I’ll begin with a confession: I was inordinately influenced, during those formative adolescent years, by watching Seinfeld. I watched and re-watched way too much of it. I heightened the effect by listening and re-listening to Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up album, I’m Telling You For the Last Time. Add to this the several times I’ve watched Seinfeld perform live and you begin to get the picture. Thinking about this today, I’m not entirely sanguine about the effects, but I remain mostly unrepentant. In fact, having my Toilet Paper post, which featured dialog from the sitcom, re-tweeted by Jason Alexander is one of the highlights in the life of this blog.
Thanks to a recent tweet from Doug Hill, I’ve realized that Seinfeld’s comedy has long featured a consistent strand of tech criticism. This is not all that surprising, of course. Seinfeld pioneered (?) and perfected observational comedy. His comedy routine, as well as the plot lines of the sitcom, have always turned on the close observation of the mundane and the trivial. Since so much of our ordinary experience involves the use of technology, then it is only natural that Seinfeld has had much to say about technology over the years.
I’m not quite prepared to claim that Seinfeld has articulated what would amount to a philosophy of technology, but it does seem that he’s given the subject more than passing thought. On the whole, his is what some might call a curmudgeonly approach to technology (particularly in the more recent bits). As with so much of his humor, his considerations of technology tread lightly over our disorders and, in so far as they hit the mark, we’d be remiss not to take note. So chiefly for your entertainment, but perhaps also for your edification, I’ve collected a few clips in which Seinfeld exploits our fraught relationship to technology for a few (nervous) laughs. (If you think of any other examples, let me know and I’ll add them below.)
[Note: Embedding is disabled for two of these clips, you'll have to click through to watch them on Youtube.]
In this first, most recent clip, Seinfeld (beginning around the 4:30 mark) comments on the habits inculcated by the efficiency of some of our contemporary tools.
Going back to the sitcom, here’s a scene tackling cellphone etiquette at a time when mobile phones were not yet ubiquitous.
Here, in an appearance with Conan O’Brien from a few years ago, he takes a shot at a Blackberry’s effect on social interaction and pretentious iPhone users.
And the last line in that exchange updates his bit on cordless phones from a much earlier routine.
And, as Youtube comments have noted, what Seinfeld says here about phone machines applies rather neatly to social media.