In the past, media and information was sparser, thus great works of art, music and literature shone brightly for great periods of time. In turn, a person’s relationship with media was cherished, deep, profound. This environment enabled art, media and literature to embed themselves not only into people, but into culture. Some of which still have an impact to this very day.
Today we are drowning in media. The value of media has plummeted and society treats it as such. People’s relationship with it is casual, disposable, temporary. This new relationship poses an issue for great works made in this new reality. The ability to stand out is a monumental feat. The difference between great and mediocre can be subtle, taking time to discern. Time people no longer commit. It’s easy to miss a masterpiece in the daily flood of information consumption.
In turn, the market has responded. Media creators deliver quickly accessible pieces of work to appeal to shorter attention spans and our casual relationship with media. Reality TV, microblogs, status updates. Those all exist for a reason. Additionally, creating media is easier than ever, which has brought a new segment of media creators – often referred to as everyone. We are bludgeoned with amateur photography, citizen journalism and part-time bloggers (like myself). Content creators used to be comprised only of those willing or able to commit themselves to the craft, for the purpose of making a living. The resources, training, and commitment it took to support oneself allowed only a select few to make it. Marissa Mayer recently declared the end of the professional photographer. Her statement is sad, but carries a lot of truth.
The flood of information, decreased attention span, and democratization of media creation has created a signal to noise ratio so low that there is essentially no recognizable signal. In the fortunate case where something great does rise above the fray to get noticed, it likely will not stand out for an extended amount of time. Nothing has time to embed in our lives, let alone our culture.
None of this thinking is new, but we are still trying to make sense of what will be the result of it. One postulation I have is that we’ve effectively seen the end of prolific singular works. There will be no great American novel, no Mona Lisa, no 9th Symphony. The age of immortality is over.
Our work may be forgotten, but its “genes” can now be passed down through the mashups, iterations, memes and references found down the stream. In X years time, no one will remember a great piece of work, but they will unknowingly see it in its descendants.
In the past, people aspired to create something that would be remembered past their life. If I’m right, people will need to settle for a blip on the radar of consciousness but a recognizable, yet unnoticed family tree of descendants. There’s no way to stop this unless people consciously decide to change their behavior en masse. Consuming content will continually require less time, money and effort. It will require a dedication to move against the path of least resistance. In my most optimistic moments, I’m skeptical.
In some ways this is good. This environment could create less demigodery and cult of celebrity. More focus on evolution. More segments of the population able to participate, allowing greater diversity and faster mutation. In many ways, the process of intellectual work would mimic evolution in nature. The network makes our ideas a “living” species.
Still, I wonder if some will look back with regret of what was lost. There will be fewer if no singular beacons to rally around. No peaks of humanity to aspire towards. Our work will simply be another link in the evolutional chain.