On NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour’s last podcast of the year Glen Weldon named 2011 the beginning of “The Age of Indolence.” This was the year that he was most able to get his entertainment “…sitting like a pasha on my sofa…” Music, books, movies, TV, and comics all came streaming to him with a snap of his fingers. I think he speaks for a lot of people when he described both loving the freedom and ease and at the same time feeling guilt for “basically destroying the social fabric.”
With technology we no longer need to venture out into the real world and spend money in a movie theater or comic shop. We can huddle in our sweat pants on the couch and bring the best of popular culture to us without risking icky germs and awkward social interactions. For those of us who do still want to keep track of our fellow human beings there is Facebook and Tumblr. Text messages prevent us from even having to make telephone calls. In short there is little reason to ever have to interact with a non-digitized reality. All of our charming independently owned bookstores will close, social niceties will be forgotten and we will all end up being ferried around by floating chairs while sucking down milkshakes.
A few years ago Aloysius Fox, founder of Steampunk Empire, was talking to a guy at a Steampunk meet-up. This chap was denouncing the Internet for just this reason. His argument was basically that we’ve lost the human connection; that social networks were killing society and making people less and less likely to interact. The irony of this conversation, as Aloysius pointed out, was that these two would never have met if not for the Internet. This is exactly why I have a much more positive view of how these changes in technology will affect our society.
One of the reasons that I think that we have had such a positive reaction to the Steampunk and Cabaret events that we’ve put on is that, while people are less willing to pay money to go out and buy the same thing they can get quicker and cheaper online, they are more willing to pay money to experience something that is one of kind and only happening in that moment. Streaming on Netflix can replace the experience of sitting in the dark with a bunch of strangers and watching a screen. Reading reviews and downloading on Kindle can replace asking for recommendations at the local bookstore. But nothing you can do in the privacy of your own home can take the place of seeing hundreds of costumed people milling around a castle under moonlight or chatting with a steampunk band from England about politics and music after they’ve just finished playing.
I really believe that as we increasingly get our mainstream entertainment ala cart there will be more demand for live entertainment and organized social activities. The ease of self-publishing and the ability to find like-minded individuals offer tremendous opportunities for creativity and self determination. Of course that doesn’t mean it will be easy. SOPA, lack of access to technology, and good old-fashioned laziness are all potential potholes on the road to my utopian technology future. But I don’t think that the danger will come from humans voluntarily becoming a race of solitary, pale skinned agoraphobes. Humans are social animals and we will find ways and reasons to fulfill that need no matter how easy it is to do all of your working, shopping and recreation from your couch.
These ideas and more will be discussed on Episode 2 of The Charlie Tonic Hour.