The world is falling apart. Maybe physically, with climate change. Maybe politically, with the rise of authoritarianism. But I’m talking emotionally.
There is too much information and no center. People aren’t sure where they belong anymore.
Sure, there’s a crisis of misinformation, mostly fostered online. But once you get past the effects of said falsehoods, the most interesting element is that people can post and get traction. And most people are still unaware of what they’ve written, proffered.
It used to be simple. You read the newspaper, you watched the network news, and you were caught up.
If you wanted to know about music, you just turned on the radio. And in the late sixties, when FM burgeoned, you knew that Top Forty was on AM, and more esoteric, boundary-pushing stuff was on FM.
And then MTV came along and made it appear we lived in a monoculture. The edges were shorn off. If it wasn’t on MTV, it had a lot less meaning. Suddenly there were Top Forty stations on FM, getting their playlist from MTV. But then the internet came along and blew it all apart.
For a minute there, we were excited about the envelope-pushing.
Some got in in the late seventies, like Steve Jobs. Then there were others who entered in the eighties, using computers as tools, for desktop publishing, creating spreadsheets. And then came the internet revolution.
In the late nineties, there was a run on computers akin to the arrival of the Beatles and the British Invasion. Suddenly, all those who were computer illiterate and never planned to buy a computer laid down bucks just to play on AOL. Which was all point and click. It was very exciting.
And then came Napster and broadband and…
Today’s landscape looks nothing like that of twenty years ago, but the oldsters still in control keep laying their skewed, ancient templates on top of a world they no longer fit.
Let’s talk about the news business itself. If I hear one more ancient reporter talk about the death of local newspapers… Didn’t they observe the death of record stores? What do they not get? Oh yeah, most still don’t understand digital disruption. They like their assured jobs where like-minded people all travel in the same circle and everybody in Silicon Valley is screwing up the world. These reporters want someone to stop the world, and they want every innovator to get off, but that’s not how it works.
So, the aughts were about physical items. You iPod and then your iPhone. The teens were all about software. And the twenties are all about consolidation, realizing the internet behemoths have way too much power and because of their market share and monetary power they can’t be dethroned, try to compete with them and they’ll force you to sell out to them.
So, Congress missed the purchase by Facebook of Instagram and WhatsApp, and everything in the “Wall Street Journal” articles isn’t news to those living online, so once again the government is behind. No matter how much you clean up Facebook’s practices, you cannot solve the underlying problems. There aren’t enough people to police the posts, and AI is inefficient, so in truth we’re talking about the margins. It looks like the center, change must be made, but it won’t have the dramatic consequences all the bloviators believe it will.
You see there’s just too much information.
The prognosticators, the old guard in music, had this one wrong too. If Napster wasn’t shut down, if file-trading wasn’t ended, no one would make music anymore. But just the opposite occurred, with the barrier to entry so low, seemingly everybody is making music these days, and you may never hear their tunes, but you’ll have a hard time eluding their hype. Marketing has far outstripped the product. And marketing is easier. So marketing is what we’ve got. But in an on demand world the public, which hates advertising, can mostly avoid it. Apple comes down on the side of the consumer, focusing on privacy, and Wall Street and Main Street freak out, GIVE US OUR DATA! Like they’re entitled to everybody’s info, like every business entity is Cambridge Analytica.
But that’s all top-down, let’s talk bottom up.
There’s not enough time for ANYBODY to keep up. That’s right, NOBODY can keep up!
Oh, you can try by reading the “New York Times,” our national newsgatherer, just tune in Fox, they quote it all the time. But the “Times” misses so much! Stories break online first. And then if the noise gets loud enough they decide whether to cover it. Which is why every reporter is addicted to Twitter. They’re trying to keep their finger on the pulse! There are too many feeds and it’s unclear which ones you must pay attention to. You self-curate, and no one else sees the exact same things, NOBODY! Same deal with Google results, which are customized to the searcher.
So, if the mainstream news can’t keep its finger on the pulse, and if the “Times” is superior to other news outlets, how in hell is the general public supposed to keep up?
But since everyone has a microphone, the pillars of society have had their images demolished, rightly or wrongly. According to the right, you can’t trust a thing in the “Times.” But there is no alternative other than websites and social media. As for Fox News, it does almost no reporting. And for all the reporting on the outlet’s power, check the ratings, almost no Americans even watch it. After all, they’ve got more visual programming than they can watch in a lifetime!
Forget three networks, forget pay cable, forget basic cable. Now there are all these streaming platforms, seemingly every DAY Netflix introduces new product. Not only can no one keep up, if they’re not overwhelmed and dive in, they’ll find that most of what they’re watching no one else is, leaving them isolated.
This isolation is America’s problem. Greater than online misinformation. Everybody’s got their own smartphone with content customized for them and there are no points of connection, there is no overlap. And the end result is you feel disillusioned and depressed. It’s like Mickey Mouse in “Fantasia,” you can never catch up.
