Back in the late 1980s I wrote a book-length manuscript called Digital Dreams: The Search for Hope in the Hyperculture. As is the case with the music I have produced most of my life, it received good critical reviews, but no one could figure out how to market it. People at trade publishers said it belonged at an academic press; people at academic presses said it belonged in the trade market.
Twenty years later, I dusted off some of the tenets I posited for the Hyperculture (most of which I adapted from Plato and other dead white males) and began to interject them into speeches on such topics as the future of hospitals, the future of philanthropy, the future of the not-for-profit sector and – oh, the irony – the future of market research.
I began to generate a buzz. “This is cutting edge stuff,” someone said following a Webinar I did for some market research professionals. “You should write a book.”
How did I end up giving a Webinar on market research, a subject about which I know absolutely nothing? By giving a speech to a national market research conference that caught someone’s attention. And why was someone who runs a health care foundation asked to give a speech on the future of market research? Because someone had recommended me as a futurist.
And how does one become a futurist? By talking and writing about the future. Anybody can do it. Just never give dates.
So what’s my point? Well, there is no point in the traditional linear sense – having a coherent thought and laying it out in an orderly, predictable fashion – but there is in the dominant sense of the Hyperculture, where the point is to achieve endless circulation. It doesn’t matter where ideas and images come from – it only matters where they go. They bombard us through the media, over the Internet and into our computers, televisions, iPods and cell phones, where we are at once dazzled by their speed, superficial brilliance and complexity, and numbed by the sheer noise and tangled mess of it all.
Everything singular becomes plural in the Hyperculture. You don’t make a point, you make points. The goal is to stay jacked in, to maintain the float. Get on the network, be visible. We’ll work out the point of it all later, assuming we can find the time.
I recently shared my thoughts on the Hyperculture with a graduate class I taught on the theory and practice of philanthropy. The students, most of whom were already working or plan careers in not-for-profit organizations, were visibly depressed. Wired to the max themselves, they nevertheless recoiled at the idea of transferring themselves without remainder into a world in which all nouns become verbs, public space is eclipsed by private space, the continuous becomes discrete, and style equals content.
“I mean, my boyfriend broke up with me with a text message,” one young woman lamented. “I hate this technology. It’s dehumanizing.”
“We will become sentient machines,” I intoned mysteriously. “Biology is becoming an information science. Imagine the possibilities.”
“What above love?” another young woman chimed in. “Can a machine love? Can a machine feel hope or compassion?”
And so it went. In a class on philanthropy, no less. My parting advice to the students was, you don’t need to develop a philosophy of life. You need to develop a life of philosophy. You won’t necessarily find answers, but at least you’ll know how to ask interesting questions.
I’m soft pedaling the Hyperculture these days. I seem to alienate most people when I bring it up. Maybe it’s how I interpret these principles. Someone asked me what the Hyperculture meant for the future of public policy. My answer: There is no future for public policy. There are publics and there are policies, and we will invent connections between them as we go along. Public policy as a coherent body of knowledge and practice is dead.
Come to think of it, coherence itself is dead. Look at the history of recent political campaigns for cases in point(s).
I’d write a book, if only if I knew how to market it.
Feedback? Send it my way: Roger.Hughes@slhi.org.
*The Drift reflects the views of the author, and does not represent the official view of SLHI’s Board of Trustees and staff.