How Technology is Impacting Art and Culture

Last night I watched, PressPausePlay, a documentary that addresses how technology is impacting our culture and it’s art forms. The film primarily focuses on music, arguing that greater access to better technology is making it easy for anyone to create art. But, at what cost?

They interview a variety of thought-leaders and artists, including Seth Godin, Andrew Keen, Moby, Bill Drummond and a bunch more.

I have to say, author, Andrew Keen, as always, makes some startling but compelling points about the cultural dark age he believes we’re heading towards. Keen postulates that technology and social media are leading everyone to believe that they’re an artist of some sort. The result is a sea of mediocrity that obscures the ability of the limited number of truly talented individuals in this world to shine through, ultimately destroying our beloved art forms when the world eventually becomes accustomed to sub-part art.  Pretty ominous stuff.

However, I don’t agree with this.  My first thought is, how can more people creating, building and making things possibly have a negative outcome on our society? Art, when practiced diligently, can lead to self-actualization, a greater appreciation of life and an overall sense of purpose.

Furthermore, and perhaps more compelling, is that the democratization of art and culture should be more effective at bringing the high quality work to the surface, not less, as Keen argues in the film. Allow me to explain. No more than 15 years ago, record studios and the radio stations determined what music you got to hear. If you had adequate buying power, you could drop 15 bucks on a band’s CD. Now with sites like iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud and countless others, you can listen to tons of music for free without having to make a financial commitment of any kind.

Furthermore, all of these sites have sharing and rating functions, that enable you to voice your opinion about what constitutes good music. Rather than using record sales as a benchmark for quality, we use Views, Likes, Plays, and number of stars. On top of that, industry authorities, like Rolling Stone and Paste, for example, still hold influence over what gets attention. I still read their reviews and select what I’m going to listen to, partially, based on their critiques.  So, there’s still a hierarchy of influence out there. We’re not living in some chaotic flatland where everyone and everything has an equal voice.

Now, worth mentioning is that technological developments always come with positives and negatives. Take the automobile, for example. It opened up a world of possibility for the American consumer. However, it also created it’s own set of challenges, pollution and car-related fatalities, being examples.

The same is true with the development of social media, mobile and all other digital technologies. The result is that there’s a lot more noise, a lot more people talking and therefore a lot more we feel compelled to pay attention to. The cultural neurosis that I believe we’re seeing develop as a result, is a decreasing attention span. Fifty years ago when you listened to music, that’s all you did. Nowadays, few people simply lay down with their iPod and just listen to an album.  Instead we read, work, and skip from track to track, splitting our focus in countless different ways.

So, the real risk, at least as I see it, is that we may be losing this ability for prolonged focus and by extension our depth of understanding and appreciation of the music we listen to…which could then lead us back to a pervasive acceptance of mediocrity, but I’ll just stop there. Besides, this final point could lead us to a whole different discussion about the neurological and behavioral effects of the world wide web. So, let’s save that for another post.

In the meantime, go watch PressPausePlay.  You can watch the entire thing on YouTube, unless you love supporting artists. The film is a beautifully filmed documentary, loaded with the ideas of brilliant people and paints a delicate enough picture to allow you to formulate your own conclusion about where technology is leading art and culture.

[Thanks to Hanna S. for the inspiring discussion after the film!]



  1. Interesting stuff here.
    Access to the media makes everyone an artist. More or less. But an interesting thought.
    It is true that technology has made a lot of things more accessible to more people. People now know what is going on in this world. Not only in, let’s say, Afghanistan, but also in worlds like art, technology, etc. That is if the person is interested in it and ready to go and do some browsing and clicking. Internet is only continuing and widening what television has started decades ago. So, if thanks to this, more people think they are artists…isn’t that great! It’s also thanks to the global media that a lot more people CAN be artists, and don’t have to feel weird about it. Not long ago, being an artists, in some circles, was marginalised…

    Oh yes, the other side of it all! The backlash. Internet, technology and maybe some other culprits, yes television also, have been feeding us little bits of everything. Certainly not too much in one go. We have gotten used to it. I am sure youngsters are even happy when there’s a commercial coming on. It has all ended up in the inability to keep our head with something for more than…5 minutes.
    A push of a button, a click of the mouse, we can stop, change or pause whatever we are doing. Not to forget the skip button!
    Really, me myself, I try and like to cut me off from everything sometimes. Too read that book. To lie down on the carpet, my head between my oldfashioned loudspeakers, and listen to a cd.
    Or read this blogpost. And respond to it.

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