Phones, phones and more phones. Conversations must now be aloud for everyone to hear. Video must be used wherever possible. Every story must be greeted with exclamations of amazement. Every event must be imbued with significance.
There is a generation engaged in a constant and pervasive search for meaning, for significance, for the making of a mark, for the creation of a legacy.
Social media might grant the fifteen minutes of fame envisaged by Andy Warhol, but it is ephemeral, passing mostly unnoticed. Headlines are now filled with superlatives, as if the writers of the stories believe that if their item receives enough stress, it will attain a significance it does not merit; that the featured mediocre singers and musicians and actors will find talent; that people photographed because they are famous for being famous will have said or done something of consequence; that the unlikely stories invented by the writers themselves will somehow transpire to be the truth. Yet it is all transient, forgotten as quickly as it is told.
Had Douglas Adams not died before the advent of the phenomena that have become so dominant, he might have so much satirised our contemporary world that we might have laughed and turned off our phones and gone outside to live real lives. The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything in the writing of Douglas Adams is 42. Humanity has spent centuries in a quest for meaning, a quest for an answer and the answer is 42.
42 what? No-one knows.
Of course, 42 is not the answer sought. 42 only prompts another series of questions, and questions about questions.
Perhaps the quest for meaning, the quest for an answer is not new, perhaps it is at the heart of our existence, but perhaps what is new is the level of discontent at the absence of an answer. The mood that has beset contemporary international politics is rooted in a sense of individual dissatisfaction with one’s lot. Leaders offering easy answers are applauded, scapegoats are identified as being responsible for the mood of unease. Yet none of it provides a satisfactory answer.
Perhaps there is no answer, William Shakepeare’s Macbeth suggests there is no meaning or significance:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,