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Lynn, sorry....she was 87.

Stuart: My dream was different. I was in a bright set of rooms, outside a modern kitchen and in the vestibule of a living room, in which a couple of others were talking. The light outside flickered and then turned midnight-dark. I said, "Is it the eclipse?" “It’s not the right date,” was the answer. Then I realized it was a foreshadowing of a nuclear blast, and I felt a great horror; I dove for the ground. It hit a moment later, the building collapsed, and I died.

After a gap, a new dream occurred, in which I was in a similar set of rooms, but in a neighborhood somewhat like Queens. I learned that the blast had only affected a dozen blocks, and had been set off by a troubled teen or young man. (Sort of like the Mad Gasser.)

The Whole Earth Catalog itself went defunct over a decade ago. Wikipedia has an enormous entry on it here:

"Stuart: My dream was different."

Roger, thats a shame. (or,...maybe not?)
It's interesting that you dreamt of your death? I've never had a dream of actually dying. Did it wake you from your sleep?
Thanks for the info.

Stuart: I had a second dream in which the first dream was in effect revised or dismissed, and the blast damage was limited to a dozen blocks in Queens, as I mentioned. I woke up shortly thereafter.

MP wrote, "it’s said that middle-class affluence simply has less to offer us than it once did. But this seems to be a case of looking at the past through rose-colored glasses." He cited some upward-trending statistics, and did the same analysis on social problems then and now.

Now here's a relevant link, a skeptical take (mostly via David Runciman, a political scientist) on "the New Optimists" (Matt Ridley, for example). It's "Is the world really better than ever?" by Oliver Burkeman, in the Guardian at:

Part of its critique is that we (society, the West) could have done better, by the author, which isn't too convincing; and part is that things are now more fragile, mostly because more interconnected. I'm just mentioning this as a FYI, not endorsing it, although I'm a catastrophist in the Robinson Jeffers vein myself.

This is a really great post, and there have been some excellent comments as well.

Re the rewiring issue itself, you cited literacy as a past change that may have initiated "rewiring" (whatever that may be--more on that in a sec), and the Internet may be a new one. I think that's correct, but what's different this time is that the Internet comes right on the heels of a bunch of different technologies that become prominent within just the past few generations: audio recording, movies, radio, and television. There is a significant chunk of the population alive today that remembers getting their first TV in the 1950s. Then, just a few decades later, the Internet comes. Thus, I think it's hard to understand exactly what effect the Internet has had when TV itself is still fairly new.

So, what is the nature of the "rewiring"? One thing I think is important to recognize is that we are stimulated by technology on an almost constant basis at a level that was rare until movies came along in the 1890s. And that has only accelerated since. I think we are now truly above the capacity of the average human, certainly above what leads to happiness, but the stimulation is now baked into work as well: email, etc.

Moreover, we have gone in my lifetime from a world in which we craved content (i.e., demand exceeded supply) to when in which we are completely saturated with it.

I see the Internet as a vastly more efficient delivery system for what we already had in the past, that is, social interaction and content. As for other big technologies that have come along in my lifetime, I guess I would cite video games, personal computers, and cell phones (which are really just a more convenient phone).

2. Re looking at the past through rose-colored glasses.

I think the key truth with which to address this point is this: Human happiness is tied more to things getting better than to things being at an acceptable level. The man on death row who has his sentence commuted to life in prison is the happiest man in the world, even though he's in prison. The man sitting on his couch watching TV is not in prison, he's doing better than the pardoned man who is, yet he doesn't feel better than the pardoned man.

We have gone from a world of things constantly getting better, of periodic relief from dangers (defeating the Axis, inventing a polio vaccine, etc.) to one that is more steady-state without a lot of upside potential for the average person. In the 90s we had the thrill of the Internet coming into being and cell phones appearing. The iPhone came along in 2007, completing our journey toward maximum stimulation. It's 10 years later, and we've been through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and nothing really new, cool, or happiness-inducing is on the horizon.

