Raybon Kan is an award-winning stand-up comedian

Raybon Kan: Visions of the future can confuse the best of us

It's hard to focus on the NZME merger decision when Pharrell Williams' wife Helen Lasichanh hits the Met Gala looking like an armchair. Photo / AP
It's hard to focus on the NZME merger decision when Pharrell Williams' wife Helen Lasichanh hits the Met Gala looking like an armchair. Photo / AP

Hello, reader. What do you care about more: whether two media companies are allowed to merge, or - What does that 80s celebrity look like now? Would you rather think about media ownership in a small island democracy, or - What did Pharrell's wife wear to the Met Gala?

And there's the problem. Or the symptom. Or, something juicy to share on your timeline, while shaking your head, in fashion police judgment.

At the risk of mentioning the competition, there's a newspaper, distinct from this one, called the Dominion Post. Weird name, right? Quick history. There used to be two papers: the Dominion, and the Evening Post. Then, like Brangelina, they merged.

Yesterday, the Commerce Commission ruled that Fairfax (DomPost publisher; enabler of Stuff comments) and NZME (who pay me to write this column) shall merge, but more like Brexit. In other words, to not.

What does it mean? Is it like the Commerce Commission ruling that two bow-and-arrow companies can't merge, when the rifle has already been invented? Can the Commerce Commission bring back MySpace, so Facebook can have competition?

I'm not saying the Commerce Commission isn't right. But honestly, that red jumpsuit did nothing for Pharrell's wife. She looked like a couch. And not in a sexy way. And the years truly haven't been kind to at least 25, if not 30 celebrities from the 80s. And, as science fiction has always demonstrated, the future is hard to imagine.

Was Star Trek right to imagine that velour would become the go-to material in space apparel? Or was Buck Rogers more accurate, envisaging people in shinier clothes that keep all the flavour in?

And, who has the truer vision of the future? Are we going to visit other planets? Or are we mainly going to stay home, evolve to become the shape of a couch, and bitch about the speed of the WiFi? The consequences of everything being digital, and free, are game-changing. (A game, by the way, is an app with in-app purchases.)

Let me take you back in time.

You know how I mentioned a newspaper called the Evening Post? Well, "Evening" implied that news only needed updating twice a day, in phase with the sun. Like Stonehenge, the news cycle, in olden days, followed nature's rhythm. As for "Post", that was a Government-subsidised messaging system, designed, one, to prop up the envelope industry; and two, to give residential dogs a daily visitor to bite. Big Envelope had its adhesive all over us, and wasn't about to let go.

And times seem to have changed.

News - or should we say content - is now a 24 hour addiction. Smartphones have display settings to not prevent sleep, because everyone takes them to bed.

I used to write on a manual typewriter (Google it) using carbon paper (Google it). The noise of keystrikes was deafening - especially in a newsroom full of Imperial 66's - but the typewriter itself did not seek to distract me while I was typing.

Now, under the guise of keeping me informed, my laptop is like an insistent puppy, dragging me off to do other things, while an impending deadline approaches, then retreats into distant memory.

When did distraction become entertainment? Now, even while distracted, we crave another distraction. We scan a tablet while glancing at a TV, which is set to picture-in-picture. Even in romantic scenarios, where you personally, physically, feel the urge to merge, the distraction devices are there, on both people, like pistols for duelling.

The things we should worry about - the things we can influence - have been upstaged by the addictive. We can't fight biology, and the companies who shape the internet know how to push our buttons.

Take the Met Gala. Who the hell had heard of it, even two years ago? If Taylor Swift hadn't met Tom Hiddleston there, I would never have heard of it. (Don't even ask me why I know this.)

Here, five or six time zones from where it's taking place, it's trending and we can't resist. We are assimilated, and we obey.

Who the hell used to watch so many overhead videos of food preparation? The devices have changed us, the technology has seduced us, and we've been betrayed. And we were adults when the devices arrived, so we had some immunity.

The kids growing up today are unvaccinated from the devices. Theirs will be a future without eye contact. Despite all the journalism in the world, Facebook (and Twitter) gave us Trump. The machines have won. Ooh - kittens.

- NZ Herald

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Raybon Kan is an award-winning stand-up comedian

Raybon Kan's books of humour include ‘America on 5 Bullets a Day’ and ‘An Asian at my Table’. Before comedy, he graduated with honours in law and his legal research was published in the New Zealand Law Journal. His TV work includes a documentary in which he trained to be a casino croupier. He once held his breath for 3 minutes and 50 seconds. Visit RaybonKan.com

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