Cultural accumulation vs. cultural decay

Don’t fear; I’m not getting all moralistic on you right here. When I discuss cultural decay I’m speaking about one thing I feel we’d like extra of. We have an excessive amount of tradition to have a tradition, you see, and that’s principally all tech’s fault — nevertheless it’s not essentially an issue.

No, cease, wait, hear, I can clarify. Have you observed that it’s an entire lot simpler to make music and flicks nowadays? Have you observed that anybody can write a e-book, publish it, and make it out there to the entire world, principally without spending a dime?

And have you ever observed that as these instruments of cultural manufacturing have develop into democratized, their abilities have, too? Colleges preserve churning out folks with levels within the arts, who’re collectively making extra films, recording extra music, and writing extra books than any era earlier than. (Not that you just want a level. My personal diploma is in electrical engineering and I’ve written 5 historically / mass-market revealed novels and a DC/Vertigo graphic novel.) When it involves the artwork, any artwork, we’re spoiled for selection.

Which is nice! Of course! But, curiously, on the identical time, one other factor is going on: artwork lasts longer. It’s common to stroll into a restaurant or bar and listen to songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s. I’m informed that it was awfully bizarre to stroll right into a bar within the 70s and listen to songs from the 20s, 30s and 40s. The greatest film of this yr will probably be a continuation of a 40-year-old franchise, whereas no 1937 franchises have been nonetheless thriving in 1977.

As for books, effectively, for those who’re a literary sort, you’re no much less vaguely anticipated (with good cause!) to learn Austen and Dostoevsky than you have been forty years in the past — despite the fact that the canon has grown significantly since. TV? By common acclaim we dwell within the golden age of tv — and but, the scores for even a smash hit TV present as we speak are the identical scores that might in all probability have gotten a present cancelled in a matter of weeks thirty years in the past. Isn’t that type of bizarre?

The causes are the identical, in all circumstances: expertise has demolished the gatekeepers of consumption in the identical approach it annihilated the gatekeepers of manufacturing. Which, once more, is clearly an ideal factor! But the online impact is that the speed of cultural accumulation in our society, the speed at which we generate lasting, essential, canonical artwork, has exceeded the speed of cultural decay, i.e. the speed at which that artwork turns into irrelevant and now not speaks to us. Vastly exceeded, I might argue.

As a outcome we now not actually have a typical cultural canon. There’s merely an excessive amount of good, essential stuff on the market. Which is a really good drawback to have, however continues to be in reality an issue, or at the least a complication. The web impact is that we don’t have close to as many universally shared cultural references as we used to. If you surprise why our society appears to be fragmenting into so many various little fiefdoms, effectively, I’m not pretending that that is the solely cause — nevertheless it’s a giant one.

Art is the cultural equal of a river carving its path; gradual and refined, however terribly highly effective over time, and able to precipitating sudden and big modifications. Of late, although, our cultural river seems to have develop into a delta, and it’s anybody’s guess what sort of ocean it would open up into.

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