Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lit Crit Vs Quick Clix

How's your burger?

Thumbs Up.

Whadja think of the flick?

Thumbs down.
If you were satisfied with our service press 1.

93% of people enjoyed their meal considering the price….. 87% will never come back … so says Yelp.
Why didn’t you like the movie?

Too slow.

Add comments…


So much for critical thinking. Get over it. We live in a hurry-up, binary, don’t-bother- me-world. No one knows where they’re going but they’re making good time. How am I driving? Call 1-800….. Go ahead, un-friend me.
The age of serious criticism went out way back in a time when literacy was valued as a measurement of intelligence. The well-turned sentence got you invited back to the dinner party. An erudite review often meant a horizontal thumb rather than a vertical one. Complexity, even ambivalence, was esteemed.

Critical thinking is now on the critical list. But it is too easy to denounce and mourn its demise. I want to look at its passing without cheer, jeer or sneer. Whatever our preferences those analytical days no longer align with the popular culture. Even eternal verities have a life span.

The Millennial generation is post-literate. Their forte is pattern recognition. Not only is the attention of a mass audience been severely clipped but there is a general mistrust of authoritative voices. Discipline in the classroom has been undermined in this assault on hierarchy. Even in fiction the omniscient narrator is slowly fading away.

Maybe the fate of democracy is an eventual demotic populism with its leveling effect . Everyone is a citizen journalist or self-proclaimed expert…. Let me tell you about my spinach omelet… The trade-off has been a more inclusive, participatory public. Having Googled their condition patients often know more about the situation than their doctors……..or at least they have learned a few polysyllabic words to drop over lunch.
Consider this: The shift in sensibility may be part of a move away from depth to surface. By depth my generation usually means a psychological probe referencing and comparing several historical sources. As David Hockney said, Surface is an illusion but so depth. Our notion of depth goes back to the single perspective of an individual POV. A more communal way is to examine surfaces from various moments in time and space as in Monet’s haystacks or Picasso’s cubism. The post-literates have become re-tribalized with pockets of kindred souls (who may never have met face to face) dressing alike, buying alike and sharing their own vocabulary.

Could it be that these disobedient, semi-literate, and ahistorical youngsters are unwittingly on to something? If they have a diminished capacity to analyze there may a trade-off somewhere. Tweets and texts appear to be the shorthand of the future, for better or worse. It is language unadorned...more suitable for transactions in this new world of 24/7 commerce.

I am myself less of a technophile than technophobe but this is not about preferences. It is about a new way of perceiving and thinking. To the extent that technology is a determinant it works on an invisible level over a period of time. When Guttenberg’s printing press became pervasive it altered the course of history. Marshall McLuhan argues that it lead to the rise of the Western ideal of individualism and formation of the nation-state. Today’s young minds process information non-sequentially in small bytes and re-assemble a gestalt. McLuhan was right in that content is garbage; it’s the media itself which is of any interest. With a glut of information clogging the brain it is no wonder that interpretation has been consigned to oblivion. 

Perhaps a new metric is needed to assess academic performance in this closing of one epoch and opening of the next. The disinterest in our antecedents may be a function of this gulf between generational ways of seeing and living in the moment…whatever that may mean. It is tough on us old folks clinging on to our memories of cherished experiences. It won’t invalidate our lives to acknowledge the dawn of a new day and what could hurt if our grandchildren realized that the world didn’t start when they were handed their first I-pad and apps? Even if we’ve made a mess of things they still need to write or at least talk in full sentences.

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