Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Societal & Market Influences in Time and Postmodernity

          Dickens and Fontana, in their essay "Time and Postmodernism," begin by noting "analysts point to a radical alteration of the experience of time and space as signs of fundamental social transformation" (389). That is to say that as time goes on (pun intended), society altogether and individuals separately interpret and understand time in altered perspectives not only from one another (individually) but also separately from the past (as a society). What a single group from today experiences in aspects of time will be different than a similar group would experience even one year ago let alone 5, 10, or 20 years prior. And as time continues to move forward, these perspectives will shift just as dramatically and just as quickly. They continue, "...philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Edmund Husserl, and William James forumlated new conceptions of space and time that emphasized their persectival, even subjective character" (391). That is to say that even though these philosophers and sociologists named are laid the foundations for our modern psychology, philosophy, and sociology, they each experienced, perceived, and wrote about time in a different way that is fundamentally different but also wholly unique to their own interpretation. Even though time has been a subject of writing and societies for multiple millenia and has been a looming theme and element, there has never been one single unifying theory or understanding of time; while time has been infinite and "natural" (as natural as one can understand or perceive it), any usage or fragmentation of time (even thinking in concepts of seconds, minutes, or hours) in the way we understand time as "limited" or otherwise a resource is unnatural and manmade.

          Following an outline by Harvey and Jameson, Dickens and Fontana note, "it seems clear that technologically driven changes in contemporary postmodern society have radically intensified the acceleration of social life. Time in particular, in this view, has been all but eliminated in an age of instantaneous communication and ultraspeed transport." I think this is one of the most important note and aspect of the article in that it really hits on the understanding of "time-space compression" as noted by Harvey (240, qtd. 389). For a better understanding, I present an Plate 3.1 from Harvey's work:
I understand the necessity in not providing the image in their (Dickens and Fontana) essay as a means to save space (by quoting and referencing), but I find that the image is absolutely necessary in truly understanding what Harvey means by "time-space compression" (240-1). We can see visually the idea of time-space compression. From 1500-1840, the average speed across the globe was 10 miles per hour (which includes the invention of the naval chronometer in 1737 that served as a great asset for naval coordination, greatly improved over solely using navigational charts and maps). In 1850, however, the invention of the steam powered ship and locomotive increased travel speed across the world by three and six times. Within one hundred years, that speed was increased nearly five times more commercially, and within another 10 years, that speed is increased nearly two fold once more. This shows just how remarkably and rapidly technology evolves as time progresses, evolving faster and faster as time goes on (from 1500 to 1850 [350 years], 1850 to 1930 [80 years], and then 1960s [30 years]). To put it further into perspective, it took longer to go from the first successful steam ship (1807) to first successful flight (1903, 96 years total) than it took to go from first successful flight to the first man in outer space (1903 to 1961, 78 years later, by Yuri Gagarin). In similar regard, Dickens and Fontana go on later to quote Jameson, "I think it is at least empirically arguable that our daily life, our psychic experience, our cultural language, are today dominated by categories of space rather than by categories of time" (393-4). This is fundamentally true in society today. Because of the global information age and advancement in technology, the concept of "time" has become nothing more than a commodity whereas our space is what is the limiting factor (which can be circumvented in many cases). We can communicate anywhere in the world at near instant speed through email, text, or even video conferencing (an example of how space can be circumvented). Documents and projects can be worked on simultaneously by two people at opposite points in the world.
          But as Dickens and Fontana quote Harvey, time becomes a commodity based on the "emphasis on instantaneity and disposability of products... but also on values, behavior, and relationships to other people and places" (392). This is an interesting concept to think about. By thinking of time as nothing but a commodity, something to be bought and sold and used and wasted, the idea of space becomes the operating and limiting factor in ones' life. What difference is one hour outside in Illinois today compared to one hour outside in California? About 34 degrees fahrenheit. One hour is still one hour, regardless of which location you choose to spend it in. Hell, you could even choose to fly from Chicago to Los Angeles in 4 hours (only losing 2 hours with time zone differences) and spend that hour there with little "loss" of your time commodity. For most people, it is more of an impact on their economy to fly across the country or world than their time or even their space.
          But with this idea of commodification of time causes shifts in our culture and society. This effect is noticed explicitly in that of popular culture and media, such as in what Jameson calls "nostalgia films" (393) or what Harvey describes as "a shift away from the consumption of goods and into the consumption of services... into entertainments, spectacles, happenings, and distractions" (285). This is specifically applicable to the concept of Walter Benjamin's work "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." According to Benjamin, mechanical reproduction allows a shift in economic perspective and consumption of art (and, later on, in all mass produced consumer works). At first, an "original" painting was inherently valuable in respect to the author (such as the Mona Lisa). One would have to visit the museum to see the work of art. But in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, there can be an infinite number of reproductions of the Mona Lisa that would be near indistinguishable to the original (either physically or, now, digitally). According to Benjamin, this ability to produce an indistinguishable replica should cause the inherent value of the original to plummet. But what happens instead is that the reproductions are considered just that--reproductions; the original then becomes invaluable or priceless. The same goes with any modern event or work, literary or otherwise. For example, Harvey notes "experiences" as one of the ways time can be "consumed," such as rock concerts. One can listen to the same song at near perfect quality, a quality and quantity that is produced infinitely in the digital age. One could even watch a copy of a live performance (also infinitely digitally reproduced) for a little more entertainment. But one can instead see the band live; although the "quality" of the song may not be to perfection (in terms of sound quality, levels, etc.), it is the experience that is being sold. 
          The experience becomes exponentially more "valuable" than the work that is easily digitally reproduced. Films and literature are in no way different with this phenomenon. Early prints of novels were done in smaller, limited print runs or "first editions." These first editions, although often nearly identical to that of a limitless digital supply or exponentially produced supply afterward, become inherently more valuable simply due to the significance of scarcity. Although a first edition and tenth edition may vary in no way (although the likelihood is there is some difference), the first edition will almost certainly be worth much more (especially if the book is popular). For example, Amazon currently sells Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for about $10 for a basic paperback (or about $17 for a library bound copy) whereas a first edition printing will cost upwards of $3,350 and a signed first edition being worth upwards of $25,000. This also leads to rapidly changing shifts in markets for literature, including that of the film industry. One such example is the rapidly evolving industry of superhero films in the recent decades. Superheroes were a mainstay in American culture since the 1930s with the introduction of Superman in 1938. But it wasn't until the late 1960s that comic-based superheroes such as Batman and Superman began taking off (with the Batman film releasing in 1966). From 1966 onward (to 2020, the most recently announced films), there has been just over 180 American live-action superhero films released or in production. But out of those 180, over 100 of those films have only been since the year 2000 with the box office release of X-Men. Since 2000, there have been over 60 films based on Marvel Comics alone. This goes hand-in-hand with Harvey's original concept of time-space compression and the resulting effects on society. In 34 years, from 1966 to 2000, less than approximately 75 superhero-based films were released, but in less than 20 years, over 100 more have been released simply due to market demands and fervor. And out of those 41 of those released after the year 2000 have been since the year 2010. The latest example of this market shift is the recent release of Deadpool, which has subsequently toppled the Rated R record for opening weekends with over $130 million in revenue (over the previous $90 million weekend held by The Matrix Reloaded set 13 years earlier), further showing just how little time it takes for a market's focus to shift and dominate.

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