Have you also sometimes felt that western culture has been on a wash, rinse and repeat cycle ever since Sade, Sonic Youth and Spandau Ballet ruled the charts. A quarter of a century later, we have nifty new smartphones that can do a gazillion different amazing things, but western culture itself, has been on hold since the Reagan/Thatcher era.
In fact, it
would not shock me if a thousand years from now historians framed the
entire period from 1980 to 2080 as 'The Eighties'.
'on hold' is not the right phrase, because we aren't frozen in time.
Rather, with the advent of the Internet combined with nostalgia for the
receding century, what's happening now is that the entire past, if it
has been recorded in some manner, is suddenly present, and not only
accessibly, but demanding equal space/attention/value with everything
else in the media universe.
Whereas once we lived serial lives and our
connections limited by channels, now we have access to all channels that
ever were resulting in a weird moment when all fashions co-exist, if
only on the screen of your mobile phone.
But here's the
thing, they don't simply exist on our screens – the screen is a portal,
and not only for users seeking information, but for information seeking
So what does it feel like to be alive in 2011? It feels like every color is color of the year; every hemline is in; every hit song in the last fifty years is current, and everyone is doing and wearing and tapped into everything.
As my friend Hal Cragin also once observed, "It's like everything is happening at once."
Coincidentally, then Sun Microsystems Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Gregory Papadopoulos
has written on his own blog a 2006 entry that's actually titled,
'Everything is Happening at Once'. In that article, he notes: "…the
technology constants change rapidly (faster, smaller, cheaper), but the
rate of change for organizing principles and architectures are glacial."
These are not competing observations, and in fact,
together they identify one reason why we may feel stuck. Information is
swirling around us but we haven't actually been sucked into the
whirlpool yet, maybe because we don't know where we're going yet. Is
that why, with all this new technology, we're not doing much more with
it than remixing the past?
Suffice to say, today, everyone has eclectic tastes, if not an original idea.
as they go, don't necessarily signal the ascent of something new
anymore, but rather only something popular, and often even ever more
accurately, something returning to popularity.
That's an interesting distinction.
way we experience trends has changed, too. We don't actually experience
them alone, in our bedrooms, isolated from the world; we link
to them from the other side of the planet and then share our finds with
our friends, wherever they may be, and who may or may not actually be,
y'know, actually real friends.
kind of activity is practical if our main point is research, or if we
want to tap in to, or become a hub for a perpetual feed of self
identified crowd sourced, niche-defined mass entertainment, and to that
extent, we've certainly succeeded. This has been boon times for porn,
for instance, and the stuff we call content now has never been in
greater demand, but I'm not sure that it's healthy for Art with a
capital 'A', though.
Not yet, anyway. We have in our
hands new tools. The relative connected few that have access to them have really only
wielded them for a few years, not even a decade in most cases. iPhones have only been around since 2007. Professional photographers are still learning how to use Adobe Photoshop with any real aesthetic; professional musicians are often too busy weighing the pros and cons of one digital workstation over another to actually ever master the arts of composing, recording mixing or performing. It doesn't matter if you're fifty with a shelf full of industry awards – we've all been turned into beginners, and that's why twelve year olds represent real competition – because, dammit, give them a bit of HTML or Object Oriented Programming, and they absolutely are (cue nervous laughter and a tall alcoholic beverage here).
So, if the
current spate of new technology represents anything, it may be conceived as a networked
series of incendiary devices, like a mine field, that once ignited,
blows up virtuosos in serial succession by shredding their once giant
talents into small, common childlike curiosities for one brand new object after
The image of the cat in the car is from puntabulous.com.