Wednesday, June 22, 2005

From Romanticism to iPods

Tonight I begin a course in Romantic Literature and Culture. I've been reflecting on the concept of Romantic culture, which admittedly is a mystery to me. Romantic surely means something different in literature than it does in our existential cliche's. In the scheme of current news and trends, romanticism seems as distant and meaningful as the lost land of Atlantis. One of the joys of an education is coming to grips with the transience of our uber-important times. There is a tendency to view our immediacy as some sort of end that humankind has been traveling toward.

Back in 1786, did the youth of America feel bombarded with expectations and responsibilities? How different was it when no one could be reached except by direct human contact or written correspondence? What was it like for women wearing layers of garments that were often made by their own hands? How white were their smiles, how fresh were their armpits without Mentadent on their Sonicares and Lady Speed Stick? What was it like to know that none of their food was ever contaminated by pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics?

I don't know if thought, collectively, was deeper than it is now, but Mark Morford makes a point about our current state-of-being in a recent essay called Smoke Pot, Not E-mail:

"It's true. It has now been proven. A
new study sponsored by Hewlett-Packard shows we are now being openly pummeled like Arctic baby seals by our own glorious and demonic tech creations, that when we indulge in huge relentless gobs of e-mail use and cell phone use and instant messaging and Blackberries, et al., that we are, in fact, enduring the ongoing death of brain cells, the happy suicide of mental capacity, a very noticeable drop-off of IQ points."

And I think about what has occured between the span of time from the Romantics to the post-modern, and whether the changes are bad or good ... or just are.

At a birthday dinner for a friend the other day, I watched her dive off into a corner, text-messaging and checking her voice mail while we mimicked an enthusiastic celebration. At TJ Maxx yesterday, I soothed my under-stimulated psyche by entering the dressing room with a shopping cart full to the brim of mass-produced clothes. After I type this post, I will spend hours installing my new Norton Internet Security package, part and parcel of being on high-speed internet, $55/month plus yearly subscriptions to Norton Anti-virus and firewall services.

One of the featured top stories on Comcast's homepage today was Lindsay Lohan's tantrum outside the screening of her new film The Love Bug, an inane movie from the 60s appropriately being rekindled today. She was distressed that her song was not placed in the film where she had been told it would be placed. Then I moved on to the next big story and it was about Football Fervor, and the next was a superficial, say-nothing blurb about a US spy plane downed over the United Arab Emirates--which seems like it should have impact, but is written like a well-considered press release.

I'm not sure where this post is leading. I just know that these days the world feels absurdist to me. Like Orwell or Ionesco or Salvadore Dali are having a go with "reality." No, worse than that really-- those men were at least thinkers. More like double-chinned CEOs with comb-overs and supermodel wives, infomercial writers and inventors of the next great ab-machine, or the Hilton sisters and their dim mother are crafting our realities. Morford says,

"But, alas, we are not smarter. We are not deeper. We are not even all that much more profoundly connected to anything larger or more significant. We need to know this.

All we are now is more adept at allusion, at skimming like lightning over the surface of things, at referencing the world more deftly, while comprehending it less. We can quick-link and cross-text and multi-chat while at the same time remaining blissfully ignorant of how these very info tools are quietly destroying that all-important human skill, that slower, longer, often far more subtle and difficult art called deeper understanding, and if you've lately been anywhere near a roomful of teenagers, you understand this phenom perfectly."

But the irreverence is everywhere. A good friend laments her inexplicable depression. She works and travels so that she can tear up her granite tile in the kitchen and replace it with granite slab. Another friend buys a Land Rover a few months after adopting her daughter from China. I go to Circuit City to buy a stereo ... and they're barely sold anymore. It's home theater or iPods, and I'm out of touch.


At 4:14 PM, Blogger Emily said...

I have a book recommendation for you: Mediated by Thomas de Zengotita. I just started it a few days ago and it's one of those AHA on every page kind of books - brilliantly insightful food for thought. It's about the highly mediated culture in which we live and what effect that has on our perception of ourselves. I think you'd love it - it's chillingly good. You can hear an interview with the author first if you like:


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