December is the Playfullest month. But for bloggers it's the cruelest month, what with end-of-year deadlines and seasonal festivities keeping us away from the warm glow of our monitors.
Thus, it seems appropriate to recover from too much eggnog by facing the uncertainties that the coming year brings. And don't these uncertainties—a faltering economy, the continued shadow of terrorism, political instability in the Middle East, and a new president who is at least physically unlike any other prior resident of the White House—seem a little scarier than any of the other uncertainties the still-living generations have faced? Somehow the Cold War, a nuclear threat, and the graffiti-filled subways of 1970s New York City just don't stack up to the present, right?
The novelist Douglas Coupland explores this phenomenon in an op-ed for yesterday's Globe and Mail and concludes that the real difference between then and now is digital media:
Marshall McLuhan tells us that "terror is the normal state of any oral society, for in it, everything affects everything all the time." What he perhaps didn't foresee was that terror didn't turn out to be Winston Smith's Nineteen Eighty-Four. Terror turned out to be a friend's grandmother bingeing on conspiracy websites during a late-night browsing jag, triggering days of pension freak-out e-mails with her daughter, Sarah, down in Human Resources, who then installs a real-time Dow Jones ticker widget in the top right-hand corner of her work screen, and when Sarah goes home, she and her husband browse online real-estate listings wondering when the bottom's going to hit.In other words: information overload.
We have all the information we could ever want—and certainly more than we could ever need or handle—at our finger tips all the time every time. Yet this seeming wealth is also the cause of a deficit: in perspective, in certainty.
And even as digital communication creates this wealth with its brutally efficient ability to disseminate information, it is rendering whole species of cultural and informational curators—writers and editors and librarians—less relevant in the collective public mind just when the public needs them most.