Culture is the most important influencer of all. Look around you, wherever you are in the world. There are more messages around than ever before, yet nothing to stir the soul. Nothing lasts, art is devoid of meaning, and everyone is out for a quick buck. A persistent theme of negativity looms over everything like a grey cloud. We have mental and physical health problems at a scale never seen before. Where is the belief in a better future? Where is the culture to inspire us?
Capital has always been a negative influence on our culture. The love of money cannot produce the highest art. Money doesn’t make us better people. But money has been around for millennia; what we’re living through is something new. Our culture is a zombie: devoid of meaning, devoid of purpose, devoid of life, barely staying upright by reanimating past glory. A culture that can’t inspire people to get out of bed today, let alone build a brighter tomorrow. Fast technology killed culture, creating warped incentives that are leading us to ruin. Only a new set of incentives, a new form of technology, and a new culture will save us.
Fast tech is any technology whose purpose is to make you keep consuming. Today, basically every technology is fast tech, and their dominance is reflected in the concept of the “feed”. The feed determines which artists get attention. The feed makes careers and kills them. The feed influences our elections. The feed is what we fall asleep to, and the feed is the first thing we check in the morning. There’s no better way to create never-ending consumption than with a never-ending feed.
Facebook realized this very quickly, and went on to become one of the biggest companies in the world. The early versions of Facebook had a “wall” for everyone, and no feed. You’d log on, see what was posted by others on your wall, or go check out others’ walls. Like a profile page. This really “connected the world”. But you don’t sell ads connecting people, you sell ads making them want to consume.
What do people want? Love, satisfaction, connection, meaning, purpose. It’s hard to sell that, of course. Once you have these things, you don’t really need ‘more’ of them. What does Facebook want? Instagram? Snap? Twitter? They want you to keep consuming: more time spent scrolling means more ads shown.
The Time Shredder
To keep you scrolling, there is no time to waste. Everything must be cut to “bite size” or it won’t fit the “feed”. Whole businesses (Vine, TikTok, Snap, Twitter) are built around giving us an extremely limited medium in which to express ourselves.
Everything becomes compressed. Investigative series become articles; articles become headlines; headlines become clickbait. Films become short films; short films become 2 minute videos; 2 minute videos become 7 second memes. Thematic LPs become playlist ‘albums’, albums become loosies, loosies become snippets. Fast tech is the time shredder: it forces us into shrinking our attention spans, then shreds content to fit these tiny windows.
Creatives have less room to express themselves than ever before. Fast tech won’t give you space to explore your vision. Fast tech won’t give you opportunity to explain your context. Fast tech won’t give you time to even show your work. Post the painting you worked on for three years: below you Odell Beckham Jr. catches a touchdown in super-slow-mo (highlighting his Richard Mille watch), while above you a barely clothed fitness model flexes and advertises their workout program. Sorry! Your content was not attention-grabbing enough, and your low engagement score means you’ll be shown less in user feeds. It’s just not what people want. Would Picasso survive in this environment? Michelangelo?
Algorithms: You Can’t Always Get What You Want
The world’s smartest minds work 80 hour weeks finding ways to keep you consuming. Nothing matters as long as you keep scrolling. It seems like ads support the entire internet, and the more feed they show you the more space there is for ads. They don’t care if you’re happy, sad, depressed, elated, shameful or proud. Just keep scrolling.
The best way to keep you consuming is to not give you what you really want. You tell the machine every day what it is that you really like. But the machine knows that this isn’t what will keep you scrolling. Fast tech wants to put you in the “machine zone”: a term academics created to describe the hypnotic state seen in those addicted to slot machines. The slot addict pulls the lever over and over again, like in a trance, tantalized by the possibility that this time they might hit the jackpot. You scroll your feed over and over again, like in a trance, tantalized by the possibility that this time you might finally see a take that isn’t total garbage. Or a meme that will actuallymotivate you. Or a post that will actually inspire you.
The algorithm knows this. It knows how long you normally scroll for before logging off. It will keep something that it knows will hook you until just about your average log-off time, to keep you scrolling even longer. It becomes part of your routine. The less you’re satisfied, the more you keep scrolling, seeking that ‘jackpot’.
The Culture Killer
We live in a never-ending “now”. What is trending now? What is viral now? What is the outrage now? Good morning Twitter, who are we all “dunking on” today? This is the perfection of the “machine zone”. The user, caught in a trance, constantly refreshing to see what is new. Just like a drug, right? Constantly seeking a high. We’re all “users”.
