Okay, that’s underselling things a bit–there isn’t just one problem with tech triumphalism. But pretty high in the top 10, I’d put “the obnoxious idea that anything of any consequence was invented yesterday.”
To wit: In this otherwise kind of interesting essay on popularity, Andy Sternburgh writes,
[I]t’s a tenet of faith that we no longer experience culture as one hulking, homogeneous mass. Not that long ago, we had “Thriller,” which, at last count, sold about 66 million copies worldwide. Nothing sells 66 million copies anymore. The finale of “M*A*S*H” drew 125 million viewers; no TV broadcast, save the Super Bowl, will ever draw that many simultaneous American viewers again. That’s because we’ve turned off Top 40 and loaded up Spotify; we’ve clicked away from NBC and fired up Netflix; we, thanks to the increasingly concierge-style delivery system of the Internet, are each sheltered in our own cultural cocoon.
No. No, really, NO.
You want to understand why 125 million people don’t watch M*A*S*H* anymore? It’s not because of Netflix.
Netflix has roughly 35 million subscribers. M*A*S*H* was watched by about half of America; Netflix is barely above 10 percent penetration. It wasn’t the internet that hobbled broadcast television. It was this other invention called CABLE TV. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Or maybe not. It was invented a long time ago, like back in 1948. And it didn’t really take off until the 1970s. Nothing that that old could possibly be disruptive, right? Only the internets can be disruptive!
And Spotify? Spotify claims to have 6 million paying users and 24 million active users. Granted, one assumes Sternburgh is using Spotify as a stand-in for Pandora and all the other music stream services. But even that’s doesn’t explain the decline of record sales. For that, you have to go back to the twin inventions of the personal music player and the compact disc. Once music was digitized onto a CD, it became inevitable that loss-less copying would lead to wide-spread file-sharing. And once people could carry that music around with them–on the Walkman and later the iPod–there was less need to listen to the radio station. Which began the slow draw-down of the cultural impact of the Top 40.
I know it’s crazy, but before the internet, people somehow muddled along. They even invented stuff! And sometimes that stuff–the television, the birth control pill, the atom bomb–really changed the world around us.
I mean, not like the way Facebook has changed us, or anything. Or Twitter. Or BangWithFriends. I mean, obviously.