This is an excerpt and conclusion from an article on The Prospect website, our post-postmodern, digital age. The author contends this includes making business social, social media merely a tool, hack/maker-spaces for cultural meaning, reassessing health of economies beyond the market; these are all institutions I'm involved in, which makes this article very interesting and something important to consider.
Certainly, the internet is the most postmodern thing on the planet. The immediate consequence in the west seems to have been to breed a generation more interested in social networking than social revolution. But, if we look behind that, we find a secondary reverse effect—a universal yearning for some kind of offline authenticity. We desire to be redeemed from the grossness of our consumption, the sham of our attitudinising, the teeming insecurities on which social networking sites were founded and now feed. We want to become reacquainted with the spellbinding narrative of expertise. If the problem for the postmodernists was that the modernists had been telling them what to do, then the problem for the present generation is the opposite: nobody has been telling us what to do.
If we tune in carefully, we can detect this growing desire for authenticity all around us. We can see it in the specificity of the local food movement or the repeated use of the word “proper” on gastropub menus. We can hear it in the use of the word “legend” as applied to anyone who has actually achieved something in the real world. (The elevation of real life to myth!) We can recognise it in advertising campaigns such as for Jack Daniel’s, which ache to portray not rebellion but authenticity. We can identify it in the way brands are trying to hold on to, or take up, an interest in ethics, or in a particular ethos. A culture of care is advertised and celebrated and cherished. Values are important once more: the values that the artist puts into the making of an object as well as the values that the consumer takes out of the object. And all of these striven-for values are separate to the naked commercial value.
Go deeper still and we can see a growing reverence and appreciation for the man or woman who can make objects well. We note a new celebration of meticulousness, such as in the way Steven Wessel makes his extraordinary handmade flutes out of stainless steel. We uncover a new emphasis on design through making in the hand-crafted work of the Raw Edges Design Studios, say, with their Self-Made collection, objects that are original, informed by personal stories and limited edition. Gradually we hear more and more affirmation for those who can render expertly, the sculptor who can sculpt, the ceramist, the jeweller, even the novelist who can actually write. Jonathan Franzen is the great example here: a novelist universally (and somewhat desperately) lauded, raised almost to the status of a universal redeemer, because he eschews the evasions of genre or historical fiction or postmodern narratorial strategies and instead tries to say something complex and intelligent and telling and authentic and well-written about his own time. It’s not just the story, after all, but how the story is told.
These three ideas, of specificity, of values and of authenticity, are at odds with postmodernism. We are entering a new age. Let’s call it the Age of Authenticism and see how we get on.