The New Age of Enlightenment

The Old Order

I can remember a time back in the 1980s when I would visit my mother for a weekend and she’d insist my brother and I go to her church on Sundays. At this point in her life she was very much an Evangelical Christian. I would go with her because my mom’s side of the family had always been the religious side, and that was just part of who my mom was. I did have a basic faith in God and Christianity at the time, but my father was a card carrying atheist (and nominal Unitarian) for his whole life, so I had a pretty eclectic religious education when I was a teenager.

My father was a skeptic by nature and a lot of my own questioning nature was indirectly influenced by him. I can remember going to my mom’s church and suffering through the worship music to get to the sermon. I actually enjoyed the sermons because they gave me something to chew on intellectually. Not that the 15 year old Rollo was much of a thinker at that time, but I always had basic questions for these guys after the speech. When I got a bit older, in my early 20s, I started wondering who these ‘pastors’ really were as people and what made them qualified to deliver sermons. I really wanted to talk with these guys, but doing so meant I had to sit through their hard sell about how Jesus had saved them from themselves. I always thought this was kind of silly considering most of these guys weren’t much older than me. How hard a life could these guys really have lived by 25?

Most of these pastors weren’t used to was really having to engage much with their congregations beyond what was required of them to maintain appearances. I don’t mean that they were inaccessible; most of them had something outside of church that kept them involved with people. It’s that prior to the internet the way a pastor, or a church, did business usually centered on a man delivering a message (presumedly inspired by God) and then shaking hands with the faithful after the sermon was over as they filed out the door. End of sermon. End of discussion. 

If you wanted to talk about the sermon, or, heaven forbid, criticize the interpretation or message in some way that was a conversation relegated to your family, or perhaps a home group discussion. Assuming you even were in a home group or had a few peers you could discuss it with, you always risked running afoul of someone whose ego-investments in his/her faith would put them on edge by questioning it. The old order of religion, not just Christianity, used to be based on respecting the man delivering that message as God’s ordained spokesman, or reading whatever book he might’ve published, processing it yourself or with a handful of other believers, sussing things out and waiting for the next message on the next Sunday. There was very little engagement about articles of faith or doctrine unless you were a guy on the inside.

All of this changed with the advent of the internet and the globalization of mass media and communication.

Today, there’s hardly a pastor (mainstream or obscure) who doesn’t have a blog or a YouTube channel on which he (or she) contemplates his last/next sermon. In the 80s-90s even the most introspective religious leader would have only a handful of people to bounce ideas off, but today a sermon is almost focus grouped before the guy walks up to the pulpit on a Sunday. Meanwhile, that same pastor is engaged on two or three social media accounts discussing everything from religion, to politics, to praying for his favorite NFL team to make the playoffs.

The old order of how religion was done has given way to a new, globalized process of how we do religion. Today anyone, believer or not, has access to that pastor on a moments notice. Didn’t like the message? Thought the interpretation was inaccurate? You can tell him on his blog’s comment thread or fire off a tweet to start a discussion about it before he can even drive home from church. 

This is the age of globalized engagement – and this new paradigm is fundamentally altering old order institutions. What the Guttenburg press did for religion by publishing the Bible for the masses, now the internet has done for the old order way in which people can engage with the process of their beliefs – and not just religious belief.

The New Enlightenment

February of last year I wrote an essay about the Global Sexual Marketplace. In that post I described how globalization isn’t just about economics or demographics – globalization also applies to intersexual dynamics. Gone are the days when a young man or young woman could expect to meet one of the handful of eligible, single people in their high school, small town or limited social circle to pair off and start a family with. In the old order young people were stuck with the choices of a limited Local sexual marketplace. Today, with our instant, robust forms of communication, a worldwide sexual marketplace has now opened up the romantic prospects of virtually anyone with a smartphone and an internet connection. Don’t like your prospects in your hometown? Now there’s a whole world of men and women waiting to meet you. The old order of intersexual dynamics has fundamentally shifted and all in less than 20 years.

The rapidity of this shift is what I believe is at the root of the problems that surround the new way of doing the old order institutions. As a global society we are still reluctant to let go of the falsehoods of those old order institutions; even in light of the new order evidences and data collected as a result of this unprecedented access. While we attempt to reconcile our old order beliefs with what a global information network confronts them with, we cling evermore tightly to what we thought we knew because it formed the foundation of who we are. And as we try to make sense of it we are presented with both true and false narratives that pander to the fact that this information and technology is progressing at a rate that most human beings’ minds were never evolved to keep pace with.

