Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jittery Generation

I went to a media sensorium the other night and a baseball game broke out.

Not that a lot of people noticed. When they weren't belatedly catching up with plays they didn't watch in real-time by staring at the big video replay screen at San Francisco's ATT Park, they were working their electronic devices thumbs a-blazing, taking cell phone photos and videos, chattering into their mobiles and bopping their heads to music on their Ipods. The game? Well, the face-off between traditional rivals - the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers versus the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants - got their attention from time to time.

It must be said that Giants management did its share to put the sellout crowd of 41,000 in mind of things other than the ostensible draw - baseball.

There was, blessedly, no dot-racing, but there were endless promotions on the video screen, messages of the will-you-marry-me-Amy variety, giveaway T-shirts shot from "guns' into the stands, blaring rock and pop music, a long video presentation on the stadium screen of couples in the crowd kissing. You would have to be curmudgeon indeed not to perform for thousands of strangers. I'll say this - the place rocked. But a good bit of it was orchestrated, as though team management wanted to control the crowd's behavior by prompting fans to embrace programmed activity so they wouldn't do anything weird that they conceived on their own. This didn't stop fans from drinking, to be sure; I saw a few fans wobble so badly they were in danger of tumbling down the concrete stadium steps.

Even in Japan, where electronic consumer crazes have erupted regularly for decades, baseball fans at the the sole game I have seen there seemed much more focused on the game. Oh, they did programmed things, too: chiefly group singing that brought to mind U.S. college football games or European soccer matches. And, yes, the hometown Nippon Ham Fighters had a big video screen installed in the Tokyo Dome, where I saw the game. And, yes, fans seemed to like to catch foul balls - but unlike in North America, uniformed ball girls waded into the crowd to retrieve foul balls and bowed politely when crowd members tossed them back.

Of course, I saw professional baseball in Japan a decade ago; it may be more like the frenetic North American major league experience now.

In any event, what we have is a jittery generation so locked-in to electronic play and distraction-by-gadget they are probably both incapable of and uninterested in enjoying the slow, thoughtful, summery feel of old school baseball. Ebbets Field, Sandy Koufax and the 1927 Yankees are very far away in time and distance and my latest experience with the peanuts and popcorn and Cracker Jacks set tells me that none of it is coming back.

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