The art of weaving a great story or composing a great song has changed very little over the past five thousand years. Indeed, my son Caleb and I love reading Greek myths that were already ancient when Homer was alive. The act of creation remains what it has always been; a human being alone, or as part of a group, filters experience, emotion and skill through the amazing prism of our humanity. This peculiar alchemy rarely fails to bring forth something unique and entirely new. If we are lucky, our story or song will contain enough truth that people will want to hear it, read it and share it.
So far so good.
In ancient times, songs and stories could only be stored in the human mind and could only pass directly from one person to another in the act of telling and singing. Great artists taught others who taught others and so on. This system meant that only the very best material survived from one generation to the next because only the songs and stories that people WANTED to learn and remember were ever passed on.
Then came what I call the analog age. People learned how to write things down. Stones and chisels gave way to quills and parchment which gave way to printers’ blocks and paper. The technology used for making copies of songs and stories became progressively more expensive. It was also increasingly beyond the reach of the artists who created the material being copied.
We are now, quite famously, living in a digital age. People still write stories and write songs but the cost of sharing those stories is now incredibly low. It is so low and the digital copying process is so easy that a huge number of people who were DAUNTED by the old analog system are now “coming out of the woodwork.” In the USA, 3,000 books are published every single day. This is a blessing and a curse…
The blessing is that creative people can now bypass the old analog machinery and share their music and stories directly with others and at very low cost.
The curse is that we are all being presented with a flood of content and it is often impossible to determine what will be good and what will be awful, what we will like and what we will hate.
The resolution of this digital tension of opposites lies in the concept of a community of interest. If people with similar interests and tastes and find a place to come together they can begin to recommend works that they think are good and important then we can help others filter the good from the not so good. For example, you really should check out Life Gets Better by Wendy Lustbader– after all, it’s the ChanginAging book of the year! Also, we can begin to share the content (like songs, stories, poems and blog posts) we think are important with people we think will appreciate them.
The irony is that, without the power of community, digital technology simply overwhelms us with things we don’t want and don’t care about. Used in the the context of a community of interest, these same technologies become radically effective, low cost and empowering.
All of this is very good news for those of us who care about aging—-IMHO.