So you’re looking for a group, a tribe. That’s the power of Republicans, the right wing, you belong! And stunningly, elected officials feel they must be on the Trump train even though they were elected and he was not. You want to feel like you’re included. As for the deep issues, most people are unaware of them. Immigrants are coming for your job and the Democrats are socialists who will eradicate the American way of life. That’s enough, that’s all most people have got. But they can sit with their buddies and feel like they belong. And there’s always information online to support your position, ALWAYS!
As far as getting someone to leave their tribe… They’re never going to do it unless there’s a ready-made tribe eager to embrace them, make them feel warm and fuzzy. And the only people who’ve been able to do this are cults. And the truth is the right is akin to a cult, they’ll embrace seemingly anyone. As for the Democrats? They’re in disarray, living in the last century, the aughts at best, and with Manchin and Sinema their lack of cohesion is on display, adding fuel to the fire of the other team.
But forget politics, most people do. Most people are really damn busy.
Let’s start with your job. Either you’re making big bucks and your issue is keeping up with the Joneses or you’re making few bucks and your issue is staying alive. Numbing, back-breaking work, then you go home, play with your kids, drink, watch TV and do it all over again.
But now the issues have come home. Critical race theory. What are your kids being taught? I mean that’s important, right? We’ve been told forever to think for ourselves, should we just let the school board have its way?
And once again, this isn’t about politics so much as the individual. You’re told that you must care about everything, otherwise the world as you know it will come to an end, so you should do your best to get involved, get your voice heard, correct? That’s almost more important than your position, as long as you align with your tribe.
So you’re sitting at home..
What are you gonna eat?
Well, should you go to the store or have your groceries delivered? Should you order in via Uber Eats? Should you worry about eating too much junk food? There are so many more choices than before, so many decisions to be made that you become fatigued with the most basic issues.
And then you sit in front of the flat screen…
Or should you fire up your internet-connected device. Where you can watch what’s on the flat screen or endless videos on YouTube, and TikTok and Snap…
Or maybe you should just play videogames.
And maybe you’ve got a clearly-defined passion. But then one day you become tired of it, you’re looking for more stimulation, WHERE SHOULD YOU GO? The tyranny of choice is overwhelming.
The fashion industry says baggy is in and skinny is out. The public didn’t get the memo, turns out most people are still wearing skinny jeans. None of the traditional power-wielding entities have the dictatorial power they once did.
As for clothing… You can buy a shirt for five bucks, maybe even less. Parents can’t digest this, a kid can have a closet akin to a Beverly Hills housewife for the same price of school clothes decades ago. And not only do kids have to keep up on their social media feeds, they’ve got to look the part when they leave the house, assuming they do, but of course they all have to go to school, unless they’re home-schooled, where even if the kids get a better education, they’re not integrated with society, they only hear one opinion and lack socialization, they don’t know how to hang with other kids, never mind get along.
So you’re gonna dive in, get your handle on what’s going on.
Well, first you watch “Squid Game,” bigger than any other entertainment product at the moment, Adele doesn’t even have a fraction of the power. And why are most people watching it? BECAUSE EVERYBODY ELSE IS WATCHING IT! They yearn to belong.
But after “Squid Game,” then what? “Ted Lasso” is already in the rearview mirror, no one’s talking about it anymore. They say the new season of “Succession” is secondary, but you haven’t even caught up with the old seasons. And you can do your own research, forget all the misinformation out there, an agile surfer can hoover up a wealth of information unavailable anywhere else but online. And you find a great show, and you talk to people about it and…no one has seen it. And you can’t convince them to. The investment is too great, and they don’t know who to trust. So the smarter and more informed you are the more isolated you become.
It’s even worse in music. We keep hearing that it’s a hip-hop nation, that only pop has a chance of competing, yet the new IFPI report says that rock is the dominant world genre. Huh? Then how come it isn’t in the Spotify Top 50? I mean how many people are even listening to that? Maybe it’s just a sliver of society. And the playlists are created by humans manipulated by those controlling recordings and 60,000 tracks are added each and every DAY! No wonder many people give up, just go back to the old tunes, and when they burn out on those, they watch TV or play videogames… But if you say you’re burned out on the oldies you’re a pariah. But if you say you only listen to the oldies you’re a pariah. You can no longer fit in!
The biggest bands in the world can come to your town and you don’t even know. Then again, do you want to go for over a hundred bucks? Now it’s a Broadway show, not a concert.
And if everybody says something good, you’d better not say it’s bad. Because then you just show you don’t get it. So stifle your personality to fit in, otherwise you’ll have no friends.
And the old tribes have been blown apart. It’s not only the news reporters, but the music cognoscenti with their black leather jackets, telling everybody what is good and what is bad. No one is listening to them anymore, no one has the time, no one even cares. If anything, they feel liberated to be able to listen to what sounds good to them. Never mind all of the pariahs of the past being seen as godhead today, like the Carpenters.
Doesn’t matter the age. Babies are registered for elite schools. The truth is you could fall behind before five and never really recover. Unfortunately, this is true, therefore parents spend uber amounts of time piloting their kids’ lives. Never mind the enrichment programs piled up to make their kids’ college applications look good.
