Archive for year 2010


Is the Internet destroying your culture … or creating it?

“Mass culture is dead. Every one of us is creating our own version of culture.”

This quote from futurist Faith Popcorn sums up a lot of things I have been experiencing lately.

Whether it’s YouTube-inspired dance moves, crowd-sourced literature, or my own personalized information stream, the Internet is inexorably un-tethering  culture from the places on earth and moments in time.

Culture used to be narrowly defined by country — perhaps even a region within a country — that had its own way of dress, food, art and lifestyle. But what happens to this concept when all art, music, and literature is globally-dispersed, user-generated, open-source, multi-platform and available on demand?

Well, for one, I sense that I am creating my own individual “culture!”

Not long ago, pop culture in America was largely defined by TV networks, local newspapers, ad executives, Hollywood and record companies. Now, I make my own newspaper. I watch programming from all over the world whenever I want to, and largely commercial-free. There is nobody in the world who  watches my “TV network” or listens to my “radio station” or reads “my newspaper.” I am surrounding myself with the World Culture of Mark. And through my own publishing, I’m influencing the culture of others.

Even something as physical and seemingly regionally-specific as dance is evolving digitally and globally.  Chris Anderson recently gave a compelling TED speech on how the rise of web video is driving this phenomenon.  In one example, he showed how dance moves now spread through the world, are enhanced and improved, and then sent back the other way again.  A global culture of dance is evolving through what Anderson calls Crowd Accelerated Innovation.

Personally, I like it!   I get a rush out of connecting to the world on my terms and my time. I love experiencing these amazing new cultural mash-ups.  But over time, will these rich historical cultures be diluted or even forgotten? Will we have museums to the regional cultures and customs the Internet diluted — or destroyed?

So much to think about and this is a subject EVERYBODY can have an opinion about!  Here are a few questions for you. Pick one that interests you and tell me what you think about it in the comment section!

  • Will the Internet eventually create a definable World Culture?  Is having a global cultural icon like Michael Jackson a sign of this?
  • Will the rich customs and culture of a place like France or Japan be made less relevant to the next generations by a digitizing, globalizing world?
  • What are the implications of an Internet culture that seems to favor the English language?
  • Are you creating your own user-defined web culture?

Pushing beyond the comfort zone

When was the last time you experienced a moment that made you pause and consider your approach to life?

I had one of those rare experiences last night when I attended a concert by the eclectic Sufjan Stevens. I am admittedly a huge fan of this incredibly talented performer but was unprepared for the onslaught that occurred in the intimate confines of an old vaudeville theater.

Stevens is best know for his quirky, banjo-infused tunes and an angelic voice that lifts up songs about the darkest and funniest sides of human nature.  His music is usually categorized as folk or folk-rock but last night the acoustic instruments were put aside for a computer and synthesizers as every corner of the room was filled with pulsing space-rock bleeps, pops and crackles.

Like most fans, I was looking forward to hearing his old acoustic songs but the concert instead blazed through epic new anthems. At first it was dis-orienting, maybe even a little disappointing, but slowly his musical vision was peeled back song by song and I was moved by his courage and artistry.

He told a story of experimenting with electronic sounds so deeply he felt he couldn’t get out.  He described the kinship he felt with an Alabama primitive artist who struggled to create through bouts of insanity. It was a centuries-old artistic struggle to create something entirely new out of uncomfortable places.  I didn’t like every song. Some seemed monotonous and repetitive. But others soared in epic beauty. What music could I compare this to?  There is none.  And that is the achievement.

His music reminded me of a Jackson Pollock painting. Drips and drops filling every space, lush colors spilling over a canvas. Sometimes difficult to understand, but undeniably unique.

The other signature element of Sufjan’s music is his deeply personal, spirtual and courageous lyrics.

After two hours of bombastic music filled with two drummers, a horn section, three keyboard players and every electronic gizmo in the music industry, he stood alone on the stage, playing a guitar, singing his hauntingly beautiful “John Wayne Gacy Jr.” — yes a song about a serial murderer who raped and tortured young boys.  But the song is not about this criminal horror. It is about himself. The last lines of the song had some in the audience in tears:

“In my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

And with a look of humility and exhaustion that punctuated the song, he looked into the audience, waved, and exited.

Sufjan Stevens leaves nothing on the stage.  He pushes his craft to the edge of every comfort zone … and beyond.

What would it feel like to live like that?  To WRITE like that?  Is that even possible?  What’s next? I am unsettled.

If you would like to hear the John Wayne Gacy song, click below: