A cultural vacuum
December 27, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoAll right, all right already, stop the phone calls. Don’t send another e-mail. As much as I hate to do it (because I only believe in guessing at football scores on the eve of each new year), I am caving to the crushing pressure of holiday hoopla and giving you a prediction that seems to be expected of everyone in exchange for admittance into next year. I must qualify it though. Since not even the weather lady is powerful enough to foresee what is going to happen tomorrow, and because of the crippling limitations of confining any meaningful prophecy to next year, my forecasting is necessarily applied to the blurry horizon universally referred to by pundits and blowhards as “fairly soon.”So then, here it is: In the near future, the entire world will live under one economics-based culture.Our styles of living will be determined by the amount of income we have, and not much else. The rich will live one way and the poor another. Billions will occupy the monochromatic middle class.This thought occurred to me while traveling the lost and lonely highways of southwest Colorado not long ago. As ripples of invisible heat rose and obscured the pavement ahead, it became almost imaginable that the world once existed without long-distance travel. I can circumnavigate the globe numerous times now in the same amount of time it would have taken to cross our state on its birth date in 1876.To pass the expanse of desert and driving time, my wife was kind enough to read passages aloud from a book about Leonardo da Vinci. From that came a thought on the Gutenberg printing press. Before its time, only the extremely wealthy had handwritten books. Afterwards, humankind had a renaissance. Sharing ideas efficiently through written words had its dawn.About 450 years later we began transporting ideas via steam and then internal combustion engines. Now we do it through electronic pulses and indiscernible beams, rays, and waves.We know more about one another now than at any time in history. Sameness is the outcome. It is the downside to instant messaging. More and more often, the bud of originality is picked from fecund soils by the swift flight of convention before it has time to blossom. When it does bloom, it often flourishes stunted by consensus. Original thought, the basis for culture, is strained in the process.When I was a teenager – not so long ago as you might think – a trip to Denver meant that we would be able to sample music and movies that were still several months away from home. Now, the entire planet can listen to the same song at the same time on satellite radio. It wasn’t that far back that I had to travel all the way to Austin to taste that delectable authentic Tex-Mex cuisine. A four-mile drive to the Woody Creek Tavern in my Toyota will yield the same result today.The latest fashions from Paris can be seen the evening after their cloth is cut, sauntering the sidewalks of Portland – Maine and Oregon. The latest techniques in painting or playing the piano as likely come from Vancouver as Venice without the opportunity to develop isolated and unmolested in the incubator of regional influence before they are gloriously sprung on the world.This is not to say that there will be fewer marvels ahead, it’s just that they will be muted with our immediate familiarity and cut short by popular compromise. With the vast sharing of everything we know, we learn a great deal; not insignificantly – how to mimic.With the homogenization of human culture, there will be fewer reasons to travel and experience other ways of life. This is not to suggest that we will journey less, however. We will likely do more, in fact, as anyone who doesn’t anticipate more efficient travel within our lifetimes probably shorted Ford at two bits a share.The difference I see is that as Wal-Mart begins to stock more fine French cheeses, SpongeBob SquarePants lunch boxes become common in Chinese schools, and international marketing campaigns truly get the hang of convincing every human being on the planet of what no one can possibly live without, there will be scant reason to venture abroad in order to learn about how each other live.The focus will shift to experiencing things instead of cultures. You can see it happening already in Aspen. No longer is the charm of this place a valuable commodity. Mountain customs are not enough to differentiate our town from anyplace else. The alpine culture that used to attract a throng barely exacts a yawn anymore. The main attractions are boutiques, private clubs and double-digit annual appreciation. Throw a suitable measure of political correctness into the mix, and I wonder if the interesting person is on the verge of extinction.With this amalgamation of world culture, I would love to believe that, with fewer differences to settle, sustainable worldwide peace will finally have a chance. However, I do not hold much hope. A perusal of history shows that those hungry for power are just as likely to wage atrocities on people of like culture as on those completely foreign. Hate, or more accurately, complete indifference towards fellow human beings, has been homogenized for millenniums.The result I see is that, as human mettle is being smelted down and forged into one giant, trendy collector’s cup, the boredom resulting from the blending of culture will be offset by a rise in materialism. The one pressing question for future generations is whether increasingly dull people will be able to create increasingly interesting things to keep themselves occupied.Oh … you mean you really did only want to know about football scores?Roger Marolt can see his future only so far as next Friday’s Aspen Times. He’s currently pondering in isolation at email@example.com.