The Cult of Now

Alt-title, “What’s Lost When We Instantly Gratify?

Society today demands immediacy.  We don’t just remove the film from picture taking, we allow you snap the shot (with a device also functioning as a phone, computer, etc.), press a button to make it look old or artsy, and upload it to your favorite social network in a matter of seconds.  Campaigning is still a (somewhat) human effort like it was in the past, but today (thanks to constantly updating polls and surveys) we know not only what agenda we’re promoting, but also who still needs to hear our message!  And of course, no one’s ever really been happy with anything but the new-est items off the store shelves (tech, cars, fad foods, etc.).

We want it, and we want it now!  Information, art, product, etc.

In some cases, it’s hard to blame us.  If there’s a simpler or better way of doing something that used to be a tedious repetitive activity devoid of ingenuity, it seems a little silly not to try it.  Really, that’s what innovation is frequently all about, right?  Efficiency.

But increased efficiency with regard to only one aspect is frequently erroneous to the whole, and over emphasised immediacy often forgets too soon and loses sight of the high esteem that posterity used to bring.

I take this post as a (very) minor example.

If I am particularly lucky, this will be FB shared by about 11 people.  Another 3-5 people will WordPress like it.  Several people will glance through a few of my old (added as recently as last Sunday) photos.  The occasional (but rare) comment or critique may be left.  And perhaps a few bloggers will choose to follow what they hope will remain an interesting blog in the future.  This isn’t really the problem.  It’s only the numeric trends of my demographic.

The problem is that all this action will (or won’t) happen within a matter of hours after my post.  Even if I advertise in several places, after a day or so, all enthusiasm will have dried up.  Dried up, that is, until the next 10 minutes of fame arrives when something new gets published.  This doesn’t mean that my post will then be any more or less relevant.  It will just no longer be novel.

This problem is not unique to WordPress.  It’s not even unique to social media.  It pervades everything from our social memory to our political discourse.  Namely, the problem is that with such desire to be current/cutting edge/trendy/etc, unless an issue is constantly in our news-feed, we collectively begin to lose some of the memory that we should be capable of using to build upon, improve ourselves, and learn from.

The cynical have pointed to several quite nefarious uses of this trend.  A 2005 article in the  American Psychological Society paper points out how little we can trust our own memories if we have been exposed to doctored photographs.  As someone who has devoted lots of time to doing just this sort of doctoring, this research really hits home.  While most of my doctoring involves playing with light and color values, I have occasionally (and on request) removed/added people, teeth, and limbs.  Once recently, I even lifted a specific shadow from someone’s skin while leaving the others.  And most of that is working with freely available open source manipulation materials and a (usually very sensible) good ethical compass.  With more powerful tools (think what’s available to big budget film-makers/models/etc.) and looser ethics, the alterations available at the touch of a button are mind-numbing.  And in a society that doesn’t always remember the events of the near past and can be fooled into altering even their best kept memories, this emphasis on importance of the immediate poses a problem.

I don’t wish to create a panic.  To put things in perspective, people have been doctoring our memories for years.  Through the use of photo tricks, but also by creating scenes that never really happened and then photographing them like they had.  These days, it’s just much easier.

The remainder of my concern has to do with feed-back mechanisms on social media.  When someone ‘likes,’ ‘follows,’ or ‘shares’ a post, photo, or article, that media receives new stats that, when entered into an algorithm, are often used to place that media above or below other things deemed to be of more or less interest.  From the stand-point of getting us hooked on the media, these formulas are great, as they allow us to constantly be exposed to media that we are likely to find interesting (based on our own personal algorithms).  From a few steps back, however, this system encourages us to focus on what’s current/novel without ever feeling compelled to look at its under-pinnings.

The other day, a good friend linked me to this article about the various racial, social, and gender related forces at play in the early life experiences of Akiba Solomon (the author).  Or rather this was the sub-context.  The context was actually Roe v. Wade in modern times.  A need to act to preserve our yester-year’s hard fought civil liberties.  Interestingly though, while the article alluded several times to cultural and generational ignorance of key historical moments, it offered only the author’s (quite well informed) reflections and not even a link to the original supreme court decision being discussed.  While in this case, one could argue that reading all the background is tedious, it is sometimes useful to remind ourselves that engaging in such tedium can be one of the best ways to remain truly informed.

It also bothers me that politicians who, only months before, were being considered potential war criminals or lunatics, are (with the passage of but a short time) again viewed by many as electable.

There are those of you who fight against what I’m calling “The Cult of Now.”  I imagine if you are still reading, you may be one of them.  You are the types that read classic books and journals and remember them; recognise the difference between a face-to-face encounter and a meeting of internet avatars; and above all, attribute relevance not to the trendiness of a post, but to its quality and content.

Thanks for reading!  Now go forth and share, like, follow, etc!*

Rob

*You’ve been catch 22-ed!**

**No need for hysteria, there’s still a comic coming this weekend!

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About wagarob

doucement, je commence à apprendre le monde de cette technologie étrange ... doucement
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