What a Difference a Decade Makes
Things can change fast. Big things. Real Fast. I think a lot about the cultural shift in the 1960s and how disorienting the cadence of change was. For me the significant barometer of change was the music of the sixties and the surrounding scene of fashion, sexual mores, civil rights, opposition to war and other serious social and cultural re-evaluations. These were, to a large degree, driven by the evolution of aesthetics and taste in music and the open mindedness that evolution engendered.
The band that stands out as modeling the aesthetic revolution was The Beatles. You can mark the time and interterm developmental stages by listening to their albums and looking at photos of the fab four. It is amazing in retrospect to see the morphology. A six-month span will show a complete developmental stage and paradigm shift. It is fascinating to check out in retrospect. Take a minute to think about how life currently seems pretty much the same along many of those aesthetic dimensions from six months, two years, even five years ago.
And at that time there was no guessing how far it could go and what extrapolating the trajectory would look like projected into the near future. The future looked bright.
The Beatles’ Boeing 707, Pan Am flight 101, left London Airport early on the morning of 7 February 1964 and landed in New York City. Sargent Peppers came out May 26, 1967. Think about that for a minute and what The Beatles looked like and sounded like over a little more than three years span. Is that even possible? You can’t blame people for thinking that if that kind of accelerated transformation continued we could be on the brink of something really transformative. It seemed their could be a tipping point in consciousness just over the horizon.
It is really remarkable when you think that only thirty years previous to that the popular music was centered on big bands and dancehalls. Bennie Goodman and others were huge. No wonder there was a generation gap. The new stuff must have really been difficult to comprehend much less love and enjoy and make the centerpiece of one’s life and outlook. Young people recognized it and youth culture was legitimized.
Another bellwether artist of that time that reflected and drove the change was Miles. Think about Miles circa 1958 and Miles in 1968. Very different. Radically different. And that is just a slice of his transformative career. He was at the cutting edge forefront from right after World War II through the eighties. He was an amazing chameleon that drove every modern jazz and fusion style for over four decades. Forty years is not long relatively speaking for tectonic cultural shifts.
The world failed to adapt and coalesce around the musical visions of utopia. Things got diluted and diffused and we have had many false starts and set backs since then. We still haven’t caught up to what they were intimating was just over the horizon. Musically, we stagnated. There has been lots of good music but it is bounded within the format created in the sixties. The form of the Beatles: drumkit, singers, Bass and guitars is still the standard format for pop bands. And Modern jazz still means the ensemble formats and tune structures developed in the 1950s.
Culture seems to transform in spurts and step functions. Our culture may have ossified aesthetically but we are in the midst of another set of changes now. Instead of driven by aesthetic evolution and discriminating taste, change is now driven by technology. Moore’s law and network effects have changed us and how we interact.
It has only been a decade since the mobile revolution was launched. The iPhone was released June 29, 2007. We all adapted and coalesced around that. And big new technologies like artificial intelligence and blockchain distributed ledgers are poised to radically alter how we act and interact going forward.
I hope the intimations of techno utopia are not a mirage. Are there things we should be doing to guide us into the light? It is really fascinating to listen to the debates about the meaning and implications of Wakanda, the fictional African utopia in the Black Panther movie and comics. Utopian ideals are well worth exploring and entertaining as they help guide us into a more spacious future.
As we confront the unintended consequences of social media platforms and cautionary specters of AI and automation driven unemployment, stagnation seems like a welcome plateau; a place where we could catch our breath. But that is not likely. This is more likely the slowest accelerated pace of innovation we will ever experience. It’s just going to get faster. Hold on to your seats!