Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Taste for All of It

We discovered a fascinating book in our search for knowledge class, or "new class" culture, helpfully entitled New Class Culture, by Avrom Fleishman. His definition of the knowledge class is a little narrower than ours, focusing on those who control knowledge – and, indeed, live their whole lives – through computers. This version of the knowledge class is notably young and drawn from all classes of origin, as well as the most diverse ethnic backgrounds. They have the great virtue of being curious and open, as well as devoted to education and rationality.

Fleishman has an interesting take on what lies at the heart of new class culture:

The New Class’s taste, so varied as perhaps to be incomprehensible as a distinct approach to experience, is a taste nonetheless, the taste for all of it. It is well on the way toward becoming the dominant standard of cultural distinction in turn-of-the-millennium America. As this rising class gains power and prestige, the catholicity of its taste becomes acknowledged as the favored cultural stance. (49)
This is a challenging basis for culture. But I see what he means in my students all the time, especially those who experience the world through computers. They are wonderfully curious, open, and global in their interests.

The downside of that openness, though, is that they find it hugely difficult to select what is truly good from the welter of information and experiences that come as a torrent upon them.

Fleishman says that one of the most glaring problems with new class culture is "the lack of any central or ordering principle by which its cultural choices might be made, its experiences and acquisitions graded" (104). They are trying the nearly impossible task of constructing an ethic and an aesthetic within the limits of an easy relativism.

From Fleishman's account of new class culture, I notice another difficulty: trying to experience all the knowledge and culture of the world through the computer distorts and distances what you experience. Fleishman cites Marshall McLuhan in another context, which put me in mind of McLuhan's contention that television is an inherently "cool" medium, which puts a passion-dampening distance between viewer and subject. McLuhan died before the internet came to be, but it seems to me that his insight would lead one to think of internet experience as, at best, "warm," but not "hot." The web is more interactive, especially through the many ways in which young people write to one another all over the world. Still, experiencing the world through the web is to experience it in a limited way.

The taste for "all of it" is a fascinating idea for the foundation of a new culture. So far, though, the all that Fleishman's new class has a taste for comes through the lens of digital experience.

It seems ironic to post these thoughts on a weblog, and ask for the responses of friends and strangers through the flattening power of the comments section. Please do send those responses, though, and I promise to appreciate the irony while thinking about what you say.

6 comments:

Stuart Gordon said...

I can't help but believe that this is an instance of our technology outpacing us, at risk of dehumanizing us. We might imagine ourselves capable of such catholic interests, but there are certain flesh-and-blood limits that we cannot escape.

I sit at my computer in one place, surrounded by a particular people. No matter how much surfing I do, I cannot transport those images and live among them.

My personal concern is that we deceive ourselves into thinking that we can escape the limitations of incarnate existence. We lose our own, particular identities, "wiping out" in the surf of images and interests and tastes and cultures that appear on our screens.

In reality, none of us enjoys a privileged position, from which we can view the world in perfect objectivity, un-incarnated. My hope for my children is that they will be content as themselves, accepting of their creaturely limits, and respectful of others.

Russell Smith said...

Check out these weblogs that capture that ethos of "all of it" --

BoingBoing: A Directory of Wonderful Things
Life Hacker
Cool Hunting

they're all run by the digiterati of whom you speak.
Russell

Gruntled said...

Good links. And yes, people in the flesh are better than simulacra.

Chris Patton said...

I readily agree with Fleishman's assessment. I think the "New Class" suffers from a case of analysis paralysis: the constant influx of information hinders us from making decisions.

However, I must disagree with his statement that the New Class "lack[s].. any central or ordering principle by which its cultural choices might be made, its experiences and acquisitions graded". The internet has been changing at a phenomenal rate, and with it, rating systems and hierarchies of taste have emerged. Sites like digg.com (where users both submit news stories, and decide which stories are most important) and youtube (where users submit video, which is then graded by other users) have emerged to allow the New Class to not only generate it's own content, but then vote on what is considered worthwhile or important and what is not. The ultimate downside of all this being that specific tastes are drowned in the vast ocean of opinions.

Victoria Crowell said...

I've recently been reading a book that talks about what seems to be the large point in the book you mentioned. It's called Colossians Remixed, and it's supposed to make Colossians relevent to modern times, however it is moreso (at least so far) a discussion of postmodernism as it applies to Christianity: How we live in a world saturated with experience and choice, where all information is available via computer, and the sort of blandness it has caused in the academia who live like that, who seem to think the best choice is the choice that is actually the least made.

I don't agree with the whole book, but it has definitely been interesting.

Gruntled said...

How confident are you that the mass of voters, even is self-selected and class-selected as space as digg.com, will choose rightly? How likely is it the the choice underlying youtube and Colossians, for example, would be the same? I think this is a genuine question -- if God put the same conscience in us all, if natural law really does produce common standards in all Creation, then we could have more confidence in a pomo world that distrusts authority yet seeks standards.