Monday, November 21, 2011

The Golden Age is over, long live The Golden Age

Recently, on Google+, David Brin said simply:
"Stop mythologizing the past. The golden age we dream of is only in the future--and only achievable by moving forward."
While I agreed with his general sentiment, I disagreed with the generalization, and said so. This sparked some debate with other followers that I thought I'd try to capture and clarify, here.

In my reply, I pointed out that some areas, such as personal electronics, seem to be on an escalating trajectory of improvement that is bringing increased quality of life to vast numbers of people. However, at the same time we have substantial changes to established areas which are profoundly negative. For example, food and music are two art forms that used to be taught pervasively and are now taught to a shrinking minority of enthusiasts. As the public becomes less educated about these art forms, the pinnacles of experimentation and exploration in these arts will diminish. It's not that there won't be great musicians and cooks, but overall we'll produce fewer of them, making fewer advances to the state of their respective arts.

In fact, I think it's safe to say that the golden age of food was either the 19th or 20th centuries, depending on the part of the world you are looking at, and it's likely that the 21st century won't make the same inroads except in less developed nations where the majority of the population still prepare most of their own meals in the home, and thus continue to share and teach their techniques as a cultural heritage.

For music, I think that the problem is not as uniquely tied to the developing world, but the real source of experimentation will certainly stem from cultural blending the way it always has, especially in the folding of Asian, Middle Eastern, African and South American music into the global culture (a process which began in earnest in the mid-1960s and continues to this day).

So, there are still good times ahead, but when you over-generalize about a "golden age" I think you're always likely to be wrong at some level (probably many).