I remember when I was twelve years old. I had two Alternative Press magazines and a Hit Parader I got from The Kilo Book Shop. They taught me all I needed to know about the world – KoRn is awesome. Marilyn Manson is scary (but awesome). Metallica T-Shirts are awesome.
That was all the cultural knowledge I needed. I had watched Wayne’s World a few years earlier and I had an older cousin who taught me that Soundgarden – Superunkown is still one of the best albums ever (despite Black Hole Sun). Those tiny black and white T-Shirts in the mail order section at the back of the magazines were all the fashion advice I needed. Those three magazines were my most prized cultural artefacts.
Playing Quake and listening to Marilyn Manson was good enough for me. I did it for weeks. My favourite albums were on rotation again and again and again. I listened to the same KoRn song getting dressed for school for what feels like a year. At the time, I was closing in on twenty CDs. I was rolling in it. All of this cultural knowledge, all 150 pages and 20 CDs of it, was enough to feel a tacit connection with other disenfranchised-feeling young teens wearing NIN T-Shirts at the local craft market. Yin-Yangs were awesome. They were all you needed to show to get in the club. Not that my club existed of anyone other than myself, dreaming of true American teenage misery.
And then the Internet came along. And we got IRC. And the most interesting question we could ask anyone was a/s/l? And as the Internet, masturbating iron fist in a velvet glove that it is, took over – we expected more and more. Where before it was enough to watch the girls through the fence and hope one of them would do a cartwheel, revealing their sensible cotton briefs, now we could send emails. Now we could do things like type ‘hustler.com’ into the address bar when our parents were out, and close the window and delete the history with jagged breaths before the 14.4k modem had revealed the first dark flash of areola.
This was the time of Starship Troopers and Screamers. We took out the same shitty tapes from the movie shop again and again and we didn’t mind. We were happy with what we had. There was no MTV. I had recorded tapes of music videos, which I would watch over and over again. Now, YouTube burns with newer, artsier videos than ever before. And you can watch them whenever you want.
In those days, your friend who had rummaged through his father’s cupboard and found one pathetic porn tape from the 80s was a champion. He was in charge of rewinding it to make sure it was at exactly the right place, while you both sat uncomfortably with ever-tightening underpants. And it was enough!
And that was just the start. Now – all my CDs are in boxes at my Mom’s house. My precious magazines are recycled, possibly seeing second or even third lives as cereal boxes or toilet paper. My music collection is bigger than ever, but I can’t name all the CDs I own any more. I can look at porn whenever I want. I’ve got an Xbox and a Wii. And the more culture we produce, the faster it goes.
I remember when the culture I wanted to be part of could be found under one rock. I fought and begged and pleaded with my mother to be allowed to turn it over. And once it was overturned, I spent weeks and months analysing every single grain of sand, every ant and every earwig. I knew the names of every person in every band that I liked. I knew the names of their songs as well as the order in which they appeared. And now, when I look back over my shoulder, I can see nothing but overturned rocks. And borne on by this cultural wave, I’m encouraged to turn over ever more rocks, with barely enough time to look for interesting bugs before it’s on to the next one. The Internet has made everything accessible all the time, but there’s only so much time I have. I can never truly be a fan of one thing like I used to be.
And while I appreciate the choice, Richard Dawkins knows I appreciate the choice, I feel like my life is less for all the music and all the culture I have. The choice paralyses me. Do I feel like French Lounge Jazz, Early 00’s Trip-Hop, West Coast Gangsta Rap From The Early 90s, Orchestral Music, Orchestral Movie Soundtracks or Whale Sounds (Sigur Ros) while I look out the window today? And what about the new new Jack White record that just came out, which has the Internet abuzz (for the next six hours)?
In those days, when I had just the one rock, I could choose Manson or KoRn. And I loved them both equally.