The twin realities are this: on September 11th, 2001, every single member of my generation plugged in a computer and started staring at a screen and no one has turned it off or looked away since. What followed is eight years of the worst American politics since Richard Nixon and a decade where absolutely nothing new happened. No new genres, no new styles, no new forms, ideas, anything. There were new versions of things that had already happened. There are a thousand depressing and brain-damaging reasons why everything is different and everything is exactly the same but when Lewis Lapham said that in the advent of the Internet that “history would be flatlined” he was right. The Beatles have new albums out, Nabokov’s final novel was published, Nirvana just released a live DVD, and the other day I got a big compliment on a sweater I bought in 1996.
Look don’t get me wrong: I’m not in a bad mood. I had a pretty boss morning, this morning: an incredibly cold commute by foot and MAX to work, for sure, but bolstered with a piping hot cup of Stumptown and a digital copy of Mississippi Records “The Way Up The Hill: 20 Gospel Hits from the 70’s” singin’ praise through my headphones. At work I got to unwrap a copy of the Sunday Times from its blue plastic sheath — what an awful thing, in 2009! The plastic wrapper, the home delivery by truck, the sacrificed trees to make pulp: all things that lots of folks can easily convince you are terrible, terrible stuff. And yet there it is, that glorious feeling, a big-ass Sunday Times to unfold and flip through, browse, dig, absorb…ah…Sunday. If there were ever a more appropriate day for — now don’t reach for your revolver just yet — but yeah I gotta say it: tradition, maaaan.
Still, it’d a decade that bothered me, and not just for all that bad music and bad politics: every decade has that. What bothers me is the missed opportunity, and the displacement of the values that matter. I don’t mean frackin’ family values or religious values or political values, I mean who’s yr fav’rite band in the whole wide world? Who’s America’s greatest author? Who is the world’s mightiest painter? Which composer do we value the most? It’s been a long, long ass time since anyone could agree on an answer for any of these questions, and lately you’ll be hard pressed to find any answer at all. These days best you might get is “Wait, the greatest what? Ok hold on [type type type] let me look it up.”
The equation is leaps in technology = falls in culture. The more you interact with that keyboard and click with that mouse the less you’re going to be doing pretty much anything else. And “They” — come now, you haven’t gotten so pragmatic, sober, and informed that you no longer believe in “They”, right? — “They” have taken note of this. Let’s clear the paranoia up first: “They” are just the geniuses of capitalism. They are those who made the most money. A lot of Them are You, now, as you read this Blog, looking for the thing that I am telling the people that you can tell the people that you can sell back to the people, and so forth. Right then.
Maybe the World’s Greatest Band was just what they were selling you, but ever since you started stealing it with your computer they started watching you, sitting there in your chair staring at that screen, and they asked themselves, what kind of screen is the most stared upon screen in all of the world, throughout all of history? That’s easy: the mirror. And they found new ways of getting you to look at yourself, your JPEG, your avatar, your profile, your website, your live journal, and they are continuing to find ways to make money off of the assured fact that you will continue to do this because who doesn’t look into a mirror every day before they leave the house? Except now you can check your mirror while waiting for the bus, while riding the bus, while walking to work from the bus — and you can even check it at work just like you are doing so right now. You’re the greatest painter, the greatest poet, the greatest cellist, the greatest bassoonist, the greatest basketball player ever to live. Why pay money for someone else’s product, the inferior one? Pay for yourself, the greatest there ever was and ever will be.
I don’t have a lot of answers just yet — I don’t have a “Best Of” list either but I am incredibly surprised that I’m not seeing this sort of thing everywhere with what — three weeks left in the decade? Honestly, does anyone even know its ending? Compare this to December, 1989, 99…where’s that sense of the “new”? New is something you track on Macrumors.com, perhaps, or is it announced on Twitter first? Ok, Ok, I know, I sound grumpy, but I am telling you I am not. I am hopeful. What do I want for this upcoming decade? I do want a Greatest American Author. I want a music we can Agree on. I want “change” that actually changes. I want us to be a whole lot happier than we were for the last ten years. Or angrier. Yeah or maybe much angrier. But goddammit I want us to feel shit. I don’t want anyone to curb their enthusiasm. You don’t need a pill to pretend it’s not wrong. Maybe it is wrong. But there’s nothing wrong with feeling that.
The Age of Feelings. I mean holy crap, can you even imagine?