Tuesday, December 21, 2021

retrotalk2021 #5 - presentism

 In the NYT  Lindsay Zoladz says 2021 was a year when we couldn't stop looking back and wields the concept "presentism" to describe a tendency to project the concerns of now onto the past and to judge it by today's advanced standards

"The allure of presentism is causing people to romanticize contemporary perspectives at the expense of an excessively vilified past. It’s uncomfortable to dwell in gray areas, to admit imperfections, to acknowledge blind spots — better to have a 100-minute documentary or four-part podcast to allow us to tidily “reconsider” something that we got wrong the first time around, so we never have to think too hard about it again."

Seems to be a different use of the concept "presentism" than in Douglas Rushkoff's 2014 book Present Shock: When Everything Happens NOW -  well at least as far as I can tell / recall, given that I started but never got far with it (victim of a presentist inability to concentrate? well, I did then and have since started and finished other books...). 

From the book's website, a breakdown of the major contentions: 

Narrative collapse – the loss of linear stories and their replacement with both crass reality programming and highly intelligent post-narrative shows like The Simpsons. With no goals to justify journeys, we get the impatient impulsiveness of the Tea Party, as well as the unbearably patient presentism of the Occupy movement. The new path to sense-making is more like an open game than a story.

Digiphrenia – how technology lets us be in more than one place – and self – at the same time. Drone pilots suffer more burnout than real-world pilots, as they attempt to live in two worlds – home and battlefield – simultaneously. We all become overwhelmed until we learn to distinguish between data flows (like Twitter) that can only be dipped into, and data storage (like books and emails) that can be fully consumed.

Overwinding – trying to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones, like attempting to experience the catharsis of a well-crafted, five-act play in the random flash of a reality show; packing a year’s worth of retail sales expectations into a single Black Friday event – which only results in a fatal stampede; or – like the Real Housewives – freezing one’s age with Botox only to lose the ability to make facial expressions in the moment. Instead, we can “springload” time into things, like the “pop-up” hospital Israel sent to Tsunami-wrecked Japan.

Fractalnoia – making sense of our world entirely in the present tense, by drawing connections between things – sometimes inappropriately. The conspiracy theories of the web, the use of Big Data to predict the direction of entire populations, and the frantic effort of government to function with no “grand narrative.” But also the emerging skill of “pattern recognition” and the efforts of people to map the world as a set of relationships called TheBrain – a grandchild of McLuhan’s “global village”.

Apocalypto – the intolerance for presentism leads us to fantasize a grand finale. “Preppers” stock their underground shelters while the mainstream ponders a zombie apocalypse, all yearning for a simpler life devoid of pings, by any means necessary. Leading scientists – even outspoken atheists – prove they are not immune to the same apocalyptic religiosity in their depictions of “the singularity” and “emergence”, through which human evolution will surrender to that of pure information. 

1 comment:

  1. You can easily spot the heroes in contemporary costume dramas set in the pre-WWII era, because they display a seed of wokeism, rudimentary yet recognisable.

    By contrast, the villains don't subscribe to 21st century identity politics. They represent The Past as a whole. Audiences can pat themselves on their couch potato backs for being morally superior, simply for living in the present.