Thursday, January 19, 2012

"The Cameo" a metaphor for contemporary culture?

There is a college in New England offering a course in "Social Media" in which the students are required to remove themselves from all digital communication devices for one week. They must turn in their cell phones, remove their Facebook page, and abandon all communications that are not "face to face" as the vernacular puts it.
One student, a caller to the On Point Radio program with Tom Ashbrook on NPR earlier this week described the experience as a little frustrating at first but then very relaxing for the balance of the week.
There are those among us, like the black sheep in any flock of their kind, who actually believe that the digital communications world is not good for our health. They believe that we are stressed out with excessive checking of our e-mails, and our twitter and facebook accounts, and checking our smart phones for the latest of whatever it is that we think and believe is most important in our little corner of the world.
In some ways, the obsessive digital images remind me of those digital messages that used to log the performance of the latest stocks, bonds and mutual funds that once crawled across the bottom on our television screens.
We have become obsessed with the nanosecond in which we live, to the point that there is no single office in the U.S. government that is charged with long-range planning, so compulsive and so addicted is the culture to the short-term vicissitudes of the business and social cycles, and also so contemptuous of any society or government that engages in "state" planning. In Canada likewise, the government is not interested in long-range planning, dependent for starters on the kind of detailed information that was provided by the long form census. Furthermore, our universities, while conducting a plethora of research into various clusters of data, gathered by trained researchers, does not teach courses in "future envisioning" or "long-range planning" preferring, as Marion Woodman puts it in her incisive work, Addiction to Perfection, that she likes to work on the model of the "cameo" a small item over which she has complete control, and can therefore render "perfect" upon completion.
Are we in danger of reducing our political and our social and cultural discourse to Woodman's "cameo" in a blind and headlong drive for complete control over every aspect of our lives?
Vocabulary matters in political discourse, and the words "state planning" bring heavy baggage to the table reminding those U.S. capitalists of the dangers of their competitors in the "communist" camp, like China. She is able to make swift and dramatic changes in the direction of her economy, her international relations and her social policies because there is a small group of people empowered to make such decisions and to implement them, without the distraction, or the bother or the crippling effects of public debate in a public forum to which  representatives have been elected.
There is little likelihood that China does not have a long-range planning group advising the decision-makers.
There is also little likelihood that China is as free and easy on the issue of the flow of information from public sources like governments, and also through the social media.
Are we, in the west, becoming so infatuated with the impact of holding a mirror to our small individual lives and reflecting that mirror to those whose names we know, but whom we really know very little about, that we are losing sight of larger pictures?
Is the penchant for microdetails, nanoseconds, immediate gratification, and the available of easy money a combination so seductive that we are losing sight of what really matters?
When governments commit themselves seemingly to the "economic file" while neglecting all other files, is this not just another symptom of the kind of reduction that we are imposing on our own lives, leaving such governments immune from heavy criticism because those governments merely reflect our individual penchant for a single file...how to make money, and more money?
This is not the purpose for which any of us is walking the planet. It never was and never will be. And yet, through a multilayered confluence of public media, corporatism, globalization and technology, we could be becoming slaves not only to our digital gadgets but also to the kind of culture that those gadgets demand.
David Suzuki once prophetically commented, when arguing about the need for environmental protection, "We do not serve the economy; it is here to serve us but we have lost that insight"....or words to that effect.
We are not here to serve those digital devices, any more than we are here to serve the economy....they are here to serve us, but we are so easily seduced by the tsunami of advertising and conformity that we are reduced to adolescents in our headlong pursuit of the latest toy....and we are not better for our tilting at the windmills that generate the profits and that everyone calls necessary, important and even nearly idolic.
What has happened to landscapes, and panoramic views, to the "forest" in the addage "can't see the forest for the trees"? Are we not becoming, all of us, collectively and individually, slaves to a cameo model of work, of connecting and of planning that seduces us into believing that we are in control, while all around us, huge forces are changing the way the climate and the economy and the world in general works, without our even attempting to penetrate its complexities?

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