How did we get here?
Bob Lefsetz writes the Lefsetz Letter, an email newsletter about music and culture, where this was originally published. Subscribe here.
IT'S THE AGE OF THE INDIVIDUAL
It's all about you, your brand, you're on your own and it's your obligation to establish your status. Used to be you were a member of the faceless masses. Now you're defined online yet retain your anonymity, since in a world of competing identities no one stands out, and when someone does, you wonder why you can't be them. But the truth is there are great swaths of people who are unaware of your hero, seemingly no one dominates, there's no backbone to our culture, it's a swarming mass of unconnected dots, so you just retreat to your mobile and post away about your life, believing it will lend definition, but it doesn't.
MASTERY IS IMPOSSIBLE
You used to know every album, every TV show, every movie. Now there's so much it's incomprehensible. Everybody's talking about their favorites and you feel left out. You want to dig deep and feel a member of the club but who has time to see 13 episodes of this and 39 of that. Meanwhile, those who have not gotten the memo keep telling you they know what's going on and you're inadequate when the truth is no one knows and they're inadequate too.
POSSESSIONS HAVE LOST THEIR MEANING
This is something the older generations cannot accept, just like their forebears could not accept the tumult of the sixties, when the baby boomers disconnected from them. Used to be you were defined by what you owned, that determined status. Now youngsters want to own little and have everything on demand, they want to be foot loose and fancy free. If you're rooted to your big home and your fancy car you're over the hill. Especially when they release a new version of everything soon and what you own is obsolete. That's right, you installed a 5.1 or 9.1 or 13.1 (no that doesn't exist yet, but it will!) system in your house and then find out it's obsolete because it's not voice-controlled and your TV is too small and only 1080 and you get overwhelmed and accept where you are. The hamsters run the wheel trying to keep up, but nobody can keep up. It's really about you and your circle, your own little life, but that would remove you from competition, and life is a sweepstakes, where you're ranked by your credit score, your Instagram followers, and if you're on Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat too, you've got no time to spare, social media is a videogame, even more powerful and addictive than anything emanating from a console, the goal is to post and post until your statistics triumph but just when you've climbed the mountain they change the game with a new platform and you have to start scoring again. It's tedious, and it doesn't keep you warm at night.
ONLINE STATISTICS ARE FAKED
This is the conundrum. You judge someone by their numbers but are they real?
Bill Clinton made it legitimate. Everybody lies to get out of a hole. So you do too. Lawyers took a hit during Watergate and the profession has never regained its status. Truth is for pussies, wimps, everybody's trumpeting falsehoods, it's a cultural cancer. And the person standing up for the truth is more interested in the personal accolades than the cause.
YOU'VE GOT TO SERVE SOMEBODY
No one is disentangled. Bob Dylan had it right. Lisa Bloom is defending Harvey Weinstein whom she has a deal with, because being a lawyer is not enough, you have to be rich and famous and part of the entertainment club.
IF YOU'RE NOT WORKING ON YOUR STATUS, YOU'RE LOSING IT
You've got to be in front of the public every damn day or you're forgotten. Take a couple of years off to lick your wounds and inspire yourself and good luck coming back.
LIFE IS SPORTS
There are two teams, right and left, it's totally tribal, and you're either on one or the other, no one picks one from column A and two from column B.
GROUPTHINK IS PARAMOUNT
You don't want to go against the crowd, against your team, otherwise you'll be ostracized. A nuanced appraisal which shows the situation is complicated just sets you up for hatred from your supposed brethren. The scourge of our society is silence. It's not the law that's got us shutting up, but peer pressure.
FORGIVENESS IS RARE
Commit a faux pas and you're history, taken out of the game, eaten by the lions, hopefully you've got enough money to sustain, because you're not gonna earn any more in your chosen field.
THE MORE EDUCATED YOU ARE, THE MORE SUSCEPTIBLE YOU ARE TO QUACK MEDICAL THEORIES
The elites believe they know better, but they feel powerless like the poor. But they assert their power by believing in quack remedies and refusing to get their children vaccinated.
THE ELITES HAVE CONTEMPT FOR THE POOR AND HAVE NO IDEA HOW THEY LIVE THEIR LIVES
They worked hard to make it, you should too.
So in a world where everything is available at our fingertips, we feel overwhelmed, we feel inadequate, we don't know what our place is in society. We want to fit in, and we don't want to sacrifice our identity to do it. But everywhere we go people are talking about what we don't know and we feel powerless to effect change and all we keep reading is about titans who triumphed who say it was easy leaving out how aggressive they were and what corners they cut.
So the irony is those complaining the loudest are the problem. The newspapers saying they're underpaid. It won't be long before you'll pay for all news, Google is changing its policy, one article will no longer be free. And record companies have buried all the gems from the Napster era. All the alternative and live takes, the unreleased stuff, it's not on Spotify and it's not on YouTube, it's underground once again, meanwhile, the industry is making more money, via streaming.
And the movie industry does not care about you, just China, which invests in it, and the rest of the world which pays to see its high concept movies. How can it be no one you know goes to the movies yet they still get so much ink?
And since everyone needs to be and is entitled to be famous, rankings are abhorred. We cannot separate the wheat from the chaff. So there's an endless buffet of items from McDonald's as well as Spago. You just end up eating at the same place. And eating is another incomprehensible endeavor, you've got to know every food truck and every chef and have an unlimited budget to partake.
Meanwhile, the rich are getting richer and you're still complaining.
So, it's the greatest time to be alive and simultaneously the worst. No one can be bored anymore, the history of entertainment is at your fingertips and you can communicate with everybody you've ever known instantly. But you're lacking meaning in life, while charlatans tell you they have the answer, whether it be the religious right or the bogus left. So you're left with yourself, which brings us back to the beginning, you're fighting for your space on the planet yet keep being told you don't matter, and feeling meaningless to boot. How did we get here?
One thing's for sure, we're never going back. Ignore the Luddites complaining about the negative consequences of screen time, they think if they yell loud enough the past will come back, but it won't.
And the tech titans lack moral responsibility.
So it really does come down to you, and humanity. Give up the race to consume. Give up the attempt to be all-knowing. Information is important, but soft knowledge eclipses it. Relationships, philosophy, those haven't been changed by the technological revolution, but they've been backwatered by industrialists who want to sell you something.
We are in a personal crisis. A moral crisis. We're unsure how to lead our lives. We want someone to make sense of it all, to point us where to go, so we can be part of the universe, feel connected, because too much of this so-called connection online is leaving us unfulfilled. We've got the bounty, but we're empty inside.
When you get the answer, tell me.
Bob Lefsetz writes the Lefsetz Letter, an email newsletter about music and culture, where this was originally published. Subscribe here or follow Bob on Twitter at @Lefsetz.