Culture dies when it’s all about the present moment. There is no incentive to create things of high quality: all that’s needed is to “get attention”. Why does everyone seem so stupid? Why is everything a “hot take”? There’s no time to craft nuanced opinion: you need to react right nowif you want anyone to pay attention. There’s no space for measured reaction: a sober, thoughtful post is a lot less engaging than a troll or a shitpost.
Instant creation and instant reaction are toxic. You are given no window to present work that you’ve really put time into: instead, you have a couple seconds to grab attention on a feed. If you take months to create things you really care about, you will be drowned in a sea of hot takes, selfies, memes, bite-size content that was never made to last. And when people engage, they’ll spit out whatever reaction first comes to mind, then move on.
Creatives become prisoners of the moment. If you’re not creating for what’s trending, how will you pop? If you’re not going viral, how will you survive? If you’re not posting every day, who’s going to follow you? How will you show up in the feed? If you don’t have a profile, do you even exist?
Fast tech turns culture into replaceable units. Memes were originally defined as “units of culture”; now fast tech has us living in meme world. Here comes the marriage of capital and fast tech as culture killers. Capital never liked anything it couldn’t track: intangibles like quality and meaning don’t show on the balance sheet. Just get the money. Fast tech can track anything, so long as it’s a metric that keeps us consuming. Just get the attention.
Never-ending consumption needs never-ending new content. What’s important only is that it exists, and it gets a reaction. Lacking inspiration? Just latch on to the trend. Always be discussing the latest politics. Make something offensive, say something inflammatory. Don’t worry about quality, just keep shipping. Just keep posting. Just keep putting something up there, you need to catch the moment!
Even if you catch the moment, it won’t last. Lil Nas X caught and rode the wave better than anyone in history with “Old Town Road”, breaking the record for consecutive weeks at Billboard #1. Will Lil Nas X be on top in 10 years? Probably not. Indeed, a lot of his popularity came from his social media persona, where he recognizes and somewhat nihilistically celebrates the idea that he is living his 15 minutes. The wave catches the creative, squeezes them dry, then spits them out.
That’s why some are found floating face down in the mainstream
Capital and fast tech dominate the world. Here’s what they want from culture: things that keep you unsatisfied, things that make you click ads, watch #ad content, or want to buy. Things that make you angry, so you comment. Things that spark simple reactions, quick “likes”, so they know the bare minimum needed to keep you ‘satisfied’. Nothing that stops people consuming. Nothing that makes you stop and think for a minute. Nobody that takes a year to make something: better the person posting 20 times a day. Fast tech and capital don’t care about quality, meaning, or purpose. Those things hurt business. Outrage is better than satisfaction. Depression is better than motivation to get off the app and do something. Just keep scrolling.
Nothing is made to last any more. Capital understands that the more forgettable everything is, the more we will consume trying to find meaning. Fast tech understands that short content with no lasting impact will keep people scrolling, giving them more ad opportunities. Creatives understand that they must create for the moment just to stay relevant — just to stay alive. Everything becomes “insta”. Creatives become slaves to the algorithms and the way they shape the market.
Q: “How did Kooda come about?”
A: “I knew I had a formula, to repeat it, the gang “image”, I would say, promote it, you know what I’m trying to say? That’s what people like.”
– from the trial of Tekashi SixNine
Formulas decide what we see, formulas influence how we react; and so culture becomes formulaic. Garbage designed to get a reaction, then it’s on to the next.
Culture influences everything in our society. Our culture is devoid of meaning, devoid of purpose, devoid of life. Nothing is made to last.This has flown downstream into everything around us.
Physical products aren’t made to last any more. Remember a Nokia ‘brick’ phone? You could run that thing over with a tank and it would still pick up a call. Now everyone’s phone screen is cracked and mysteriouslyslows down every time a new model releases. “Planned obsolescence” dominates in electronics. “Fast fashion” is how we’re buying clothes: things designed to be worn just a few times before they’re thrown away. Just keep consuming. Keep buying to keep up with the trends, then discard. The planet suffers as we churn out more and more physical garbage that we don’t need. How much meaningless crap in our closets? How much useless crap in our homes? How many of us holding on to things that don’t even work any more?
Relationships aren’t made to last any more. Fewer people than ever getting married, more people than ever getting divorced. Friends drifting apart as they age and don’t keep up with each other. Everything is ‘the same’, so everything is replaceable. Our ‘culture’ turns dissatisfaction into a virtue: it is adventurous to always be consuming. Why stick around this town, when you could move to the city? There are so many people, you will make new friends. Why stick in this city, when there is a better job in that one? All relationships are the same, you will make new friends. Why stick with this guy or girl, haven’t you tried Tinder? Fast tech will step in to deliver you a never-ending feed of people who all seem the same, where no one ever seems to satisfy. Of course, that’s the business model. Keep swiping! You need to live for the moment.
