1. Unmediated experiences don’t really exist.
One of the big claims of postmodernism is that there’s no such thing as an experience that isn’t mediated. A mediated experience is basically any time something facilitates the way you interact with another thing, a person, or given situation. “Mediated” is kind of a broad term because it even includes language, so talking to someone is already a mediated experience if you can wrap your brain around that. When you send a text message, that’s mediated because the person isn’t right in front of you. When you chat to someone in GChat but not in real life, that’s a mediated experience. Your social world is nothing but green “available” dots next to a bunch of screen names on a list. And get this: now you don’t even have to purchase concert tickets to live events anymore, because you can just get the clips on YouTube later. Bowery Presents, one of the big music promoting agencies, streams a lot of their concerts live on YouTube right when they happen, so you don’t have to leave your bedroom to see your favorite band perform. The question is, what do you miss by not being there for real?
2. The screen is the basis of our experience of the world and of other people.
Last night when Beyoncé was slaying her performance at the BeyoncéBowl, I used my iPhone to take pictures of my television screen as she performed. I wasn’t there, but if I took 1,000 pictures of it, it’d be like I was. If there’s no such thing as a real experience anymore, then I guess it makes sense that the “screen” is the thing that mediates our relationship to other people and the outside world. Computer screens, television screens, movie screens, camera filters, iPhone screens — even our cellphones are just giant screens now. You can Chatroulette with someone you don’t know, you can have 200k Twitter followers who you have never met and who are just a screenname to you, you can FaceTime mom and dad from back home, you can meet cute guys on Grindr based purely off what you read about them on a screen. The screen and our experience with it is one of the key aspects of postmodern culture.
3. Our ability to pay attention to things is limited.
When I get an email there’s a little slide-out tab that pops up for a few seconds on the right side of my computer. If it’s urgent enough, I’ll click it right away. If not, I’ll ignore it for later. But before the age of pop-up email reminders, I remember when I used to go to the computer lab on campus, log-in to an actual site and check my emails there. Now, our emails beep and fight for our attention. People have been writing about the so-called “Attention Economy” since the dawn of the information age. What’s fascinating about it is that economics is the study of resources, and within the “Attention Economy,” the key form of currency is whether you can get people to look at you. Everyday we are bombarded with screens, advertising campaigns, text messages, notification pop-ups, and all of these things are meant to grab our attention. If you can get someone to notice or pay attention to you, especially when there are thousands of other things begging for our attention everyday, you’ve mastered the Attention Economy. Attention is currency.
4. Originality is no longer a thing.
One of the big critiques against Lady Gaga when she first came out was that she stole all her ideas from other people. But in a postmodern culture, originality is gone. Who cares if the ideas aren’t original? Postmodernism means that everything has already been seen before, that there is nothing that can be produced, created, or imagined that we haven’t already seen somewhere else. It’s an easy one to disagree with, because there are lots of examples of how artists have been original. The first thing that comes to mind for me is someone like Girl Talk, the electronic music artist who creates full songs based on snippets from hundreds of other songs. Sure, we may have heard all these songs before, but no one has ever put them together this way. The fact that Girl Talk did makes his music super postmodern.
5. Identity is hybrid rather than singular.
I have a good friend, who I met online by the way, who doesn’t identify as straight, bisexual, or gay. When I met him I assumed he was straight, just because you never know. But over the course of our friendship he started saying that he was “down” — that he doesn’t really pay attention to the categories of “gay” or “straight” that society wants us to fit neatly in. He’s in his early 20s, and I feel like it’s definitely a generational thing to have a “down” approach to sexuality. In a postmodern culture, identity is no longer just one thing but a constellation of many things, all at once, right now. Sometimes it’s a confusing collision of things that make zero sense together, but that’s what makes it interesting — and postmodern.
6. We are overstimulated.
Sometimes when I watch my favorite show on television I’ll have my Twitter open so I can write bitchy tweets about what I’m seeing, or else I’ll have my AIM/GChat windows open and be talking to five people all at once. Maybe I’ll even be putting things in my wishlist on ASOS, too, doing all of this while I’m “watching” my favorite show. The point is, in a postmodern culture we are paying attention to so many things all at once that we are overstimulated, moving between computer programs, screens, flipping between television shows. We check our phones for the next text message, even when it hasn’t beeped. We can’t pay attention to any one thing for too long.
7. Appearance is everything.
My favorite Bret Easton Ellis quote is from the novel Glamorama, and it’s where Victor Ward, the model/wannabe A-lister, says “The better you look, the more you see.” Of course this could mean anything — the better you look, the more you see, the more people invite you to things, the more attention you get. But it could also mean that the closer you look, the easier it is to spot what’s really going on underneath the pomp and circumstance. Postmodernism says that all the world’s an image — it’s real as long as it looks real. Nobody’s going to question it if it looks like what we think it’s supposed to. That’s why health and beauty organizations have launched campaigns against airbrushing and Photoshopping of images, so that those kinds of images will have a phrase on them like “This image has been digitally altered” so people aren’t confused. In a postmodern culture, the surface of appearance is all there is because it’s the only thing we have to believe.