As for the kids… You can’t leave home without being accompanied by a parent. Furthermore, you live in a police state, your parents track your phone. And there is a camera everywhere. You’re locked down, and you can feel it. Maybe you can band together with like-minded kids online and influence the discussion, like the TikTokkers who got tickets for Trump’s appearance in Oklahoma, but you can’t keep the tribe together, not only does everybody have other interests, there’s not another topic everybody can rally around. Just like Coldplay and Dave Matthews owe their huge ticket numbers to being the last acts to have made it before MTV/VH1/TV music paradigm imploded, Trump gained his national fame before network TV eroded to the point of minimization. I never even watch network TV, do you?
And then the old paragons of entertainment news keep telling us what’s coming. We don’t want to know what’s coming, just tell us if it’s worth paying attention when it’s here!
And we can’t go against our tribe, no way. You know what your tribe thinks, what it believes in, that’s bedrock. And it’s not only politics. If you go against the groupthink you’re soon squeezed out. So not only is everybody busy hoovering up information to try and stay abreast of what is going on, they’ve got to keep up their image on social media and in real life.
And everything we were told was important is sinking. Sports… As for the Super Bowl, it’s got nothing to do with the game, it’s a national holiday with some of the best visual entertainment of the year, i.e. the commercials, and you know everybody is watching it, so you can argue about the quality of the commercials thereafter. The commercials outstripped the game DECADES AGO! The day after that’s all anybody wants to talk about. Credit Steve Jobs, the outsider. Who bought more consecutive time than anybody and created a mini-movie, not only introducing the Macintosh but showing Madison Avenue there was a new way to sell a product, that was BETTER!
And there are still disrupters. Elon Musk being one. They keep selling more Teslas. Diehards, environmentalists buy them, but who are the rest of these purchasers? Maybe people are afraid of laying down big bucks for a gas-guzzler that will be worthless in only a handful of years, like your old MacPlus… Hell, you don’t even want to have an Intel Mac! As for a 3G phone… All those technophobes are about to have their main communication method wiped away.
We need more points of communication. We need national rallying points. We need to make society more fluid. Then again, the odds of achieving the American Dream are higher in Europe, never mind Canada. That’s right, you can play the lottery, but your odds of moving up the economic food chain have never been worse. Meanwhile, you keep being told it’s your fault! You just need to work harder. But so many of these people are working multiple jobs and still falling behind economically. As for socially, emotionally, they’ve got almost no time for the rabbit holes delineated above.
So the gossip sites are still full, but you don’t know who most of the people are. Even if you’re in the target demo. Kinda like that old saw that if you’ve got a tech problem ask your youngster to tackle it. That turned out to be untrue, oldsters were better at solving tech problems, hardware and software. Then again, a lot of these problems have evaporated, with better equipment and operating systems.
And then we’re told we’ve got to be able to fix our devices when the truth is in many cases we want them to break so we can buy new ones! And even if you can fix it, the cost is prohibitive. VCRs were a thousand bucks. You fixed ’em. Then they were under a hundred and you threw them away and bought a new one. Now they no longer exist. Kinda like the EU mandating connections, USB-C. Well, they missed USB-A and Mini-USB and…if you’re stopping the wheels of progress, you’re hurting society. Apple threw over their initial iPod multipin connector for Lightning, don’t you think they would have wanted to support all those radios with docks in hotels? But they knew Bluetooth was gonna rule in the future when most people did not. Heard anybody complain about the lack of a headphone port in their smartphone recently? Remember when that was a big thing? As for iPods, Apple had to stop making them because they could no longer source the parts!
And speaking of parts, do you put thousands into your old car or get ripped-off on a new one, if you can find one. Yes, there’s a chip shortage. And shipping delays too, you’re being told to do your Christmas shopping NOW!
Meanwhile, there’s no one at the center leading the way. The artists are all mini-brands. Hyping themselves to high heaven, just so make sure everyone on Vanuatu gets the memo Adele has a new album. The rest of us are overwhelmed. Adele’s new album isn’t even out and I’m tired of it and her.
But the marketing machine rolls on.
And money is everything, because if you ain’t got it, not only do you fall behind, but your whole damn family. So those with the money and the power, they don’t want to let any of it go. Even worse, they think they DESERVE IT! Why should they question this? They’re part of a tribe that has been told for years they are the job creators, they worked really damn hard to make it, no one is bringing them down to earth. Hell, Bloomberg thought he was entitled to be President, and as soon as we got a look at him it was clear…NO WAY!
And then you’ve got people without portfolio, like Yang, who say they can fix it all. When have rank outsiders fixed a business? The lifers have acquired expertise. Andrew Lack blew up Sony Music and now no one even remembers him, never mind Bob Morgado. Hell, Time Warner no longer even owns Warner Music. And the cable system and HBO were sold off in pieces.
Like I said, no one can keep up.
And what’s the use of keeping up? It’s easier to just live in the echo chamber of your tribe, that will keep you warm at night.