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Gelernter on the Internet's Future

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9:00 AM, Mar 9, 2010 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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Don't miss contributing editor David Gelernter's thoughts on the future of the Internet. A lot is going on in his 35-paragraph essay, but I was struck by this observation in particular:

Nowness is one of the most important cultural phenomena of the modern age: the western world's attention shifted gradually from the deep but narrow domain of one family or village and its history to the (broader but shallower) domains of the larger community, the nation, the world. The cult of celebrity, the importance of opinion polls, the decline in the teaching and learning of history, the uniformity of opinions and attitudes in academia and other educated elites — they are all part of one phenomenon. Nowness ignores all other moments but this. In the ultimate Internet culture, flooded in nowness like a piazza flooded in sea water, drenched in a tropical downpour of nowness, everyone talks alike, dresses alike, thinks alike.

This is exactly how I felt during the hour or so I spent watching the Oscars on Sunday. Hollywood seemed so small. Not geographically or financially. But in terms of cultural hegemony. The only real "star" on the scene -- in the sense that Cary Grant or Bette Davis were "stars" -- was Meryl Streep. And she lost. Of the nominees for Best Picture, Avatar was the only cultural experience in which the entire world participated. It lost, too.

Our field of vision narrows as we focus on what's happening now. Which is why I doubt the Oscars will exist in forty years. By then the nature of entertainment will change so quickly, fame will be distributed so randomly, film will be so globalized and so easy to make, that even this most self-congratulatory of industries will have trouble finding reasons to produce a three-and-a-half hour network television awards program. And if the show does go on, it will resemble the Tony Awards -- a niche event for a forgotten industry that no one ever watches.

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