Category Archives: Trends

Is this generation “manly” enough?

In fact, I want to tell the modern man that he doesn’t have to look like a gold rush-era carnival worker or brew his own micro whatever to be considered a man in my eyes. No, it’s way easier than that. How about being a good guy, a good person. Just be honest, kind, tolerant, open, intrepid, self-aware, inquisitive, etc. — you know, all the things that have made our greatest men (and greatest anyone) great when we boil it down. Do these things and help others do them too, and you’re a real man as far as I’m concerned.

-LAWRENCE SCHLOSSMAN in response to NYTimes question “Are Modern Men Manly Enough?”

The New Art Of (Online) Conversation

It is common knowledge that younger generations are talking on their phones less. They text tremendously. The question is whether this is good or bad. Does it handicap real, meaningful conversation? Is it allowing multiple conversations at once, thus just an example of technology allowing more efficiency?

My latest theory is that it allows a weird sense of a never ending conversation. Think about those Facebook messages, which don’t have distinct separations, and look more like an IM chat. Same with threaded email in gmail and other clients. You don’t feel like you need to respond immediately, and you may not get a response immediately, but you feel like you are always available and connected. This from Huffington Post:

“But I don’t communicate much with older people. So much of my life is set up over text,” says Auster-Gussman, who sends and receives an average of about 6,000 text messages a month.

Many are done as “group texts,” sharing messages among eight college friends who live in the same building. The interactions are nothing more than you’d say in a casual conversation, Auster-Gussman says – but they are constant when they’re not together.

Recently, for instance, she went to a movie and came out to find 50 text messages waiting for her on her phone.

Meanwhile, last summer, when she was away from her boyfriend, she went days without talking to him on the phone, but texted with him several times a day.

“You’re not even really talking to him,” she remembers her perplexed father saying.

“But I felt like I was talking to him all day, every day,” Auster-Gussman says.

Cultural Stagnation

Kurt Anderson wrote an article in Vanity Fair where he makes the claim that our culture is stuck.

For most of the last century, America’s cultural landscape—its fashion, art, music, design, entertainment—changed dramatically every 20 years or so. But these days, even as technological and scientific leaps have continued to revolutionize life, popular style has been stuck on repeat, consuming the past instead of creating the new.

As an aside – if you want to hear a great discussion of this article there is a podcast episode of the Slate Cultural Gabfest that inspired my article. In fact, they publish weekly, and I greatly endorse adding it to your podcast queue.

He points to styles, and how if you think of the 50s to 60s to 70s to the 80s you could easily pick out what decade they were in. But between the 90s and today it would be harder. He makes the obvious musical reference of the year – pointing out how Lady Gaga is simply warmed over Madonna. He even points out that after the rise of hip hop, no big musical swing has taken its place.

Make a couple arguments for why this is. Perhaps we have simply reached the pinnacle of design in many cases. Cars haven’t changed that much in design, but under the hood the technology is moving quickly. So while the appearance is stagnant, the workings change, but I suppose that isn’t culture.

Or, we have the ability now to portray our past and explore decades and the style of history like never before with costuming and technology. This might cause us to not look forward and instead gaze longingly backwards.

Why is this happening? In some large measure, I think, it’s an unconscious collective reaction to all the profound nonstop newness we’re experiencing on the tech and geopolitical and economic fronts. People have a limited capacity to embrace flux and strangeness and dissatisfaction, and right now we’re maxed out. So as the Web and artificially intelligent smartphones and the rise of China and 9/11 and the winners-take-all American economy and the Great Recession disrupt and transform our lives and hopes and dreams, we are clinging as never before to the familiar in matters of style and culture.

However, I tend to focus on an idea that he only gives short service to – one small line in the second to last paragraph.

And yet, on the other hand, for the first time, anyone anywhere with any arcane cultural taste can now indulge it easily and fully online, clicking themselves deep into whatever curious little niche (punk bossa nova, Nigerian noir cinema, pre-war Hummel figurines) they wish. Americans: quirky, independent individualists!

He dismisses technology almost wholesale. However, with the internet and shifting to new forms of media, we can connect with new people that we weren’t able to before. You might be the only fan of some certain band in your group of friend (and good for you!). Or, you might be the only emo kid in your town. However, through social networks you can find a whole community of people out there who share your passion.

This allows us to appreciate our own preferences, and not adapt to a greater “mass zeitgeist” of what is cool. My theory is this: You can’t imagine a national cultural concept because we are too fractured now. There isn’t one cool thing to listen to, or one cool way to dress. There are niches that are appreciated by small pockets. It isn’t that we stagnated, its that we branched out and became unique.

Subtle Signs of Luxury

I’ve written about this before, but I’m writing about it again because I am particularly fascinated by this topic. Slate has an article up about how during the recession the most wealthy are focusing on more quiet signals of luxury. Instead of flamboyant branding and logos, more subtle designs and a distinct lack of branding is popular. No reason to eschew the high priced goods, just don’t flaunt them.

In a last-ditch attempt to escape the guillotine, the top 1 percent are resorting to ever more devious tactics. First and foremost, they have adopted a bizarrely nondescript way of dressing: It’s spare simplicity with foncy labels; it’s a white gold Rolex that resembles a plain old tin Timex; it’s L.L.Bean-style basics with haute-couture prices. Simply put: The 1 percent are occupying Hermès (the luxury retailer most synonymous with understated extravagance).

This breathy, low-key mode of camouflage is described by its proponents as “quiet luxury.” It speaks in a modulated voice, and only to fellow Quiet Luxurians. It’s an Upper East Side/Mayfair/Palm Beach kind of a thing. It’s not a Gowanus Canal kind of a thing, or, God forbid, a Zuccotti Park thing. No Zuccotti denizen would be capable of decoding the subtle nuances of this particular style. That’s how deathly quiet it is.

