I sometimes think that if you could personify the current state of American society, and “film” our economic situation, it might look kind of like a Baz Luhrmann picture, with throngs of cavorting people all dressed to the nines-to-the-ninth-power, but all rotting on the inside. A glittery, sparkling, hedonistic, gala ball at which everyone secretly had aggressive and incurable syphilis, but couldn’t admit it to anyone else.
Anyway, that’s what I thought of when I read this piece by George Packer about the relentless march toward technological and economic perfection for the lucky few, the slow spiral down to existential despair for everyone else, and how so few actually notice it all going on. I hardly notice it! Why should I? I have an iPhone 5 and a tablet! I got 99 problems but a screen ain’t one.
What Packer is actually positing is that as things get worse for the vast majority, we all tend to fix our gaze on the things that are still going gangbusters: super-gizmos and the stock market and whatnot. As the syphilis worsens, we need more flashes of light from the mirror ball.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea that the beleaguered underemployed man in his article can barely afford life’s necessities, and yet still owns a smartphone. Why shouldn’t he? Even on the crummiest, cheapest device, a person has access to a wealth of knowledge and entertainment that previous generations could not have dreamed of. With things being the way they are, that’s the least a good, hardworking person deserves, considering what’s available. The gadgets aren’t the problem (and I don’t think Packer thinks so either), it’s the circumstances that make those gadgets our only escape, our only hope.
So keep perfecting those devices, Silicon Valley. We’re gonna need ’em.