Sunday, February 21, 2010


While the writer and critic Douglas Coupland is not ordinarily a name I find on my literary itinerary, I must acknowledge here the strong effect I felt when reading this comment by Coupland in a recent Times interview:

"I’m starting to wonder if pop culture is in its dying days, because everyone is able to customize their own lives with the images they want to see and the words they want to read and the music they listen to. You don’t have the broader trends like you used to....They're not great cultural megatrends like disco, which involved absolutely everyone in the culture. Now, everyone basically is their own microculture, their own nanoculture, their own generation."

Coupland, the father of the term "Generation X," here offhandedly offers a nice way of conceiving the flows and fluxs of digital media - as a ocean, let's say, of nanocultures. While Coupland's remark has an air of flippant exaggeration to it (broad trends still exist), it's worth reflecting on what a nanoculture might be, and how its rise also indexes the downfall of a popular culture based on broad trends.

The individual and his close circle of friends, his email buddies, those who comment often on his FB posts, ("Zzzzzz"? is that some kind of hockey-team dis?) comprise a nanoculture - their independent and collective abilities to seek out cultural data, to filter and process it, have increased their strength exponentially since the rise of digital media.

Today the ability to filter information is paramount. If you say each of us is a nanoculture, howver, you're under-emphasizing a key fact: that we're always sending our signals out to others, through email, social media, text messages, even meeting face to face.

This recalls a recent lecture I attended by the excellent art critic Boris Groys.

After a knowledgeable, detailed foray into the history of twentieth-century avant-garde art practices, Groys turned to use the concepts of these art movements in order to address the phenomenon of social media. "Nowadays we have twitter, google, myface..." Yes, he actually said 'myface,' which caused me to do a mental spit take. "Now on myface, we are all artists," went Groys' argument. This shows that Groys has probably never signed on to myface in his life, or he would know that 'art' is a pretty inappropriate term to describe the insistent traffic of images and memes on sites like facebook. Yes, self-expression and self-customization has reached a kind of historical apotheosis, but artistic creativity it's not.

Why is facebooking not an appropriate example of "we are all artists now?" Because artistic practice is not about instantaneous narcissism, it's about labor, and the transformative effacement of the self that occurs after the result of creative work. Also, damn, Boris, would you just take a look at facebook? That shit ain't art. But so what?

We're not all artists, rather each of us is a one-person broadcast network. A monad radio. Beaming images, sounds, video and text at one another. FWD FWD FWD.

No comments: