Thursday, 26 September 2013

Thoughts on technology and the evolution of political, cultural, social and religious forms (Part 2)

Part 1

Marshall McLuhan also realized that each new medium creates enables a new way of retaining the past. More and more of the past is present in people’s lives, stored in museums, books, libraries, and now social networks, YouTube, email archives, etc. The result is that we live more and more with the past, if not in the past. People grow up in a bubble of self-chosen interests, friends, news sources and music. As Jared Lanier observes in You Are Not a Gadget, the evolution of music has changed in a fundamental way: up to the point that the internet became widespread, each decade had its own distinct music, Ragtime, Jazz, Swing, Rock and Roll, Disco, Hip-hop, Rap, etc., but the music of the last two decades has no clearly defining sound. Much of it consists of the reworking and recombining of music from earlier eras.

The magnification of the role of the past in modern society is in stark contrast to the role the past played in traditional societies. In traditional societies, the past was revered. The overarching view was that one realized one’s highest potential as a human being by emulating examples from the past, whether Christ, Mohammed, or Buddha. In today’s world, the past is to be transcended and one realizes one’s highest potential through exploration and individuation.

Each person’s past is now a scattered mass of fragments, an ever present but fractured mirror in which he or she is reflected. Few take the time to assemble the fragments into a narrative, and even if they do, the narrative itself depends on what is selected and emphasized, and that, again, is influenced by the medium in which the narrative is presented. Because the past is always present, a creative urge arises for a future that is open to new possibilities and free from the constraints of the past. Ironically, the extent to which the past endures in the present makes such transcendence more and more difficult.

Part 3