Cultural Snowballing Part 1: The Mass of it All

Sometimes strange events make you remember things you learned, but hadn’t thought of in a while. We have so much to remember anyway, that my brain just dumps most of the information from my head RAM anywhere I go. For example, I recognized the same horror in me and my former history teacher when we talked about how her students didn’t know who John Wayne was, or the time with my cartooning instructor when he was talking about people not knowing Humphrey Bogart. Those conversations make me remember something that I’ve already thought of and forgotten, coincidentally enough.

It’s no secret now that we have a lot more to remember. People in the past could’ve been quite smart but taken modern IQ tests and come off as borderline dead (this is also due to the inherent problems with IQ tests, i.e. Everything). They simply didn’t know the specific information needed to complete the extremely subjective, incorrectly built tests. Now we have to know much more than would’ve been expected of them.

Imagine if the Greek Philosophers had to’ve learned 2,000 years of history and literature before they could start their studies and writings. In the time of Shakespeare, most people didn’t need to remember more than was needed to grow their food. Now Shakespeare’s works are expected to be known by all.

And this is amplified by the fact that we don’t just remember politicians and scientists, but artists, and actors. And now we have the tools to remember them long after their deaths. In the last hundred years I’d wager we’ve doubled our sum cultural knowledge per person if not more.

It isn’t hard to see how this could be a burden, and as I said previously we’ve also started to see how some people deal with that burden, which is by not having it. People are starting to forget about the early-to mid-Twentieth century. No one who served in the first World War is even alive, and the number alive who served in the second World War is withering down. It’s not too hard to see how their culture might disappear with them.

Still, their culture’s presence is felt a lot more relatively than it would’ve been several hundred years ago, when there were no movie stars and top singers to keep track of. Though it seems three-quarters of a century is about as far back as current culture can take. People probably know the name Franz Ferdinand as a band more than a man whose death 100 years ago started one of the largest conflicts in history.

But what happens when all of the ages of history that is “relevant” either takes up as much space in our brains as pop culture and we start forgetting it, or we forsake current culture and let history lessons fill all of our brain? Either way, sometime in the future, someone’s gonna decide that 5,000 year old Cæsar (just isn’t relevant anymore and give him the cultural axe. But who’d replace him in the vernacular as the man who crossed the Rubicon or beat the worst odds? His Dictatorship has already been forgotten as the modern age has posthumously awarded him the title of Emperor (a title claimed by none of the 12 Cæsars).

To a person like me who really loves his history, this is a problem. But it’s not to other people. Really it’s just me wondering how future people like me (or a future me) will keep up with all of the historical and cultural growth in the world. When South America and Africa (and China if the world goes right) are just as relevant culturally in North America due to the internet as Europe and North America are today, things will get quite a bit harder to follow.

I’m already the kind of person who sits behind the times (I know a lot about the modern stuff, I just can’t afford (to get) it), I love older stuff, and seeing what the past was like. Historical books are virtually all of what I read, despite my library being mainly composed of super-interesting fiction (that sounded sarcastic but it wasn’t).

I’m not sure if there’s really a solution here, and many might not even consider this cultural snowballing a problem. In a few decades, we’ll have computers in our brains that’ll keep track of all of that for us anyway (please kill me when that happens). Even if we don’t, the majority of people are quite fine with forgetting about the culture of the past as quickly as they forgot about the algebra they learned in school (seriously, I need a formula chart right now and I got all A’s).

The real problem is that the culture is still stuck in an older mindset (culture of knowledge 1.3 currently installed: downloading update: update failed). People expect to have a certain knowledge of certain things, especially and unfortunately when it involves something that person is particularly interested in. Everyone knows how to shop for groceries, but not everyone needs to know about the specifics of your hobby, as some people expect you to (that’s an important thing to remember, by the way). If you start getting into something, let’s say some TV show (cartoon, live action, anime?), many people will scoff at you for your lack of full knowledge of every single detail of the new show you’re watching. These people are many times the faces of such fan groups and it’s their job to turn away people from what they view as an already overcrowded group. They might not say this is their job, and other people likely won’t say that, either, but that’s essentially their job. Their mindset, though, is left over from when everyone knew just about everything they needed to know, and someone who didn’t know either didn’t survive (most likely) or had some sort of problem (it doesn’t take the wellest of brains to plow a field). And the higher and lower classes, each of which had a different set of knowledge, didn’t associate with each other.

This is changing a bit, nowadays. Once-small social groups (comic book fans, board gamers, etc.) are having quite a large influx of people. Many of the middle-of-the-road people in those groups are arguing for some sort of understanding that these new people don’t know things and should be shown around, not forced to get out. The older, and more hard-core, sections of these groups might still disagree, but they are rapidly being phased out by the middle-of-the-road guys, who will become the older group soon.

It’s nice to see attitudes change like that, with the understanding that there is so much going on in the world that maybe these people just weren’t exposed to this until now. Or maybe something different is causing the change. I can’t be really sure.

Regardless, views on lack of knowledge in certain subjects is changing, often for the better. But this cultural snowballing and world interconnectedness might be having some different effects on the way people look at and process information.

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