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Imagination In The Internet Age

Ta-Nehisi Coates, reminiscing about the hours he spent as a kid looking for meaning in the liner notes and cover art of his hip-hop albums, writes:

When the culture of celebrity changed, and hip-hop morphed into that culture, my relationship with it changed--suddenly I knew too much. I miss the old "not knowing," and have gotten some of that feeling back in my time in the museum. There is so much to imagine. So much to wonder about. 

I think that's one of the best descriptions I've read about the downside of having so much, too much, information at our fingertips. It just crushes imagination; it even crushes imaginative misinformation. Yes, it's wonderful to have websites like Snopes to debunk urban myths--which, of course, spread more easily thanks to the web--but what about misinformation that's harmless, and is maybe even an improvement on what is actually, technically correct? Sticking to the topic of music, there's a line from the old Palace song "Give Me Children" that stuck with me since the first time I heard it more than a decade ago: "Memory is knowledge dulled." Okay, the line isn't quite as profound as I thought it was when I first heard it in college, but still, it's pretty good. But then, a couple years ago, I came across the song's lyrics on the Internet and it turns out the line is actually, "Memory is knowledge, dove." Personally, I would have been quite happy living out the rest of my days totally unaware of my mistake. Alas, that's getting harder and harder to do.

I suppose the trick is carving out spaces in your life that are disconnected, or at least at a certain remove, from the information overload that's all around us. For Coates, he's found such a space in art museums. But I wonder how long until even that citadel is breached, with ubiquitous interactive touch screens and what not. Will anyone under the age of 20 have the attention span to sit in front of a painting and just look at it without being able to call up an options menu? Oh man, I sound old. . . . 

--Jason Zengerle