Sunday, March 14, 2010

Technology Fuels Cultural Growth

That's right - you read that title correctly.  I believe that the technology revolution of the past couple decades is perhaps the biggest boon to our collective culture in the entire history of mankind.  Many of you probably disagree with that statement -- at least I hope so.  It is the perception of a conflict between technology and culture that I seek to dispel. 

First, I view "culture" for these purposes as our expression, access and exposure to the unique and creative elements that make us all human.  Of course, this is in large part the art and entertainment that we choose to experience, and the creative expressions which provide those choices.  But it is also the ideas, philosophies, debates, rants and everything else that each of us absorbs as a part of our ongoing mental and personal development - our growth, if you will.

Obviously, the digitizing of content has facilitated access to a larger volume of cultural elements for each of us, with the Internet as the obvious vehicle fueling that access.  But my point goes behind the pure quantity of images, ideas and stimuli upon which we can lay our eyes, ears and hands at any given moment.  I am speaking more of technology as a catalyst to the actual creation and expansion of these ideas and expressions.

When the mass distribution of music was controlled by a handful of companies, the game for composers and musical artists was to create music that would help those gatekeepers to earn more money.  That was the only way that your music would be included in the "pipeline," and that pipeline was the only way to get heard by an audience of any significant size. 

However, today anyone can make their music available to an audience of hundreds of millions of people.  They won't all hear it or even find it, but all of those people will have access to it and so the potential for mass impact is there.  Knowing that a real audience exists, creators are free to create from their heart in an expansive way that they would not have considered before.  They aren't trying to catch the ear of a record industry executive; they are adding their voice to the collective culture hoping that other people who dance to the beat of a similar drum will find and enjoy their creations.  The potential to be heard provides a reason to speak up - it gives voice to millions who would never have uttered a word in the absence of that vehicle.. 

The same is happening in all areas of creative expression -- not just music.  For example, would I bother to write these words if the Internet didn't exist?  What would I do with them?  Put them on a piece of paper and nail it to a wall?  And if I didn't have a reason to write, would I have spent the last hour considering and expanding my beliefs on the topic?  My ability to blog inspires me to think.  I don't know that anyone will ever read this, but the fact that they might is enough to cause me to consider and develop my ideas and to add my voice to our collective culture.  It is personally enriching for me, even if no one reads it or responds.  But it is also a process that will inspire many people to think and express ideas that will change the world in amazing ways.  Without the distribution vehicle created by technology, would these historic ideas (and resulting changes) come into existence?  Certainly, not all of them.

Because technology is giving us ways to move even more content at a higher speed, this same process is now expanding to films and other audio-visual expressions.  And in that arena the development of digital technology has not only created new channels of distribution, but it has also made the creative process much less expensive and thus available to millions instead of a chosen few.  We will see films and expressions that simply would not have been created in the absence of the capabilities afforded through technological advancement.

I think if asked about technology's impact on the quality of our culture, many people would initially respond that that it has been a negative.  It's simply not true.  Perhaps we don't get exercise or enjoy nature as much as we would if we didn't spend so much time looking at digital displays.  But each of us has more opportunity than ever before to impact our world, and that is inspiring us to think and dream and create and challenge and consider and respond and participate.  If culture is the collective expression of mankind, technology has fueled a cultural renaissance of truly epic proportion.

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