29 May

Curating the Mind: The Culture of Today and the Politics of Tomorrow

Many people, especially those who grew up in the 70s, 80s and 90s sometimes get a bit nostalgic about old-timey television. Well, not necessarily extremely old-timey, but for the time when television was pretty much at its peak. That world where you would wait for a show, then maybe for the rerun and when television was the source of entertainment and news seems so strange now, even to someone who grew up with it. It’s hard to imagine how it looks like to someone who hasn’t even seen it.

 

 

While it a way better experience to do it as we do it today, where everything is available at all times and you can watch or listen to anything pretty much any time and on multiple devices, there was something interesting about classic television if we can call it that way.

Television, as it was until the boom of online streaming, was curated, and that was part of what made it cool. On the one hand, this had advantages, for example the fact that it was highly curated created a mystique around it and there was a lot of reasoning when it came to it, why it was the way it was. For example, nighttime films were at night for a reason: there was a connection between the life the viewer had and what was on television. There were cartoons in the morning during the weekend, sit-down interviews in the afternoon and epic series in the evening. There were special shows on special days and television seemed to be a mirror of life. Television was molded after what the viewers did. In a way, culture has taken its inspiration a lot from real life, but it often seems that after the late 2000s or so, it goes the other way around: life is taking its inspiration from culture. If we think about it, in the 1980s or 70s, culture makers would look at the streets, at what people did and listened to and shaped their products after what was going on. After the late 2000s, the trickle effect went the other way: culture dictates what is going and people reflect it.

With the expansion of the new technologies (tablets, smartphones, smart TVs), we are seeing some bizarre changes in the ways people consume and create culture. With the World Wide Web, what has happened is that everyone has become a creator and a curator. In the 21st century, people are curating their own lives. What this means is that you select what you want to read, see or listen to. You subscribe to webpages; you get content in your feeds and so on. While this is a good thing, it also has some perverse effects. For example, if someone subscribes to a certain set of ideas, they will only receive information and culture in front of their eyes that serve those ideas. It’s hard to make appreciations that concern value when it comes to these things. In a way, it’s good that you get to only consume content you like, but if you never look outside your bubble, you might miss a whole other world.

The second thing that has a strong connection to curating yourself is credibility. While credibility is strongly connected to cultural influence, it might not be as bad as you’d think. The argument many people make is that in the online world anyone with thousands of followers is a credible source. In other words, any lie said loudly, many times and to a million people can become truth. Which is dangerous, but so is lying in the mainstream media and let’s face it – classic television and print media has too often been a source of manipulation. A big problem that I see with cultural consumerism and the online world is that culturally it can have a bad impact. Who’s to tell what will push us forward and what will keep us back? If bad media products are pushed into everyone’s life then we’re going to go back really badly. And it’s a known fact that culture influences politics, so analyzing the culture of today definitely offers insight in the politics of tomorrow.

The third thing that curating your own life creates, which can be said is the most important is that the quality and taste factors drops significantly. If there are no arbitraries of taste, if “everything goes” as post-modernists would have you believe, real value can get lost quickly. For example, we can often see photos taken by various people that get so much exposure and that are considered of such high value, without actually having an artistic value. What makes them be so appreciated is that they were taken with a certain technology which offers something special, such as a high quality image. In this case, you are basically praising a shell with no content. And, if you only add shells with no content, you won’t have anything to feed off in the future. Figuratively speaking. Basically, if we keep promoting bad art or, better said, art that is not actually art, products with no content, soon many lives won’t have content. We need to make the clear distinction between information, art and technology, which seem to be extremely blurry today – we can even speak of an advent of “infoartainment”. And that would not be a big problem, in the end, art is meant to inform and to entertain, but more often than not, information these days is badly constructed to say the least, a lot of art is not art by any definition (except the anti-art definition given by post-modernism) and entertainment is not very entertaining, it can be said that it is mostly background noise. We seem to have lost the notion of doing something and doing it well.

In a world where the ratio of creators to consumers is pretty much 1:1, where everyone is a creator with pretenses, as well as a consumer – can you have a good discourse on quality?

This is why it can be argued that in order to survive, art should break from itself. We need to separate bad art from good art and to reinforce the strength of qualitative art – we need to make a difference between information and everyone having a voice and almost everyone being an artist. Museums should be real spaces of learning – learning that is, not entertainment; and truly valuable art should be seen as such. Having high standards is the only way to go if we wish to achieve great results as a world culture.

 

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