I’ve been thinking a lot about the Kurt Andersen piece in Vanity Fair and my follow-up blog post about it. While I stand by my argument as a corollary to Andersen’s, I will make one major concession.
While culture as a whole has, for the most part, remained stagnant, digital culture has advanced more rapidly than even the Moore’s-Law-defying technology used to convey it (Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns theorizes that growth isn’t just fast, it’s exponentially fast).
Memes rise and fall and rise. Layouts, interactivity and interfaces change all the time — sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Trends in video, animation and digital art come and go.
Ultimately, while it might not be easy to distinguish a physical building or a flesh-and-blood person of 1992 from its 2012 counterpart, it’s extraordinarily easy to distinguish a website, application or meme of 2012 from its — seriously — 2010 counterpart. Look up your favorite websites on archive.org and you’ll observe massive aesthetic and content advancements over the course of just a couple of years. Consider a meme that everyone was using from last year and how it seems old-hat today — sort of like the way platform disco shoes appeared in 1985. If someone posts the ‘All Your Base’ video on Facebook, the reaction is almost unanimous: that was so 2002. But even a meme from 2007 or 2008 appears dated.
We can easily distinguish the evolution of digital culture over a very short and rapidly moving timeline, while the distinctiveness of culture in the physical world is evolving at an alarmingly slow rate now (as Andersen wrote).
Since I began my career online in 1997 or so, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of “internet time” — the concept that everything moves significantly faster online. But it’s not just the energy of digital immediacy that’s causing virtual culture to move so rapidly, it’s the propulsion of a massive and unprecedented talent pool, with an equally massive audience that sculpts internet time and technology into culture.
So maybe I was thinking too narrowly. In dismissing technology, I forgot that technology isn’t just microprocessors, bandwidth and CSS code — it’s an entirely new culture unique to the previously criticized era of 1992-2012.