Monday, July 08, 2019

Falling out of the zeitgeist

I have often called myself a social analyst and indeed I am. I am also an historian. Over time, my focus has shifted from economic, policy and social analysis to the more historical. That's actually become a bit of a problem.

As a social analyst, I need to be in touch with the current. I have used various techniques to try to achieve this including talking to people, monitoring economic and other statistical data and reading widely including both current media and other people's research and analysis.  I also use other social media including Facebook and Twitter.

Just recently I realised  how badly out of touch I had become. I was listening to an ABC Radio National Program called Stop Everything presented by Beverley Wang and Benjamin Law. The program bills itself in this way: tune in for a savvy, critical look at pop culture and what's in the zeitgeist. Join our panellists each week for a discussion about what they’re reading, watching and listening to.

I have often found the program mildly annoying because the presenters' emphasis on the need for diversity seems really to mean anyone but me, an older heterosexual white guy. I never thought of myself as a "white guy" until quite recently when we became such a target for criticism. Now I have become a racial stereotype. Increasingly, I didn't properly understand what on earth they were talking about in particular segments. Yes, I could understand the words and indeed some of the tropes, Youngest does give me a window into their world, but the detail meant nothing to me.

Around five years ago, my old TV broke down. I was broke at the time and could not afford to replace it.. I decided that watching TV was a bit of a waste of time when I should be reading or writing, that if I wanted to watch a TV program I could look at it on the computer. That decision has had all sorts of side-effects.

I largely stopped using the lounge room. I used to go in there to watch TV some times for a break, sitting comfortably on the lounge. I used to watch TV while ironing or tidying, including sorting books. That stopped. I spent more time at my computer, adding to the curve in my back since I was now watching some TV there in addition to my other computer viewing. And with my size screen you have to sit to watch, you can't wander unless it's a podcast. Most importantly,  I got out of touch.

To explain this, consider Game of Thrones. I have never seen it. Indeed, I have rarely seen Netflix, never Stan. I am not going to subscribe to a streaming service when I have to watch it on my computer at my desk. Equally importantly, I stopped dipping in and out of TV programs in the way that I used to. This is quite important, for that was the way I identified new things, things I might want to watch.

It's not all bad. I have become a significant fan of YouTube even watching the ads! There are some good ones with high production values. I also mine the ABC and SBS sites for specific things I might want to watch. But these choices are all based on my current interests. My knowledge of things such as the prehistoric past has expanded, as has my knowledge of past aspects of Australian culture. However, my knowledge of the current has greatly diminished. I know nothing of most current programs. Yes, I could browse and check, perhaps I should, but I already spend far too much time stuck in front of my computer.

I have, it appears, dropped almost entirely out of the current zeitgeist. Should I rejoin, or should I just accept my new role as a boring old white guy, leaving social analysis to others more in tune? Perhaps not, because I have increasingly come to think of my research and writing as equivalent to an archaeological rescue dig seeking to preserve and present aspects of history, society and culture before they are submerged by the new cultural and historical high-rises. That's not a bad aim.

Still, I do want a new TV.. I hate being out of touch. I miss just sitting on the couch and watching TV. And I think that it helps to know the "enemy." I don't begrudge Beverley and Benjamin their views, nor do I think that those views are evidence of "progressive" bias within the ABC.

To my mind, my cultural warrior friends on the right miss the point in responding because they present stereotypes to match stereotypes. Both right and left go for the big hit, the re-assertion of views that will appeal to their own base and get the other side riled.

Twitter has not helped here because of the way that it has trivialised discussion. I may be unfair, but it seems to me that simply retweeting every story that agrees with your position, sometimes adding divine right pronouncements, is not an aid to discussion. Worse, the time spent is time taken away from substantive discussion that could actually advance the causes in question or, at least, ensure that issues are clarified. The sugar hit of instant response has replaced the hard thought that is really required to develop and present argument.

We live in a cluttered world. How we respond to that is a matter of individual choice. For my part, I will keep trying to make a difference on matters that are important to me, accepting that I may be out of tune with the times. That may sound pretentious, but it is all that I can do, regardless of whatever the current zeitgeists may be.

I ma still going to buy a new TV though!


marcellous said...


The importance of free-to-air TV to the Zeitgeist is on the wane.

By all accounts, splash out on a new TV, though.

New "Smart" [ha!] TVs come with internet connectivity, and even without that in its full version, there are ways (depending on the antiquity of your computer's operating system) of projecting from a computer's smaller screen to a larger TV screen.

Anonymous said...

History changes so fast these days, it's very hard to keep up, so I can sympathise with you Jim. Personally, I blame colour television; things were so much simpler when everything was just black and white - if I'm still allowed to say that?

I read the other day that a new method of measuring the Hubble Constant is now proposed, which produces a value not in agreement with either of the two previously accepted methods, and they themselves differ - but that "more research is needed" (trademark pending).

Think how many $billions of research effort could have been saved if it had originally been referred to as the Hubble Vaguely Approximate.


Jim Belshaw said...

I agree with your comment on free to air TV. On your second point, I have a dreadful confession to make. Yes, I do want a TV with some form of smarts - my daughters have them - but........! It's now a very long time since i had to fiddle with or learn how to operate a TV, let alone a modern TV.

I knew enough to be able to fix the problem with my motel TV on my last Armidale visit when reception could not (they had introduced a new system which had a bug that was affecting all rooms) with the assistance of a fellow guest, but that was trial and error and pattern recognition. I shudder a bit at the learning ahead. I know that it's mainly mechanical, but it bores me. So my fall from the Zeitgeist is more than just a loss of access!

I laughed at that, kvd. I will use that phrase. Perhaps, more broadly, we should go back to the invention of the printing press and the impact it had on the prevailing Zeitgeist in spreading pernicious ideas. Mind you, I am not opposed to new technology. Hot water and a long, strong, hot shower remains the ultimate luxury to me. Mind you, now that I think about it, it's becoming harder to do that in the current environment with its emphasis on energy and water saving.