This is probably a very obvious observation, but it is one that only hit me recently. It occurred to me when I was thinking about pen pals of all things. When I was young I had a pen pal because tangibly knowing some other human from somewhere else on the planet was such an exotic and exciting thing. Every couple of weeks, I'd write a painfully dull and conventional letter (I was a reserved adolescent and stingy with any sort of revealing personal information) to Kevin, a twelve-year-old from Michigan, then wait for up to a month later for his response, a letter that stuck equally rigidly to pen pal convention but which sometimes contained such added wonders as; a crappy drawing of two stick men throwing a frisbee in front of a lake, Operation Desert Storm trading cards, a passport photo of Kevin, a Hershey wrapper, and a cinema stub (with the word 'awesome' scribbled on it in red biro) for a film that was to open in Ireland a few weeks later.
"do you have Dairy Queen in Ireland? It's awesome, a store that only sells ice-cream"
The amount of life I invested into the few scraps which that young lad sent to me of his daily existence in America is remarkable in retrospect. I'd do this by moving beyond the more obvious evidence and into more roundabout territory. I'd scrutinize the stamps and postmarks, check if the writing paper was similar to Irish writing paper (it wasn't, he wrote on squared paper for some reason), and pour over the background details of a family photo he sent me (a wooden slatted house! a barbeque!). I remember once even smelling the envelope of a letter in the hope of discovering what an American shop or cupboard or post office or wherever it came from smelled like. And I'd look at Kevin himself, with his goofy windswept head, replete, in a yearbook-style shot in front of artificial clouds, with a mouth full of teeth that looked like the show shelf at a bathroom tile sale, and I'd marvel at just how different this American kid was from me. Quick aside: just in case all this makes me sound like an absolute weirdo I should clarify that, unlike Morrisey who spent "long summer days indoors/ writing frightful verse/ to a bucktooth girl in Luxembourg", my reasons for having a penpal were entirely devoid of romantic intent (at this age anyway. A later female pen pal from Germany was all about that slightly desperate Mozzer buzz).
Now, let's think of a smart teenager who has grown up online. They'll more than likely be friends with an international spiderweb of dozens of others who share their interests, and who communicate with them in real time in chat rooms and on message boards through a continually evolving and complex language of animated .gifs, hashtags, and memes referencing a mind-boggling amount of fragments of global culture (albeit with a western bias). Instead of having one goofy yearbook photo of an American to invest personality into, they can instead spend weeks, if they so wished, clicking through countless galleries of real (not TV) young people doing things anywhere on earth. That this was literally impossible for someone of my generation to do at that age is probably hugely significant, even though we don't yet know how.
That image of adolescent me, absorbed in deep imaginings about what it would be like to live in Michigan, suddenly seems so quaint.
why take the bus to work when you can take the internet?
I wonder how this generation gap will shape culture? It will probably be a while before we see it in novels (if zany online fan-fic or whatever doesn't replace them), and I am no expert on visual art, but what I definitely do notice is an internet-driven sea change in music, especially in rap mixtapes and in certain strands of electronica. That people's antennae are attuned to such a change is evident in how eagerly a throwaway comment made by the musician Grimes about her music being 'post internet' has been leaped on and parsed by many. I guess, like any generation gap or cultural movement, it can't really be viewed from the inside, but it feels pretty big, doesn't it? And when you think of how significantly the advent of photography, radio, and cinema fed into modernism, you might only marvel at what art will come out of this flux. Of course, you might be cynical, and suggest that such information overload might compromise people's capacity to wonder at things or notice them, and compromise their subsequent ability to generate art. But whatever camp you belong to (and late at night, when I stumble into a particularly weird, anime-literate, .gif-infested corner of tumblr, I could belong to either), you can't deny that having a pen pal will never mean the same thing again; in other words, that things have changed entirely.
MP3: Soulja Boy (with Clams Casino)-All I Need
MP3: James Ferraro-Global Lunch