Last week I clocked a Quiet Luxurian boarding a plane for Florida the day before Thanksgiving. To the untrained eye, her sensible and discreetly accessorized slacks ‘n’ sweater ensemble rendered her all but invisible. Her monochromatic, tawny, fawny outfit was severely ascetic and suggested a raging antipathy toward self-indulgent glamour. And yet… My estimate of the total cost of her outfit, including T. Anthony nylon tote,Hermès purse, Tod’s drivers, and gold bangle? A quiet 25 grand.

I noticed this even back in college. But back in the middle 200s it wasn’t trying to blend in. No, pre-recession it was about trying to separate the truly wealthy from the newly rich.

People with more cultural capital in a particular domain prefer subtle signals because they provide differentiation from the mainstream. Such insiders have the necessary connoisseurship to decode the meaning of subtle signals that facilitate communication with others “in the know.”

Different motives, same method.

Manufacturing Meaning

No doubt you have seen your friends posting photos on various picture sharing sites that look like they were taken with an old 70s camera, or a polaroid. But you were in the photo. You know they used their iphone to take that picture. What’s the deal?

Due to the popularity of smartphones, there has been an explosion of “faux-vintage” apps that apply a filter to pictures you taken and make your normal looking photographs look vintage. I have commented several times how much I loathe these fake photos. We all are very interested in how many megapixels our cameras and cameraphones have so that we can get crisp, true, vivid images. Then we run them through filters so they look crummy. Beyond that simple gripe, it also seems to me there was something desperate about trying to make our pictures look interesting, maybe because we felt they weren’t important or interesting enough on their own.

A dissertation essay (stay with me – its really cool, I wish my dissertation was half as interesting as this) discusses the phenomenon of Faux-Vintage Photography and tries to examine why these apps are so popular.

The author comes up with two theories, but equally intriguing.

Grasping for Authenticity

What I want to argue is that the rise of the faux-vintage photo is an attempt to create a sort of “nostalgia for the present,” an attempt to make our photos seem more important, substantial and real. We want to endow the powerful feelings associated with nostalgia to our lives in the present. And, ultimately, all of this goes well beyond the faux-vintage photo; the momentary popularity of the Hipstamatic-style photo serves to highlight the larger trend of our viewing the present as increasingly a potentially documented past.

He argues that technology has made taking pictures and cataloging our daily lives with photos has become easier than ever. I am willing to bet you have a camera within 3 feet of you right now. Therefore, because it is so easy to take pictures, especially compared to the past, we have a desire to make our photos stand out. We can do this by adding these vintage filters. For one, it changes the image from just the normal static image you see in most pose-smile-click photos. Second, it make the photos look like those old style pictures. The kind you had to take to a photo shop and wait an hour to develop. You only took photos of important things, because you had film that ran out. And you had to go pay to get it developed. We are trying to impart that same importance to our largely disposable pictures.

I submit that we have chosen to create and view faux-vintage photos because they seem more authentic and real. One does not need to be consciously aware of this when choosing the filter, hitting the “like” button on Facebook or reblogging on Tumblr. We have associated authenticity with the style of a vintage photo because, previously, vintage photos wereactually vintage. They stood the test of time, they described a world past, and, as such, they earned a sense of importance.

The two problems with this are that, of course, they aren’t authentic. They are imitating authenticity. They are, like the author writes, like those 50s style diners that crop up in suburbs now. An imitation of a bygone era, trying to briefly grasp a cherished time in a way that is too self aware.

Nostalgia for the Present

His other argument is a bit wider in its implications. He describes how as a society, we are constantly cataloging our lives, not really living them anymore. I am guilty of this myself. Instead of enjoying a moment, a sunset, a good meal, a concert – we take a picture, or check in, or tweet it, or record it.

The rise of faux-vintage photography demonstrates a point that can be extrapolated to documentation on social media writ large: social media users have become always aware of the present as a potential document to be consumed by others. Facebook fixates the present as always a future past. Be it through status updates on Twitter, geographical check-ins on Foursquare, reviews on Yelp, those Instagram photos or all of the other self-documentation possibilities afforded to us by Facebook, we view our world more than ever before through what I like to call “documentary vision.”

Documentary vision is kind of like the “camera eye” photographers develop when, after taking many photos, they begin to see the world as always a potential photo even when not holding the camera at all. The habit of the photographer involuntarily framing and composing the world has become a metaphor for those trained to document using social media. The explosion of ubiquitous self-documentation possibilities, and the audience for our documents that social media promises, has positioned us to live life in the present with the constant awareness of how it will be perceived as having already happened. We come to see what we do as always a potential document, imploding the present with the past, and ultimately making us nostalgic for the here and now.

The faux-vintage app helps us to reclaim a bit of this. It reminds us of the analog limitations of life. It makes things imperfect.

His closing is an especially interesting point – and is often the crest and downfall of all trends. Eventually those things that make us “different” and “cool” become mainstream. Enough people have them, and you no longer are set apart, but a part of the crowd.

Most damming for Hipstamatic and Instagram is that these apps tend to make everyone’s photos look similar. In an attempt to make oneself look distinct and special through the application of vintage-producing filters, we are trending towards photos that look the same. The Hipstamatic photo was new and interesting, is currently a fad, and it will come to (or, already has?) look too posed, too obvious, and trying too hard (especially if the parents of the current users start to post faux-vintage photos themselves).

Do you use these apps, such as Instagram or Hipstamatic? Why do you use them?