I have a general interest in the–dare I say the word–philosophy of technology. Maybe trends is a better word than philosophy. Or just effects.
Either way, I try to read a lot about what it all means and where it's going. Part of it is in relation to my work on a sci-fi novel 90 years in the future. Bu again, part of it is that I'm just interested.
Previously I posted about Moore's Law, and the fact that if it holds, we can expect computers to be millions and billions of times faster than they are now. ("The Back Half of the Chessboard") (again, Moore's Law holds that every 18 months, the processing speed of a computer doubles, which has held true for at least 50 years.)
Here's another point about Moore's law, made in the book You Are Not A Gadget:
Moore's Law helps push radical social change. Google, Twitter, Amazon … all couldn't have existed 20 years ago. No one really even dreamed them, and their effects have been massive.
But in the same way, Moore's Law has helped slow other changes. The author of You Are Not A Gadget, Jared Lanier, points out that we have Moore's law to thank for some rapid increase in lifespan. And one of the things he suggests is that longer lifespans mean that we are not turning over the culture of one generation to another as fast as we used to.
If you go by music, film, books, fashion, and general style, you can't find another time in the last 100 years that culture has been so static. Look at a photo from 1992, and those people don't look terribly different than people do in 2012. Dated certainly, but not like they would look if in 1992 you looked at pictures of people from 1972. Or being in 1972 looking back at 1952. Or 52 and 32. Etc. People used to change like crazy every ten or twenty years. Music changed like crazy. Everything in culture changed like crazy. But recently, that's really slowed.
This month's Vanity Fair actually posted about the exact same phenomenon. Here's the image from the article.
It suggests that to blame are the pace of the world, a remix culture, and big business.
But Lanier's suggestion is pretty compelling, too. A single generation is exerting more influence over more time than they have before, slowing over the turnover of cultural ideas and norms, even at a time of rapid technological change.
That generation is, probably, the Baby Boomers. It was the Baby Boomers who shaped a lot of the 60s, 70s, and 80s culturally. They also were pretty instrumental in creating PCs, Internet companies, etc, so they pretty well shaped the 90s, 00s, and today as well.
Here's a more humorous way of looking at the cultural impact of the Boomers. This graph from xkcd sorts the 20 most played Christmas songs by the decade they were released.
There are a lot of outstanding questions about this, if it's even true.
As technology changes faster and faster, but social change happens slower and slower, there are going to be some real conflicts. Perhaps the social unrest internationally and nationally in 2010 and 2011 is part of that.
Will a new culture quickly arise as the influence of the Baby Boomers start to wane, resulting in rapid change in fashion, taste, music, etc? Or are the microcultures here forever with a slow moving, or even static globalized pop culture?
Interesting food for thought.