Dead Culture Is Negative Culture
We are at the “feed” like pigs at the trough. And like pigs at the trough, we get slop. Negativity, offense, and tribalism dominate the feed. Women are sluts, men are trash. Millennials are lazy, boomers killed the economy. Whites are evil, Muslims are terrorists, blacks are violent, Mexicans are invaders. Republicans are fascists, Democrats are communists. Americans are ignorant, Russians are hackers, Chinese are thieves. There’s no time for quality or context. Everything is a hot take, every post a shred of a “story” that nobody can follow. If the “medium is the message”, what message is modern media? Meaningless, offensive garbage to grab attention; never-ending messages with no overall purpose; everything designed to sell ads then fade away.
The negativity in culture is seeping through to our souls. Whether you’re rich, beautiful, successful, or not, there’s an epidemic of mental health problems at a scale we’ve never seen before. Anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem are rife.
Nobody seems to have any time. We’re all working ourselves into the ground. Why? So that we can “buy the things we like”. How many things that we buy are things that we really like, with hindsight? How many clothes do you wear that you bought five years ago? Fast fashion and planned obsolescence means we buy to follow trends, then discard quickly after. When we have free time, we kill time. The algorithms have perfected just the right personal mix for each of us to keep consuming. We’re outraged, exhausted, depressed, yet we keep doing that refresh swipe with the satisfying sound. More feed, more feed, just keep scrolling. A few hours later, you’re still depressed and wondering where the day went.
We spend all our time consuming, and everything we consume lacks meaning and purpose. Is it any wonder we can’t find meaning and purpose in our own lives? Garbage in, garbage out.
The Solution: Forever
Fast tech means everything becomes created for the moment. The moment incentivizes content that is negative, reactionary, inflammatory, forgettable. The solution is to slow things down, and create things to last forever.
The greatest art is made to last forever. The work of a creative pouring their heart, soul, and genius into a piece that truly expresses what they have to say. Work that people are proud to sign their name to, for the rest of their lives and beyond it. Work that has the time and context to dare to be great; work inspired by the highest ideals. Work that doesn’t have to compete with sports highlights and ads for attention. Work that isn’t traded like stocks amongst an “art elite”. Work so good you don’t consume anything else for a while. Work that makes you sit back and process. Work made to stand the test of time, from the Taj Mahal or Sistine Chapel to David or the Mona Lisa.
The greatest products are made to last forever; and things we hold on to forever. Things that bring joy and personal meaning to the life of the owner. An heirloom diamond passed from grandmother to son, who proposes with it to his wife-to-be. A t-shirt bought at the greatest concert of your life, forever commemorating the experience. A souvenir from a trip that blew your mind. A sturdy pair of boots, or a thick coat, that has kept you warm and dry for as long as you remember.
The greatest relationships are made to last forever: and they’re made so because we work to make them last. You don’t fall backwards into a good relationship. Family is with us forever by blood. Childhood friends create bonds that last for a lifetime. Strong friendships come from trial, sisters who’ve been through the thick of it with you, men you’ve stood with in the trenches. Reaching out to a friend in need, not ignoring them for someone who won’t be a downer tonight. Committing to a relationship, not following the cheap thrills of Tinder roulette and one-night-stands. Marriage, “til death do us part”. And children, the sacred creation of new life, of a new human being coming into existence from your genetic material. Commitment through trial creates the ties that bind; the types of relationships that bring real love and meaning into our lives.
The more we allow fast tech to pull us into the moment, the worse culture will get. The more we focus on forever, the better things will get. Nobody wins when we make short-term decisions, except the people feedingus. We end up choosing empty calories at every single meal, and increasingly there’s nothing but empty calories on the menu.
New Incentives, New Technology, New Culture
We need new incentives for creatives, not the warped ones we have now. As it stands, creatives must be businesspeople first, to even have a chance of being artists second. Everyone must churn out content, or they don’t exist: we turned the cameras around and starting taking photos of ourselves. Creatives need the opportunity to CREATE, free of distraction, free from the market, free from those who package and sell them.
We need new technology for audiences, that isn’t manipulating them psychologically and infested with commercials. The platforms we have now aren’t making us happier, and they’re dragging culture into the grave.
We need new incentives and technology for business, so we begin to make products that matter to people again. Endless commercialism has flooded the market with cheap trinkets, and even high-end products aren’t built to last any more. Everyone’s out for a quick buck when it’s the only buck available.
We need a new culture that celebrates forever: one that reflects the beauty in the world, inspires us to higher ambitions, and is POSITIVE. Endless conflict, negativity with no end in sight, is no way to soothe the soul of those living in a broken world.