My good friend Aaron Clarey (Captain Capitalism) recently published a tour de force article on women entering into and dominating most of the future of Corporate America, and how men ought to welcome this change. It’s a great post, so definitely go read the whole thing, but after I’d finished it I was struck with the idea that what Clarey was on to was describing an old order institution (Corporate America) and how we still perceived it from an old order understanding. On the surface it seems counterintuitive to think of women assuming authority over what was the Male Space of Corporate Culture as a good thing. Cap was being facetious for the whole thing, but his point was really this: women have coveted the reigns of Corporate America for a long time now, but their feminist thirst for power (Fempowerment) is based on an old order understanding of what Corporate America really is, or will eventually become. Like a debutant late to the party, the status and prestige that the Feminine Imperative sells women to believe is inherent in Corporate America is all old order bullshit. So, yeah, have at it ladies. The information age has stripped back the curtains on the Corporate America you assumed all that student debt to participate in.

Academia is another area in which this old order vs. new enlightenment understanding is taking place. Prior to 2000 if you heard a particular professor had a reputation for being tough, you had to get it from a third party. Today we have rate-the-professor.com or something similar. Now you can see how well a teacher performed from students who took their classes from a decade ago. 

GlassCeiling.com is an aggregate of current and ex employees rating the work environment of damn near any company today. Yelp.com does something similar to a businesses performance. And as a result most of these companies hire specialized personnel to maintain their online reputations – and this is the paranoia that comes from presuming old order impressions of a company are relevant in a new order paradigm.

Analog Thinking vs. Digital Thinking

“In the future, everything that can be digital will be digital.” 

I’m not sure who originated this quote, but I can remember it being tossed around in graphic design circles as early as 1993. Back then the print industry was transitioning to a digital way of production. Adobe Photoshop was at version 3.0 (when I started using it) and QuarkXpress was revolutionizing pagination for pretty much every publication at the time. The writing was on the wall. I was fortunate to be coming into my career on the cusp of the old order traditional ways of creating ads and publications (stat cameras and pasteup galleys) and learning their digital equivalents in design applications. I had to get real good, real quick, not only in terms of understanding the hardware, software and networking, but also in using it to create effective, creative, advertising. A lot of my contemporaries struggled with this transition. My mentors in design were old school designers. They taught me a lot with respect to effective advertising and design, but they couldn’t teach me the new tech that was changing every 6-8 months. Whereas in the old order a design agency only focused on print media and employed a full complement of professionals for each aspect of production (photography, typography, pasteup, pressmen, etc.) now I was responsible for all of these jobs and more to come as the internet opened up more new media to desktop publishers like me.

I had to get real good, real fast, and maintain my creative edge all while expanding into more and more new areas and methods of producing what I do. The old order designers either adapted or went extinct. Since the early 90s this narrative has played out across countless professions and trades. I can remember listening to Lars Ulrich from Metallica complain about how Napster’s peer-to-peer file sharing of MP3s was going to be the death of the music industry. The old order musicians weren’t ready to accept the realities of “everything that can be digital will be digital”.

Analog business models, analog thinking, that have formed the basis of who we are as a society are still in place today. In some ways we can force-fit those old order ideas into our new order digital reality, but eventually that old order thinking reveals its age. College professors, church pastors, your 9-5 corporate American cubicle supervisor, the self-help guru you think has some sort of relevance, the old pop psychologist whose heyday was in the last millennium, all these personalities and an endless number more are all struggling to stay relevant against the information that the new order of 2020 confronts them with.

It’s not that these people are luddites. They embrace the technology and the new means of disseminating their craft, their ideas, their ideologies, in the digital age. It’s that their thinking is still mired in the analog age – an age in which ideas were formed on information that was limited to what generations that came before could gather with the means they had available to them then. The ideas of an analog age are what we’re presently trying to force-fit into the new understanding presented to us by this digital age. We enjoy the luxuries, sensations and entertainment that the digital affords us, but we immerse ourselves in it without realizing how our old order thinking defines why we enjoy it. Our analog selves, the product of millennia of evolution, still defines what our digital selves are without realizing the dangers inherent in our engaging with it. As such we get digital addictions – pornography, social media, ‘engagement’ – and we make our analog selves dependent on a digital economy.

