Douglas Coupland published Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture in 1991, which was basically pre-Internet, so it is easy to think of 1991 as virtually prehistoric. It’s hard to imagine people in 1991 feeling the effects of an “accelerated culture”, per say. I just watched the concert footage of Nirvana playing live at the Paramount right after the release of Nevermind, and it all feels so quaint.
Which is to say, I’ve been suffering from acceleration sickness again.
If 1991 was accelerated, 20 years later we are in hyperdrive and it feels like the engine is glowing red hot.
For me, acceleration sickness comes, in part, from information overload, though that is only part of the story here. For the most part, I’ve adapted and my information capacity has expanded (though don’t tell my gmail inbox that). The other part comes out of that increased capacity to process information, quickly, in that everything flows through and is incredibly hard to make things stick. So a lot more culture that I process a lot more quickly. Cultural diarrhea.
As a teenager with limited access to music, I would buy a cassette tape every month or so with the money I made from my paper route. I would get this tape and memorize the music on it, and even if I initially didn’t like the record (or only liked a song or two), by the end of the month the tape was in my DNA. When I got Nevermind the spring of 1992 at my local Sam the Record Man, I listened to that album a thousand times. I long for those days, as this still seems like the ideal way to process music, the right amount of time.
Twenty years later, I have access to and regularly check out (as opposed to listen) new music (and music that is new to me) all the time. Instead of experiencing albums, I experience the flow of new music. I imagine a river, and in this river are all the new albums/singles etc. and, from time to time, I get in and see if anything sticks while hours of music wash over me. As a result, it is incredibly hard for me to get into an album for any length of time these days. I love that Total Control record right now, but I am almost sad to admit that the fifteen or so full listens I’ve given the record in the last few weeks is enough. I’m anxious to get back and see what I’ve been missing. I’ll go to a few message boards and websites and see what’s new, what’s leaked, what needs to leak and continue the cycle. To fill the gaps, to stay relevant and ahead of the curve.
I’m chasing my tail so fast it’s a blur. It’s making me sick and I keep asking myself – what’s the endgame here?
Do we keep doing this forever? Can we keep doing this forever?
That question has been haunting me lately as I write my dissertation. Where does this go? At one point, I had high hopes for our digital future. These days, as those digital selves get increasingly ill, I can’t help but fear the worst.