We are Both Puppet and Puppeteer
We watched Lauren Greenfield's documentary, "Generation Wealth" last night. Greenfield and I both lived and worked in LA around the same time. I never found resonance with her work but I was curious as this particular film is a synthesis of a 25-year career, an opportunity to have some reflection.
I found the film depressing.
"Generation Wealth" as the title suggests is a documentary about a generation of that grew up on material excess fueled by reality TV. Lives spent chasing money, fame, attention and a sense of personal worth based on the envy of others.
Forty plus years of vapid excess nothingness lead us to this moment in history, the Trump Presidency as the proverbial cherry on top.
Meanwhile, a counter-culture has been brewing and it's accelerating. Marie Kondo and minimal lifestyle; tiny houses and van life; mediation, wellness, and DMT. Marianne Williamson's bid for president is one of many indications that the counter culture is making a move for the crown to become the dominant culture. And if that's not evidence enough, the wellness industry saw a 12.8% growth from 2015-2017 bringing the market size to $4.2 trillion and growing. Calm, the meditation app has been valued at $250 million dollars.
The materialists are not giving up. They continue to extract value from our personal data with little benefit to us, they commodify and weaponized our attention in a desperate battle to remain relevant and dominant.
It's hard to say who will win this fight. These massive culture shifts are gradual and it takes time (but we are desperate for change now!) and it's worth remembering that the "loser" does not face extinction just less oxygen and capital. Abandoning the remnants of the Gold Standard in 1971 triggered the excess of the '80s, which brought us Trump and his ilk. The crowning of this idiot king has been more than 40 years in the making. The 2008 economic crisis shattered our sense of invincibility and that trauma shaped the worldview for a generation that has finally come of age. Instead of material wealth, we search the globe for one of a kind experiences and attempt to program our days for mindfulness. But these are just the beginning. The pendulum swings every 30-40 years and we are both the puppet and puppeteer.
Humans are not great at these long term trend forecasting. We are good at looking back and see the path that brought us here but seldom are we able to see the whole chess board, be 10-20 steps ahead, and consciously play the game for collective gain.
For starter, humans don't experience time in longitudinally but momentarily. Everything is personal. This is happening to me, now, and we act in reaction to, rarely in response to. We've long given up the ten-year plan because it feels futile. The world is chaotic and technology drives change at a rate we can no longer comprehend. In addition, we are biased towards narratives that are linear, one input for one output, if this then that. Actions have consequences; hard work and will power will always prevail. We select for facts and information that fits our narrative bias and conveniently ignores everything that tells us otherwise. We are not great at holding multiple thoughts in our head at the same time and forget it if these thoughts are in contradiction of one another. We are emotional creatures assuming the fixed framework of robotic logic.
Of course, we didn't see it coming, we weren't designed to.
Irrespective, we are in the middle of it, a seismic shift that will dictate the world order (and maybe even the remaining days of our planet given the dire predictions of climate change) for the next half-century. What will it be? We are both puppet and puppeteer; hopeless and in-control. There is only one thing to do, use the time, nudge the pendulum and build up muscle memories for a future and a culture that we want.
PS. I am not endorsing Marianne Williamson for 2020 but her stump speech is worth watching.
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WORTH A READ
Two books caught my attention this week (no, I've not had a chance to read them yet):
How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by
Akiko Busch. The jacket blurb: It is time to reevaluate the merits of the inconspicuous life, to search out some antidote to continuous exposure, and to reconsider the value of going unseen, undetected, or overlooked in this new world. Might invisibility be regarded not simply as refuge, but as a condition with its own meaning and power? The impulse to escape notice is not about complacent isolation or senseless conformity, but about maintaining identity, autonomy, and voice.
William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life by Steve Almond. Almond is a friend and also one of my favorite authors. I could have sworn I read him saying something to the extent of, in trying to get the world to pay attention to us, we forgot to pay attention to our lives. But, I can't seem to find this "quote" anywhere. Regardless, pre-order, read, and I promise you won't regret it, Almond is that good.
(upcoming) Norway, Thailand, and Kurdistan, with DC and Boston, peppered in-between. I know this sounds like heresy but this particular type of travel is a lot less fun and a whole lot of tiring.
The opening monologue from The Newsroom, even if you are not an Aaron Sorkin fanatic. It's the vision of America that we all need and simply fantastic.