Saturday, May 23, 2009

Generation ADD

A friend pointed out recently that my blog was becoming increasingly mistitled, as I was writing about digital and music stuff as well as literature. Short of having another blog, (always a possibility of course), what should I do? Bloggers are columnists of course, and I notice that if you read Mark Lawson in the Guardian in strays from talking about Late Review stuff, to other issues, whilst Rod Liddle in the Times has dual personalities in his two columns (his two blogs) about politics and football.

I'm relaxed about this - as increasingly our "postings" are mere objects that are directed to from elsewhere, e.g. Twitter or other platforms - and the idea of having regular blog readers disappears into the distance. Most bloggers, whatever their persuasion keep a bit of the personal. So Normblog's political rumblings are mixed up with a bit of Emmylou Harris and cricket, whilst Baroque in Hackney's literary salon frequently finds room for unexpected intrusions.

The friend's other point was that writing in this interlinked way, or, perhaps writing first and foremost to a blog, created some kind of incoherence, or a gadfly prose, that he, at least, found frustrating - or less effective than other things he'd read by me. I take such things seriously. This blog has never been meant to be my "literary legacy" or what I'd want to be remembered for. It is a first draft of my thought history, not the final version. Yet, at the same time, I'm more and more drawn to questioning that idea of the "final version."

I was pleased to read an article by David Allen in Wired UK's second issue where he considers whether our non-attentive nature, our wired information-age attention deficit disorder, is not the problem of us all being hyperactive digital kids, but how our brains really work. In other words, first thought is best thought, and like Molly Bloom's stream of consciousness, or Ashbery's poems in "the Tennis Court Oath", it is this interruptive stream that is our brains working as they should do. The twitter litany of "just got up/must have bagel/what did that guy just say on Saturday Kitchen?/anyone know a plumber near Aylesbury?/here's a link to my new blogpost" is a modern day evolving of "tiger to the left/woolly mammoth to the left/must move south before the snows come" - and, in fact, our hyper-specialising of the last century, loses in creative effectiveness what it might have gained in industrial effectiveness. As Allen writes "maybe we allowed ourselves to be taught to focus, to constrain our impulsive thinking, to pay attention, and in the process ossified our ability to multi-perceive?"
(Allen is a time management consultant - so this must have been a Damascene moment!)

In other words, my writing is no longer as speciality focussed, because the audience is beginning to be able to respond to this more fragmented, non-linear, collage-like media exposure. Coincidentally (or not - after all, these memes come along all at once, or else we don't even notice them), yesterday's Guardian gave several examples of this. There were the Black Eyed Peas talking about their new album as a version 1.0, ready to be upgraded, remixed etc. like software as the year's go on. (And bring it on, I say, sitting here with my triple LP of remixes of Shamen's "Pro-Gen).It's an idea I've had for a long while. What would happen if you keep retooling or upgrading an album or other body of work? Where is the definitive version? And is it just marketing? A band like the Fall, without ever giving pretension to something like this, always did that, particularly during their prolific Beggars Banquet years. Then you have Philip Glass interviewed, confirming my suggestion of Schubert as an influence on him, and talking about his need to create a body of work that reflects his interests over life....that a minimalist will always end up a romantic, and a romantic a minimalist. Thirdly, there's a fascinating article on the collapse of the DVD market. Yes, the DVD market, hardly a decade old, is now in collapse, and moreover, the studios who relied on this cycle of new and renewal audiences (cinema, satellite, rental, buy, terrestrial...) can't now have that same reliance. It seems the business practices that have maximised first weekend returns, don't now feed through into good video sales. (i.e. If I've paid to see a stinker, I don't also want to own that stinker.) Interestingly, it seems that it is our "experience" culture that may be to blame... as we no longer care where or in what format we receive the artform, as long as we get the experience. Opening weekend for the Bond movie is perhaps as important as the DVD boxset for The Wire. These are the optimum consuming experiences - as that is how we share our experience. This, I think, is where this blog culture, and its gadfly generation ADD nature comes into it. Its no longer possible to "look away now if you don't want to know the score," as that would mean consuming no media at all. At the point that both capitalist business models and political confidence are both at collapse, the hyper efficient market mechanism of real-time communication (24 hour news, Twitter, RSS feeds, iPhone and GPS), is working better than ever. Knowledge, as our MPs always realised (wanting to keep it to themselves), IS power.

As David Allen implies, refining your thought process for years and years down a particular narrow channel (hello, PhD students everywhere), may well be an educational model for a Fordist economy, not a Googleopolis. Malcolm Gladwell's assertion that becoming really good at anything takes a certain amount of hours practice (100,000 was it?) whether a violinist or a writer or a medic...seems a hangover from this specialist world. (It is Franny's reciting of the Jesus Prayer in the Salinger story, or the Buddhist monks with their chanting turned secular.)We still pay (overpay?) the man who has made 1,000,000 snooker shots or hit 1,000,000 golf balls, where application and skill together combine to make him better than his peers. Yet how many of us are in pursuit of the margin in our life? The majority of us have to operate in the sensory world, with multi-tasking as a way of life. At the very point where so many of us (men particularly) seem to be almost be bred to be single-taskers, and our educational and business systems are still built according to that paradigm, it is all drifting away. Our solution to MPs expenses is an accountancy model: check and audit each one in turn. Each expense will no doubt go through five or six hands all agreeing or disagreeing to the nuance of the rules. Much is often said about "emotional intelligence" or "political intelligence", they can perhaps be defined by what they miss... they are unauditable, they do not need to be audited.

And I can see I've hardly talked about literature, or art, or creativity...and I've written down only a first draft of these ideas...not the final thoughts. The final story in yesterday's Guardian talked about the strange death of 400 goats. Apparently their death was a mystery, but they may have died through terminal exhaustion, lack of sleep, from the ever whirring rotors of the nearby wind farm. That is the balance we have to be aware of :- to let our brains not rot with the sweetness of our overstimulation, but be able to pass on it, pass it on.

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