Culture: Transmission, Influence and Decay

Our mechanisms of culture have become more streamlined: the cycles of innovation and influence, proliferation and decay ever faster. The technologies that have given us our radical connectivity and proliferation of spaces that create the context of the Social Age inherently lead to the acceleration of stories and polarisation of perspective. Culture is moving ever faster.

In the writing for the new Generative AI book, Sae and i have been discussing whether this leads to an ‘averaging out’ of culture over time, or a more fertile ground for the disruption of the new. Part of this conversation has covered the notions of mutation, and whether part of our efforts should be to create divergence as well as perfection. We are more likely to thrive in a diverse ecosystem of ideas than a monocultural one.

In the context of the Social Age the mechanisms and lines of cultural transmission have become streamlined and accelerated. The new can spread at the speed of instagram, but with the caveat that it will become the old in ever shorter order. Potentially the range of influence has extended, but the duration of it has decayed.

And overall, decay becomes a more immediate feature of our cultural systems. The new upon the old. We have lost something of value.

Sae talked to me about how we have historically imbued value partly based upon effort, not simply the completed artefact: the striving is the thing.

To strive had value: a painting took a year to complete, a lifetime of dedication. But as we remove that friction, in the creation and proliferation of artefacts of culture, it challenges our underlying notions of value. Would the Sistene Chapel ceiling be held in such high regard had it been painted in an afternoon, or had it been sprayed by a printer from a digital image?

In our compressed cycles of culture, do we lose something of the inherent value of effort? And as the disruptive technologies of Generative AI make the expertise of art a general capability, as they make the execution of writing a commodity, do we devalue the cultural system as a whole?

Some people would argue that we will see the emergence of a new layer of value: that the cultural creators will maybe arise, that we will find a new location to invest our admiration. But i’m less sure. Perhaps the striving is the thing?

In general, artefacts are a lynchpin of our societal culture, be it artefacts of ruination or grandeur. We may erode our foundations without ever realising their fragility.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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