There's a lot of other stuff that could be cited that add to the malaise. If you had a college degree in the 1970s, you could get a job pretty much by waking up in the morning and rolling over. It was a major achievement that meant something. Now, kids get out of college and it doesn't mean something big and positive, only less negative than if they didn't have it. And, really, that was already true when I graduated in 1992; it's only more so today.

If you are a creative person, things are bleak. The value of the record industry was cut in half between 1998 and 2014. Michael, you know better than I, but for authors of fiction the midlist has evaporated, meaning that it's blockbusters or nothing these days. Publishing houses do not develop writers and provide virtually no support, editorial or other, to the writers they do publish. I self-pubbed a non-fiction book after studying that side of the industry. Allow me to summarize by saying that it's a total joke. Publishers only want to publish books by celebrities, major business leaders, etc., who virtually guarantee sales, and 5,000 copies sold is considered good.

We have lost entire categories of fame in our culture. We don't have famous poets or composers any more. Those canons are closed. Artists? Not really, not as Picasso and Dali were once famous, seen as major cultural forces. Writers of blockbuster fiction are limited in number, and many achieved their fame decades ago. People who write "serious" fiction are largely unknown to general population. One can become a famous musician, but that industry continues to shrink. Otherwise, movies and TV are the last outposts of renown.

Michael, you chose the year of 1972 as jumping-off point. I think that's really a good choice of turning point, though I see things slightly differently. We moved into our second house in 1973, the first house I really remember. I live close to it now, and it's on the way to many places I drive, and I actually went through that old cul-de-sac today. It is eerily similar to how it looked in 1978, when we left. Aside from taller trees and new paint colors on some but not all of the houses, it is exactly the same.

And I think that in, say, 1977, we had most of the accoutrements of life 40 years later. We had a house that is still considered fairly modern by today's standards (two-car garage, etc.), all the major appliances (including a microwave), and even cable TV (yeah, it was available quite early in Indy). No video player, no computer, no cell phone, and no Internet. Yet we got our first video game system in 1980 and first computer in 1985. By 1987, my mom had a car phone, and my dad was going online with Prodigy.

I think a lot of changes have occurred since 1972, but they simply haven't as big as things like telephones, recorded music, movies, cars and airplanes appearing. We've had at least 10, arguably 20 years in which change has been incremental at best, and in some ways we've gone backward. For example, after the Concorde crashed and burned in 2000, supersonic commercial flight has ceased to exist, and it will not appear again until we have space planes or something quite far down the road.

As for why our politics have become more divisive, I think a lot of that comes down to people doing their jobs better, and this is true across the board, in all industries.

For example, if you listen to the Top 40 countdown with Casey Kasem from the late 70s (which I have done in the past few years thanks to Sirius XM), there was an incredible variety of songs. You have Barry Manilow next to disco next to rock and so on. Similarly, TV shows tended to appeal to a wide audience.

Over time, people found they could make money by appealing to smaller and smaller niches, subcultures, etc. So we ended up with things like Rush Limbaugh, Howard Stern, etc. Sure, it wasn't totally new: there was Father Coughlin in the 1940s (though he was a major radio personality and not really sold as "niche").

Marketers just got better at selling and selling, and politicians got better at selling themselves in a more aggressive manner as well. I don't want to say it's all a grift--but it's all a grift. Now any ecological niche on the right and left can and will be filled. On my own side, the Left, we've seen the rise of the SJWs who are happy to have things be bad, since they are selling their griping about everything bad, no matter how minor. It isn't about solutions, it's about grievances. And on the right you have the alt-right. Nuff said about that.

Through this all into a world hyper-connected by the Internet, and it's hardly surprising that it's blown up in a highly malignant way.

