Lawrence Lessig* contends that ‘Writing’ is the Latin of our times. The modern language of the people is video and sound. I suspect he has a point. In fact, it could be one of the reasons why there has been a less than stellar increase in the number of Wonderman readers over the years. Still, there is the possibility that writing will linger awhile yet, since we now have longer life expectancy: writers – and their readers – will be around for some time yet, resisting progress with a determined, if ultimately doomed, rearguard movement.
In the longer term, however, it won’t matter what happens. ‘Statistics’ show that we devote more time and money to medical research – i.e. prolonging human life – than we do to finding renewable energy sources in order to prevent the destruction of our habitat. The net result – more people sharing fewer resources – might explain why we spend even more money searching Space for habitable alternatives. The absence of joined-up thinking here is frustrating and one can only hope that Margaret Mead** was right when she said Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
But if the future, such as it might be, belongs to vloggers, film-makers, musicians and sound-bite practitioners, it does not necessarily imply there will be a dumbing-down of standards: there is sure to be constant competition among them not only to perfect techniques but also to provide the best content. The process has been underway for some time already, although there is still much amateurism to endure. We can, for instance, all be DJs now – all you need is a Spotify account or similar and you have the means to compile playlists – but the trick with playlists is to play them at the appropriate time and to an appreciative audience. At a smart restaurant last week our conversation was spoiled by the dance music which, I suspect, was the choice of the very young-looking staff.
I had a similar experience in a real-ale establishment where, as the sole customer, I talked with the young barmaid while I waited for my pal to turn up.
‘Do you stay open until four a.m. like the place next door?’ I asked.
‘Oh no. This is the kind of bar where people like to come for a quiet chat, not to rave all night,’ she said.
The soundtrack she was playing made this hard to believe and, when my pal arrived, we took our ale to a table as far away as possible from the speakers. But I think she turned the volume up to make sure we could appreciate the skill with which she had put together her favourite tracks. We did not stay to double her turnover. At the professional end of the scale there is more likely to be a market-led approach to playlists. They may not always get it right but when they do it works well – Caffè Nero had it spot-on with a mix of soothing jazz last Wednesday morning. Or perhaps it just suited my mood.
Other people’s playlists can grate on the ears and nerves, but try creating your own and you will be surprised at how many hours are consumed in the process. Perhaps it’s best left to the professionals who provide those themed playlists on internet ‘radio’ stations – Throwback Thursday is one of my favourites – so that you can deploy your time more profitably. Last week I was persuaded (in cash) to attend a focus group and to bring along a short video-recording of myself: a vlog. I took up the challenge enthusiastically. Vlogging may be a useful skill to have, given the predicted lack of demand for writing.
*Professor and political activist, 1961-