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Modernity, post-modernity, meta-modernity in simple English Modernity, post-modernity, meta-modernity in simple English
by Joseph Gatt
2020-08-12 09:02:00
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I used to spend summer afternoons in 2006-2007 with a group of students rambling about post-modernity. In my grad school years, I think I heard the term “post-modern” thousands of times, yet, my friends and professors seemed to use way more words than necessary.

So rather than write 1,000 page books on the topic, I'll give brief, simple definitions. Modernity, post-modernity, meta-modernity on one leg.

Modern society: during the industrial revolution, cities emerged. Before the industrial revolution, human beings were either confined to villages where they were slaves of their masters, or villages where they were subsistence farmers. Or they lived in ghettos and worked as craftsmen (mainly the Jews) or they lived in cities and dealt with royal palaces.

modmed001_400So, in pre-modern times, people lived in societies where everyone knew everyone else. In modern society (1760-1945) people moved out of farming villages and were “adventurers” in cities where they dealt with unfamiliar faces and surroundings, and had to trust people (banks, hospitals, shops, factories) they had never previously met.

Post-modern society: during modern times, people put money in the bank, but they had no idea what the bank really did with their money or what the bank was. They went to shops and bought products without a clear idea what the product contained or how good it was.

After World War II, let's say starting from the 1920s in fact, magazines, newspapers, the media in general, the radio, television, started informing people about their “urban” surroundings. When in modern times urban surroundings were unfamiliar, in post-modern times, urban surroundings became more familiar.

Meta-modern society: a fancy term that graduate students like to use to “sound smart.” Meta-modern society is in fact simple: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google etc. That is, in post-modern society, people understood the unfamiliar surroundings that cities were in vague terms.

In meta-modern societies we have created more familiarity with our surroundings. For example, in post-modern society, if you met someone, you had to ask lots of questions before you had a vague idea who the person was. In pre-modern societies, the people you met were born in the community, and you could ask anyone in the village and they would tell you the story of that person's life.

In meta-modern society, you can meet someone, look them up on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or look at their YouTube or Spotify profiles, and get a general idea who they are, what they like, what their life story is.

Same goes for consumer products. In pre-modern societies you ate what you bought at the local market, and you knew more or less what soil or barn the product was made in. In modern society you just bought the product without knowing much of anything about it. In post-modern society, you had a vague idea about the company that made the product. In meta-modern society, you can find out almost exactly what the product is made of.

Part II

I'll finish with art, because artists love to define themselves as “post-modern artists” or “meta-modern artists” because it's such a cool thing to say.

Pre-modern art: Pre-modern art was mainly painting, sculptures, theater, architecture and some literature. Producing art was physically demanding, you had to pain for hours on end, there were no guidebooks to guide you with technique. In literature, you had to handwrite your book, and there was no one to guide you, and there were no dictionaries to help you choose your words.

Now some say that pre-modern art obeyed “strict rules.” Not true. In fact, a lot of the techniques were amateurish by today's standards. Lines were not straight in most paintings, and spelling was “weird” in most writings: some authors used 10 different spellings for the same word. Shakespeare spelled his name 20 different ways (an urban legend that turns out being true).

Modern art: now writers had dictionaries and artists had all kinds of tools they could use. But they did not have a database they could work with to gain inspiration. Artist circles tended to be confined to big cities (Paris, London, New York City, Rome, Milan, Venice and a few other cities) and could only be guided by close friends in the art circles. There were no books written specifically to teach you art.

Post-modern art: now you had libraries and art galleries everywhere, and magazines and TV shows dedicated to art (either to cover events or to teach you the craft). But artists could not easily find each other, could not contact each other, and artists had their trade secrets.

Meta-modern art: You can buy your paintings online, you have hundreds (thousands) of YouTube tutorials on how to draw a perfect portrait or landscape or still life. There are writers everywhere, and you can send them a message on Facebook, and they will reply.

In post-modern times you had to publish physical copies of your books, in meta-modern times you can publish your books (or paintings) electronically. In post-modern times you could use help from technology to add a few beats or sounds, but in meta-modern times you can create music using 100% technology for instruments (or even vocals!). Same goes for painting, you no longer need paint and a brush, you can create a painting electronically. 

A few myths busted.

In Korea, post-modernity is generally used as “younger people lacking respect to older people.” This is because in post-modern and meta-modern times younger people have access to communication and information means that they did not have in modern times. Kids can now rant about their dumb professors or bestial bosses online.

In France, post-modernity is generally understood as a “rebellious youth.” I'm an avid French history reader, and French history is a long series of “youth rebellions” the most popular of which were the 1789 revolution and the 1848 revolution.

But, in 1968 onwards, the youth had access to their own media, something they did not have access to beforehand. In 1981 onwards, when the Socialist government privatized the radio, NRJ radio (pronounced “energy”) was the youth's most popular radio, a private radio that was run by young people, produced by the youth, and where the youth could call and voice their concerns.

Before NRJ there were only three radios in France, two of which were not French: you had the ORTF, you had Radio Luxemburg (based in Luxemburg) and Radio Monte Carlo (based in Monaco).

Now the “rebellious youth” had their voices heard in several radio stations (Fun Radio, Skyrock, NRJ) along with ethnic radios aimed at the youth (Africa 1 radio, Beur FM (a Muslim Youth radio)).

Opponents to the “rebellious youth” claim that the rebellious youth is too “Americanized” (they mostly listen to American music, have American values when it comes to freedom of speech and other moral behaviors). So those pundits claim that France is breaking away from its values.

But, meta-modernity also means French cultural products (and social norms) are competing with the rest of the world. Google and Spotify don't set borders or boundaries when it comes to the music, soap operas, movies or books they offer. Nor do they set boundaries for social norms. 

So much more I could say, maybe some day over a cup of coffee.

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