behavior: Everyone Suffers | National Review