We seem to have trapped ourselves in a vicious cycle—economic progress and innovation stagnated, except in information technology; which leads us to embrace the past and turn the present into a pleasantly eclectic for-profit museum; which deprives the cultures of innovation of the fuel they need to conjure genuinely new ideas and forms; which deters radical change, reinforcing the economic (and political) stagnation. I’ve been a big believer in historical pendulum swings—American sociopolitical cycles that tend to last, according to historians, about 30 years. So maybe we are coming to the end of this cultural era of the Same Old Same Old. As the baby-boomers who brought about this ice age finally shuffle off, maybe America and the rich world are on the verge of a cascade of the wildly new and insanely great. Or maybe, I worry some days, this is the way that Western civilization declines, not with a bang but with a long, nostalgic whimper.
For the past, I dunno, year or so, I’ve been trying to articulate my feelings about the cultural rut we’re in right now, never quite getting the words right. The paragraph above, taken from Kurt Andersen’s article You Say You Want a Devolution?, couldn’t embody my thoughts and feelings more perfectly. It’s everything that has been plaguing me for so long now, wrapped up so neatly and eloquently into a single paragraph. The problem is, that paragraph is only a prognosis, it doesn’t broach the idea of a cure. So how do we get out of this cultural toilet bowl we’ve find ourselves swirling around in? I’m still not sure, but I plan on trying my damnedest to figure it out.
As I was driving home I was toiling over the topic, and I came to one, rough conclusion – Design is to blame. For the past 50 or so years we’ve seen a rise in design, being conscious of design, trying to design things to be better suited for us. But maybe that’s the problem entirely?
The idea of design seems clinical these days. Pixel perfect design, perfectly executed corners, color-schemes that are pleasing to a majority of users. Should we be confining our lives and ideas into rigid modules, rules, guides and columns? When I think about the idea of design versus the idea of art, I have two completely different emotional reactions. When I think of art I think of expression. When I think of design, I think about perfection. Perhaps we need to stop worrying about perfection and worry about expressing ourselves fully through our work? Maybe we need to start making art again? Maybe we stop worrying about creating the one, perfect product that everyone in the world can love and do something that creates a truly emotional response in people?
Here’s what I think we need, my self very much being included in this idea. I think we need to fuck shit up. We need to make things that are uncomfortable to look at. We need to piss people off. We need to do things that seem fucked up and weird, that make no sense, that will be never be perfect and were never meant to be so. We need not explain ourselves or ask for forgiveness. We need to change this fucked up status quo of borrowing from the past and start thinking about our future. You and I both do it, we know we do. How can we proud of our work when it’s already been created?
I know our generation can create radical change, we just have to hurt and bleed and fight and scream to make it happen. Here’s where I begin to try.
Editor’s Note: I should have ended this post with, “Actions speak louder than words.”