Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Weight of Futility

Cynicism, sarcasm, and a mode of detached indifference called "being ironic" have become the dominant posture through which my generation interacts with the world. This trend likely has deep roots, at least as deep as Bart Simpson, but I believe it has intensified in even the last five years. You could point to a lot of reasons, but a major one has got to be the continued emergence of electronic technologies.

These technologies are supposed to enrich our lives by making more accessible modes of expression that previously required a lot more money and expertise. My dad once told me about the painstaking work of splicing together 35mm film in the editing process when he was a teenager. A method like that required a lot more time and care than any of the free digital video editing programs out there, and professional or semiprofessional packages are not much harder to reach.

Making processes like video editing or photography or publishing easier and more accessible seems like a slam dunk, but one drawback is that the ease of producing the form of the medium can mask the absence of meaningful content. Any idiot can make a coherent movie now, but that doesn't mean that idiot has something worthwhile to say. The result is a saturation of media in which whatever is significant is buried among mountains of inanity.

I feel this malaise when I take pictures with the ridiculously affordable SLR I bought last May. Walking on the beach in Santa Cruz, California the other day I wanted to take a picture of the view looking down the coast at the reflection of sunlight off the ocean. Instantly I was awash in existential angst. First, in the world there are much more beautiful beaches at much more appealing seasons than Santa Cruz in late December. Second, I do not know how to make good use of my camera, and even if I did I am sure there is equipment which would improve the final product.

The connection of everything with everything means my photo could only be evaluated in the context of photographs of tropical beaches done by professionals the world over. Yet because everyone has seen so many of those pictures, even they elicit scarcely a neuron excitation in the brain. To even take the picture seemed a preposterous conceit, like a droplet of water aspiring to become an ocean wave and inevitably collapsing into an inconsequential eddy.

In a climate of such media ubiquity, it is easy to despair of saying anything original or meaningful. Whatever could be said has probably been said already a hundred thousand times, and probably more competently and expressively at that. At the same time, access to all of those prior expressions makes them essentially insignificant themselves.

The resulting world is one in which it seems there is nothing new to say, and in which that which has been said has demonstrably fallen short of the Ultimate. How could anyone interact with such a world, except through sarcasm, indifference, and cynicism? To do so is simply to bow to the crushing weight of futility.