State of Digital Culture in 1993 and Today
I think it is a good habit to look back and validate a thesis, offer a critique or spend some time examining why we thought X about Y after a reasonable period of time has passed. I read this post from Dan Kennedy a few years ago and I was planning to write a blog post about it in 2014. I forgot to write the post. While I was sorting my sock drawer and cleaning up my browser bookmarks during C19 pandemic quarantine, I came across the bookmark and reread article and decided to write the long-delayed post.
If you have not read the post from Dan, I recommend that you do, but I have lifted some quotes and matched them with a few comments and words I have written before. Dan’s post is a time capsule warning of what we are experiencing today from twenty-seven years ago. This is was written before many people had any form of internet access. Before the smartphone. Before Facebook, Google and Amazon were started. I find it fascinating. I am already on record stating that I think social networks are damaging the human soul. Our souls need nourishment and this comes from human interaction and shared experiences. Prior thoughts in their full, unfiltered and unedited form can be found in these four essays:
I have chosen seven quotes from the article to review with additional commentary, quotes from a post I wrote last summer (i.e. July 2019 Essay) and now that we have more than a quarter of a century to judge the accuracies of the hypotheses, the accuracy is astonishing. As an occasional writer, I can only hope to look back on posts I have written in twenty-seven years and see the same level of relevancy.
“And that dark side is this: as information becomes increasingly decentralized, there’s a danger that consumers of that information — all of us, in other words — will become more and more isolated from society and from each other.”
Last year I was writing about the sense of isolation and empowerment that the Internet has provided. From my June 2019 essay the “…reference to Marcel Proust and the protagonist’s feeling of a lack or lost meaning to the world in his novel In Search of Lost Time. The underpinning of nationalism is the need to fill the gap of lost meaning. The gap that a person feels when they cannot find a sense of place in the world order around them and thus they challenge the conventional order with acts of rebellion.” I think the entire pandemic quarantine simply accelerated and enriched feelings of lost meaning and it manifested itself in the collective actions of outrage that had deep historical roots. People suddenly had no work, no school, no sports and this time needed to be filled.
One of the important theorems that Crane Brinton contributed was that revolutions do not occur during times of economic depression. In the four revolutions that he studied, the revolutions all occurred during periods of expanding economic wealth [see The Anatomy of Revolution by Brinton, page 29]. There was a burdening financial crisis in the four nations-states that he studied at the time of revolution, but it was the government that was in a financial crisis – not the social structure of the nation-state. Brinton writes, “…yet in all of these societies, it is the government that is in financial difficulties, not the societies themselves,” [see Brinton, page 29]. The theory holds that if the people of a society are suffering through economic hardship, their utmost priority will be survival and they will not have time for revolutionary activities. On the other hand, if the economy is expanding and they have access to the necessities of life, then they have time to commit to resolving issues of a greater scale. Leisure time, whether it is used for revolutionary purposes, social activities, or sport, is time obtained by securing the necessities of life. In short, it is hard to be a revolutionary when your primary priority is to find food for your family and pay your bills, but if you have a good job and your family is secure, then it is easier to be a revolutionary after work.
“What’s being lost is the sense of shared cultural experience — the nationwide community that gathered to watch, say, the Vietnam War, in the 1960s, or the Watergate hearings, in the 1970s. Media analyst Les Brown, a former television reporter for the New York Times, believes that for all their “insufferable arrogance” during that era, the Big Three networks “served the needs of democracy very well.”
I highly recommend watching the American Experience program Chasing the Moon. There are several important corollaries to our present-day conversation. I watched it last year and found it completely captivating. I was alive the day Man stepped onto the moon, in fact it was the day I was baptized, but I did not fully grasp the shared experience that it provided to America and the world. I also did not realize how much of the conversation during the program was around the distribution of wealth and would the money spent on going to the moon be better spent at home fighting poverty and overcoming wealth and education gaps. All of which are conversations in the forefront of our national dialog today.
“Then there’s the widespread distrust and contempt in which the media are held. Increasingly, technology is making it possible for people to get their information unfiltered, with no interference by rude, pushy journalists or powerful, unseen editors.”
Last year when I listened to Gideon Lichfield on that sweltering hot summer night in July 2019, I surmised that what he was most upset about is that the Internet enables the subterfuge of the Fourth Estate by the individual without any check or balance and apps and tools of the digital age has amplified anyone’s voice regardless of accuracy. I understand the point, however the followers of Luther were all too happy to say that the monks controlling the content of books had to be subverted and that is what the Internet did to traditional broadcast and print media sources. People want to consume what they want to consume and if it is progressive or conservative, hateful or loving, they should have that right. I will be the first to admit there is a whole lot of junk on the Internet. I will state that I believe that people do not read enough. People are not skeptical enough and people easily fall into the trap of the narrative. They hear or watch or read a narrative on a subject they agree with and assume that sentences that start with “it is a well-known fact” are well-known facts when the fact is not a fact and people are unwilling to research truth. I view this more as a product of the lack of accountability.
“…cyberspace can be a lonely place. Embark upon an electronic cruise, and you find a lot of alienated people, sitting at home in darkened rooms before glowing screens, pouring out their frustrations and their prejudices without ever having to face the victims of their wrath.”
Number one, everybody should realize that all this Facebook, Snapchat, Tweets and whatever, is all just a joke and a mistake. It is just foolishness so stop treating it with any seriousness or respect at all and just recognize that it is To the Virgins to Make Much of Time, so just consume the stupid thing and go for the next one tomorrow; and don’t worry about the fact that it’s a joke and a mistake and bunch of foolishness. Ignore the fact that their mosaic of life is controlled and given to you in your newsfeed that lacks the sweep of history; which is why you are desperate to attach yourself to some other generation. That is why you are looking for a reason to believe.
“As Les Brown put it, ‘One of the functions of a newspaper is to provide you with editorial guidance as to what is important. Page one of the New York Times is news in and of itself.’”
When I was listening to Gideon speak last year (again this is from the July 2019 Essay) he described the 1949 broadcasting Fairness Act that mandated that radio and eventually TV provide opposing views on matters of public interest in order to promote equality. This regulation was relaxed in 1987 and eventually eliminated in 2011. His supposition was that the removal this regulation and the creation of the Internet has not had a democratization effect of information, but rather fueled the rise of fake news, false facts, hate speech and generally lead to the polarization of society along political fault lines. He then went on to suggest reading Timothy Snyder’s book The Road to Unfreedom, which is an interesting choice considering the comments that the author made in this Salon interview and the fact that Salon would be the type of publications that benefited from the rise of polarized political press post the relaxation of the Fairness Act in 1987.
“The most important journalistic decision of the past several years was to air the amateur videotape of Rodney King getting beaten up by a group of LA cops. That decision led to a deadly riot, two painful trials, and a re-examination of race relations across the country. Now, what if, in 1998, when the existing technical obstacles will likely have been overcome, an amateur videographer simply uploads onto the Internet a similarly shocking tape?”
“Because the danger is that people will travel the information highway with blinders on, reinforcing their prejudices, closed to new ideas.”
Stop reading Malcolm Galdwell and his Pollyanna nonsense and thinking it unlocks a secret code to getting ahead in life. News fucking flash, there are no outliers. Here is a tip to figuring out who you are, get your own culture and stop liking the culture from other generations. Your parents lied to you, happiness is not your goal and you cannot click like for certain parts of your life. Lives are full of like and dislike moments; it is in the darkest, deepest dislike moments of life that we find our true character.
As always, my thoughts on these matters might be completely wrong.