This morning I learned of the news of George Carlin's passing with much sadness, and with the realization that we have lost one of the great thinkers and comedic minds of the last century. More than any other comedian, he was the one who I identified with most. Someone who wasn't afraid to tweak authority, who questioned everything. He wasn't college educated, but he had a brilliant mind, and had views -- albeit strange and wonderful -- on practically every subject in existence. Carlin was the thinking man's off-color comic -- he was made famous during the 1970's by his "Seven dirty words" and his challenging of the FCC, a battle that occurred 30 years before Howard Stern would face similar challenges.
I didn't grow up in the 1960's, so much of his bucking of authority that I heard on some of his early albums was mostly apocryphal when I listened to them during my college years in the late 80's when I was first introduced to him. Nevertheless, given today's political environment and the dissatisfaction many Americans now have with their current government and another unpopular war, if you go back and listen to some of his early work, it sounds as fresh as the day it was recorded.
I don't recall Carlin ever saying so outright, but he always crossed me as something of a Luddite, or someone that was fearful of technology and posessions unchecked, and that we were losing our humanity in the process of advancement.
"We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less."
His political and social commentary aside, I always was most fascinated with his "Place for our Stuff" routine which he developed much later on in his career. The bit is about collecting possessions and constantly finding a need to put them somewhere. Carlin may never have thought of digital information in the same way as physical possessions, but if you think of his monologue in terms of storing data, we are facing the exact same challenges.
Devices may have gotten smaller and more portable, but now we have all this digital "stuff" to take care of now. Digital Photos, Videos, e-Mails, productivity data, social contacts -- keeping track of all this stuff online and offline has become immensely challenging. The Flickr account with 10,000 images. The 4 social networks I belong to because nobody belongs to all the same ones. The bag of USB jump drives I carry with me when I travel, and have found that even after upgrading them to 4GB and 8GB sticks they barely fit the bill. Now I'm looking at miniature portable 500GB USB hard disks, because my laptop is strained. I even had to buy my laptop a separate swappable internal hard disk just so I could run another operating system on it.
I don't know if I'll ever have a place for all of my stuff. But I'll look to George Carlin as the prophet who envisioned it if I ever do.
Has George Carlin touched your life? Talk Back and let me know.