Groundhog Day

Today, tyrannies of the majority are facing off. The collective cultural consciousness is full to overflowing. Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, the Superbowl will be played, and gifted actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died at a young age. Is there much room for anything else?

That is the question that runs through my mind a lot lately. As the world becomes smaller through communication, our collective culture shrinks. There are fewer writers per reader, fewer actors per movie/play-goer, fewer singers per listener, fewer artists per viewer. There is more and more overlap. There are fewer professionals per capita. Most artists are hobbyists, which is nothing new. The hobbyists just have more exposure now, so we might individually see more culture while the sum total, particularly of the professional variety, shrinks. The gap between huge successes and those toiling as glorified hobbyists is occupied by fewer and fewer individuals. The middle class is vanishing from art.

This is nothing new. Television and movies replaced stage performances. However, the reduction in stage performances reduced the need for artists, actors and producers, but potentially eliminated repetition that might be viewed as wasteful. This can be viewed as a win for the collective, less talent is wasted on plays and performances that would see a limited audience. Those talents are probably better used in an amateur capacity, at least from the perspective of the collective.

On the other side of the ledger, there is the cultural change in China as rapid urbanization occurs. China’s long-standing, massive agrarian culture is in a lot of ways similar to the Galapagos Islands made famous by Darwin’s studies. China has been a massive network of loosely connected communities that have developed their own local cultures, much like the Pacific island group was for varied species.

As the centralized government in China and the collective popular culture of the West dominate a greater portion of the lives and mind space of individuals, our total cultural capacity goes down in proportion to our population. This can be seen in writing, art and film as more chase after the latest hot topic, sound, look or genre. Everyone wants to be relevant, so they rush to what is popular.

This phenomenon isn’t new. Bigger brains proportionally have more white matter, the long-distance connective neurons. Computer processors also require more layers of wires as they accumulate more transistors. The moral of the story is that a large network needs to spend more resources on highways to facilitate the wide distribution of information. As much as this trend is inevitable, it would be nice to see the bumper crop of hobbyist artists on the internet spend less time chasing after the pack and more time producing something new and interesting.

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