It seems to me that our information age has entered a period of profound nostalgia. With the growth of digital networks overlaying our societies, we have the ability to communicate with any individual or group, and we have bypassed the imagined sense of a center fostered by our previous, mass communications structure. While the disequilibrium accompanying our networked communications is a powerful force in the structuring of our societies, in our discourse we often see a longing for a time with less complexity, and moral clarity.
Our current period is marked with a sort of hysteria around our perception of events, how they seem to be accelerating and compounding at rates beyond our ability to comprehend them. As if every story we tell is overwhelmed by the clamoring of millions of other voices, and we can no longer hear ourselves.
Our diagnoses of this phenomenon often seek to narrow and name causality. We blame technology, or monopolistic companies or industries, or foreign powers, or intelligence agencies, or deceptive advertisers, or vigilante mobs, or mainstream news media. Each effort of analysis may be narrowly true within the frame of a specific argument, but zoom out to examine the larger arc of our discourse, and we see instead our moral anxieties; it turns out that our diagnostics themselves contain pathologies.
In response, we double down on verities. We idealize the storyteller, the truth-seeker, the investigative journalist, the ascetic living in a tiny apartment. Anyone who seems to have the qualities of a seer, who can penetrate our abstractions and complexities. The idea that one true story might change a life, that we might transform or actualize ourselves.
And what might be the alternative? If abstract analysis leads us to blame impersonal forces, and individual stories and details seem irrelevant? All I know is that I woke this morning to a voice in my head, life is a dream, life is a dream. And then I thought, what then, is a dream? And then I fell asleep again.