How many YouTube content producers rely on their ’side hustle’ revenue to pay their bills today? How many self-published authors have quit their day jobs to write for their new employer, Amazon, today (Amazon owns 86% of the publishing market today). How many former cubicle workers decided it was more lucrative to start an internet business than continue slaving away at a corporate gig that only made their bosses rich? Today, we’ll readily shift to the digital world to sustain us financially – in the end we don’t have much choice – but it’s the old order thinking that pervades this new “reality” and causes problems.

The number one way that couples meet, since 2005, is online. Via Tinder or Match or other net based ways. Gone are the days of boy-meets-girl, eyes fixed on the other across a crowded high school gym dance floor. Gone are the days of meeting your “bride” at church camp. Those are old order romanticisms, and ones that we still want to force fit back into our new order reality. We think in analog, but we live in digital.

Barriers to Entry

Another thing I did at age 15 was play a lot of guitar. My teenage, MTV fueled, mind really had a love for music. The heavier the better. But the barrier to becoming a “Guitar God” like my heroes was something that was very prohibitive at that time. If you wanted to get good; good enough to actually get a band going, you had to seek out a guitar instructor at the local music store who hopefully shared your taste in music. Beyond a once-a-week, 1-hour lesson, you had no other means of learning an instrument than practicing on your own, buying a book of guitar tablature from the music store, or endlessly wearing down a cassette tape by going back over the song you wanted to learn again and again. And all this was the process of learning to play just a song you liked. I had to learn how to compose a song, write some lyrics, form a band, learn to promote it, and somehow figure out how to scrape up enough money to record a demo in a music studio. The barrier to entry was very steep. You had to love the art so much that you would dedicate a good portion of your life to mastering it.

Today I can go on YouTube and find a 9 year old girl in a country I’ve never heard of before play Eruption by Eddie Van Halen, note for note, because she learned it from another YouTube “content provider”. We have far more resources to understand how to be competent in, if not master, virtually anything today than at any other time in history. We have access to the entire world’s aggregate of information in a device that fits in our pocket.

In his book, Mastery, Robert Greene describes how the barriers to entry into previously prohibitive arenas of life are gone in the digital age. And just like the music industry of the 70s through the 90s, old order industries and institutions have had to cope with the restructuring of their businesses and lifestyles as new generations of digital savvy (if not digital thinking) people become competent in, sometimes master, what took them decades of perseverance to master themselves. What we see in this shift is the Barons of the old order media, industries and institutions  – who jealously guarded their own knowledge-base – attempting to force-fit their analog thinking into a digital mold.

As a result, conflicts arise. When Über revolutionized the idea of ride-sharing in the digital age, the old order taxi companies enlisted every legal tool in their arsenal to fight the inevitability of their old revenue model disappearing. We see the same scenario play out in everything that can be digital becoming digital now. Even the old order institutions that built their mastery and prosperity on a successful pivot to the digital (the early dot coms) are finding that even newer aspects of the digital now threaten the successes of that initial pivot.

Content is King

Mastery is now easier to attain than at any other time in human history. The old order, analog thinking masters strictly limited teaching their secrets to anyone but the most worthy of apprentices. Those apprentices had to had the most serious dedication to their interests and would likely do menial tasks for much of their apprenticeships just to be in the presence of their mentors. That hard-won mastery is gone in the digital age. That’s not to say that practice and dedication aren’t still necessary for mastery today, but the barriers are largely removed. As a result, we are now encountering a generation of self-appointed “masters” in arenas wherein previously the title of that position of mastery implied respectability. Again, old order thinking predisposes us to believe that if a self-declared master online grants himself a title we should presume he “did the work” to earn that title.

For all this easy access to competency, mastery, information-based skills, what we find lacking is real, valuable content. It’s great that we have access to the tool boxes of old order masters, but what do we build with those tools? Thus far, not very much. Usually those tools build rehashes of old order ideas to be sold as something novel in the digital age. When I’m critical of the Success Porn grifters of this digital age, what I’m really drawing attention to is the reselling of old order, tired ideals. Motivational