So the malaise is real. People thrive in an environment in which things are moving forward, and they get down when things seem to be standing still. The late 90s were a time of seeming abundance, and life was fun. Then we had 9/11, followed by economic disaster and political stagnation. It's not the worst of all worlds: that was in the 1940s when over 50 million people were dying in WWII and in Nazi concentration camps. But we are living in a time in which the future is opaque and there are no big positive trends to inspire us.

I wrote a lot but then failed to describe what I think the trend of the rewiring is.

I think it's about two main things: stimulation overwhelming our ability to process and going from a demand-based culture for interaction and content to a supply-based culture for these things.

Star Wars was such a huge blockbuster in 1977 because, yes, it was a good movie but also because very few movies of its type existed at the time. Big budget, color space adventures were limited to Forbidden Planet (1956) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Heck, there were only a handful of big-budget, color sci-fi movies of any type (Logan's Run, anyone?). I remember that content-craved world. We kids would run in from playing outside to see Willy Wonka and The Wizard of Oz when they played on TV once a year. The Wonderful World of Disney was thrilling once-a-week viewing.

Even then, however, people were worried about how TV was affecting kids. Justifiably so. There was *not* good content on 24/7 for kids at that time. If you were home sick from school, it was a real struggle trying to find anything to watch after a few morning kids shows. I remember trying to figure out what Love American Style was all about. A lot of TV in the evening was geared to adults as well, and it all ended in a test pattern and static at night. Even so, I gorged myself on junky 70s and 80s TV.

Now, of course, kids can watch YouTube videos all day long. There are an infinity of online games. One need never be bored again. Once in awhile, there will a holiday weekend and very little content on my favorite sites (which are surprisingly few in number), and I think, "I'm a little bit bored! This is awesome!"

So I guess that covers content. Then there is social interaction. One can have it 24/7 on Facebook and elsewhere. One can do online dating. One can find a ton of IRL events to attend. Being interconnected is great, but it is overwhelming. For me, not so much in the sense that people are constantly pestering me, but that I don't feel I have the time to give each friend what s/he really deserves.

Do I have an insight to tie this all together? I do! And it is this: people deal with oversupply by becoming jerks.

Example: If you have an important position to fill in your company, and you can't find any candidates, you treasure each resume that comes in, overlook minor formatting and spelling errors, and try to see the best in each person. OTOH, if the resumes are flooding in, you apply arbitrary filters (must have 25 years' experience!) and contumeliously toss resumes into the "circular file."

In a demand-based culture (or part of a wider culture), people in an industry tend to be mutually supportive. Contrary to the movie Amadeus, Mozart was not an a-hole to his fellow composers or dismissive of their work. He even collaborated with Salieri, his supposed nemesis. He and Haydn had a wonderful, ego-free relationship. Mozart praised the string quartets of Pleyel in a letter to his father, and he played in a string quartet with Haydn, Vanhal (underrated!), and Dittersdorf. Their type of music was greatly in demand, and they had no reason to knock each other down.

A similar thing can be seen with craft beer these days. One thing you'll see in a lot of breweries is stickers on the walls from other breweries. Most breweries have guest taps from other breweries. And so on. It's not cutthroat but rather the opposite.

But when a culture becomes supply-based, it gets nasty, like the above-mentioned circular file. When content is overly abundant, it gets devalued and is seen as disposable. When social interaction becomes too easy, people get snarky and put up filters. (Thus the classic transformation of someone who becomes famous, who has to go from selling him/herself to pushing away all the people who want a piece of him/her.)

I find myself having to stop myself from doing this at times. Instead of neutrally assessing all the things flying at me, I find myself wanting to put up a filter of dismissiveness: it's just easier.

Note that I do *not* think that people are nastier out and about on the streets and whatnot. Rather, I think they tend to channel their aggressive and antisocial tendencies (exacerbated by the oversupply situation) into online interactions, especially anonymous ones.

Though it can be more complicated than that. When I first started playing online chess in 1998, people could be comically nasty. A few years later, a lot of people had seemed to get it out of their system and the insults were much fewer. So there may be a kind of numbing effect going on as well.

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