The Age of Opinion

In previous blog posts, I had categorized our present age variously as the age of fear, the age of personality, the age of the artist and now I am going to add a fourth: the age of opinion.

We have always had opinions but many of us have not been able to express them in past eras. This was for many reasons: some of our predecessors could not articulate opinions due to a lack of education and a lack of access to channels or communication tools; some of us were censured for our opinions with punishments as harsh as jail or death; some of us preferred to keep our opinions to ourselves as it was culturally more acceptable.

Then social media dawned and made it all possible, and in some instances, mandatory; we had to have a public persona. Everyone had to know everything about us. “Just Google him!” became a standard. It was professional suicide if a person who actively pursued a profession that dealt with the public—like a writer, for instance—was told that he could not be found on the Internet. And this led to people wanting to know what you stood for: “Take a stand, man. Show us your beliefs, principles, ideas, life stories and family pictures. We want to know that you are a living, breathing thing out there.” And on the employment field, “If you want a job with us, we wanna know all about you before you even step in for an interview. Oh, and if we don’t like what you’ve posted in cyberspace, don’t be surprised if we suddenly cancel that interview on you. Forget resumes and references, just your online persona will give us clues on whether you will be a fit with us.” It was as if job ads had a subliminal qualifier: “Strong silent types need not apply.” Thus, after all this information was uploaded, there was only one step left: gravitate towards being a full•fledged Online Opinionator. Why not?

And so we have opinions on everything: what we eat, where we vacation, what we read, what we buy, who we date. And we love to offer opinions. People do not make a purchase based solely on advertizing any more—no, we need everyone’s thoughts on it as well. Oh, you poor ad companies, you that fuelled and funded those start•up social media sites, did you think that matters would come to this pass?

One thing that all this opining helps with is in choosing your friends more easily. If everyone is wearing their hearts on their sleeves these days, or, more aptly, flashing their opinions on their Facebook pages, it’s easy to know where you stand relative to the other. Perhaps the entry point to person•to•person friendships in future will be a virtual one at first. Perhaps Facebook will invent new signs to follow their ubiquitous “like” and “comment,” buttons, like “Let’s Meet for Coffee” followed by “You passed, now you can phone me” or “You failed, bozo.”

Not sure where this will end. Maybe we will drown in our opinions and start regurgitating them (there are only a finite number of opinions one can have, surely. I am fast running out of my supply). Friends will tune out, and it will become harder for corporations to find employees who fit squarely into their boxes. I see more buttons for Facebook: “no opinions, please” and “opinionated out.” “Gimme the facts, man” will be back in style. Perhaps those job ads will change their qualifying line to, “Only strong silent types without a Facebook page need apply.”

And so the world will go around and another age will surely dawn upon us.

Changing Careers

Having had many careers, all of which eventually ended, I contemplated the evolution of careers and our helpless gravitation towards them.

From the days of Ancient Egypt to the middle of the last century it was fashionable for men to take up careers as soldiers. Some of my ancestors were soldiers. Some career soldiers even did it without loyalty to king and country but with their eyes on money and spoils instead; they were called mercenaries, or in today’s parlance, contract killers. Their not•so•bloodthirsty compatriots joined the clergy and found food, shelter, and power in exchange for commitments of celibacy, 24/7 availability, and piety. Some of my ancestors were clergy too. These were two very solid professions that endured for very long – until recently.

WWII cured our attraction to war and put an end to the mass conscription of soldiers, and, except in a few countries, soldiering in peacetime became just another job. Oh yes, a few strategically placed wars are still being ignited in a handful of non•strategic countries just to keep the arms industry and the armed forces in maintenance mode – but that is all. The clergy paled too, when its ranks (especially the male ranks) got tired of the sacrifice they were being asked to make by working long hours for less than minimum wage without the benefits of family to divert their focus from God’s work; and its power eroded too because a few weaker members decided to obey the demands of their loins instead of their souls and got caught in the act.

The 20th century saw the emergence of the business executive in America, exemplified by that instantly recognizable designation – MBA. In the middle of the last century, the MBA went international, and the pursuit of money and material status became paramount in the post•war boom, overriding those past pop career occupations of killing humans or saving souls. I joined this race too. But by the time the 21st century dawned, the shine had gone out of business. The stock market had imploded periodically on its greed, several times over, and its largest convulsion in the fall of 2008 has made us all debtors for decades to come. Another age was being called for.

I’m calling this present one the Age of the Artist. Technology has helped musicians, writers, DIY TV producers, painters and other creators to churn out truckloads of expression, and they are no longer fettered by gatekeepers who make art the preserve of a few. Now we have better videos on You Tube (short, attention•grabbing and graphic – making their producers celebrities within minutes); books pouring out of everyone living long enough to have a story to tell and a day job to pay the bills (which includes people like me); free digital music from musicians who manage to scrounge the money to produce a handful of songs, put them up on ITunes, and then go off on concert tour – we live in a state of artsy abundance, indeed. This age too will wear out on its excess, I think, when the law of diminishing returns starts to take hold, if it hasn’t already.

I wonder what careers in the next age, the Age of Responsibility, will be like. An age of green living, of cleaning up the excesses of the past, of living on pesticide•free home•grown vegetables, of three meals a day taken at the proper times, of strong family values and spirituality that is not organized and politicized; an age when careers will matter only if they transition us towards wisdom. Sounds boring, eh, to some of us diehards who cling to the dying Ages of Excess? Broccoli for breakfast – ugh! Or would this be the signal that we have finally come full circle since that departure in Ancient Egypt, like the exiles returning home to their Promised Land and to the way of life that their Good Book had always instructed them to live by? Would the word “Career” even exist in this new age?