Cultural accumulation vs. cultural decay


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

No, cease, wait, hear, I can clarify. Have you ever seen that it’s an entire lot simpler to make music and films nowadays? Have you ever seen that anybody can write a e-book, publish it, and make it out there to the entire world, principally at no cost?

And have you ever seen that as these instruments of cultural manufacturing have grow to be democratized, their abilities have, too? Faculties preserve churning out folks with levels within the arts, who’re collectively making extra motion pictures, recording extra music, and writing extra books than any technology earlier than. (Not that you simply want a level. My very own diploma is in electrical engineering and I’ve written 5 historically / mass-market revealed novels and a DC/Vertigo graphic novel.) In relation to the artwork, any artwork, we’re spoiled for alternative.

Which is nice! In fact! However, curiously, on the identical time, one other factor is occurring: artwork lasts longer. It’s commonplace to stroll into a restaurant or bar and listen to songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s. I’m instructed 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 most important film of this yr will probably be a continuation of a 40-year-old franchise, whereas no 1937 franchises had been nonetheless thriving in 1977.

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

The explanations are the identical, in all instances: know-how has demolished the gatekeepers of consumption in the identical manner it annihilated the gatekeepers of manufacturing. Which, once more, is clearly an amazing factor! However the web 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’d argue.

In consequence 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 downside to have, however remains to be the truth is an issue, or at the very least a complication. The online impact is that we don’t have close to as many universally shared cultural references as we used to. Should 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 purpose — but it surely’s a giant one.

Artwork 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 large modifications. Of late, although, our cultural river seems to have grow to be a delta, and it’s anybody’s guess what sort of ocean it’ll open up into.

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