I guess you can’t fault Andersen for wanting culture to be an adventure – though he also seems to think that means providing him with endless stimulation. But what is really lost if the shock of the radically new doesn’t show up every 10 years to give him pleasure and make it easy to differentiate decades? Notably absent from the essay is an acknowledgement that all the rad stylistic innovation that ended sometime in the early 1990s had to be paid for with borrowed money. Andersen is a child of the Great American Financial Expansion that crashed and burned in 2008, groaning under the weight of the millions of spacious, elegant homes now inhabited by Boomers, and the pressure of the post-9/11 Boomer wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and drip drip drip of the barrage of needless medical tests performed every time a Boomer has a headache. Of course the party’s over. The money has all dried up.
Technology is definitely making lifestyle — and the expense associated with acquiring it — less relevant. (Which is fortunate for those of us who can no longer afford much of one, anyway.) Much of what Andersen prizes from the allegedly more innovative American past is just display. But when your life — public and private, working and leisurely — revolves around a MacBook and an iPhone, and constant, disembodied exchanges of information in placeless cyber realms… well, you don’t need to overturn the Aeron chair, do you? Nor do you need to fixate on the status-symbolism of where you live. Best of all, you don’t need to worry about what you buy and what it says about you, because you may buy very little.
Andersen believes we’re stopped innovating culturally because it’s just all become too, too much. Sheltering ourselves has become our collective defense against meltdown in the searing heat of technological advance. “[T]hese stagnant last couple of decades may be a secular rather than cyclical trend, the beginning of American civilization’s new chronic condition, a permanent loss of appetite for innovation and the shockingly new,” he writes.
Or maybe external change isn’t what we’re all about anymore.
I had been mentally chewing on Andersen’s essay since I first saw it, wondering how to phrase exactly what bothered me about it, but I can’t really improve on that. I would also throw in what Josh Rothman said about it: the rapid rate of cultural change that Andersen takes as the natural order of things is actually a very recent aberration.