«Time capsules»: On the difficulty of procuring information in the «information age»

When I took up my work with Daros Latinamerica Collection and started to travel all of Latin America on a thorough and permanent basis, I soon noticed that the assumption frequently formulated in Latin America of being disadvantaged as «periphery» in relation to the «centers» of the world did not hold in these absolute terms. I had already realized earlier that the so-called centers had become tired and sluggish and tended toward self-reflection at all levels. By contrast, I perceived the so-called peripheries to be on principle more active, more creative, and more innovative. After all, the alleged peripheries are often far better informed about ongoings in the so-called centers in order to compensate for their alleged shortcomings, while the «centers» themselves are prone to smugness and arrogance in their belief of being the hub of the world, no matter what.

Satiated centers

Up to the turn of the century, the motto still applied that visiting one of the major («western») centers, such as New York, London, or Paris, perhaps even Berlin, would suffice to bring oneself completely up to date in cultural matters. This has changed, not least due to the World Wide Web and its new, so-called «social media» as well as the concurrent globalization. Everything has spread to everywhere, with the result that a plethora of information is potentially available on demand at any time and any place.

Sunken standards and unsubstantial news

In addition, our «art world» has undergone enormous expansion and opened new markets. There are meanwhile many times more actors and stakeholders than in earlier decades, when in fact only pros and true aficionados dominated this closed society. The doors to the ivory tower of art have been flung far open, and the once hermetic stronghold has for better or worse fallen prey to hosts of players hoping for quick profits, picking like scavengers through the waste of art.

Back to the WWW: we have by now (!) found out that the Web, just like paper, doesn’t blush either. Besides all the so-called «fake news» everyone gets worked up about (as if this phenomenon hadn’t existed before, in fact, existed ever since «news» as such exist!), there is also an entity that we might call «light news» or «unsubstantial news»: news and information about phenomena that are entirely redundant and therefore hardly worth mentioning. These insubstantialities would have never made it into the light of a meaningful public in earlier times; now they flood all our channels. Propped up by PR, these flimsy phenomena appear side by side and on a par with real, significant content.

The Beatles: Yellow Submarine

Inaccessible information

How is anyone to tell redundancy and relevance apart, particularly with the art world having been taken over by all those unskilled people? Who is supposed to or even able to separate the wheat from the chaff under these circumstances? And above all: In whose interest is it in the first place to apply such a close scrutiny or evaluation?

This necessarily leads into an aporia, for how can consistent quality be filtered from the sheer flood of quantity? We finally recognize that the supposedly unlimited access to «all» information yields nothing if this information is not carefully sifted. We thus find ourselves in much the same situation as 50, 100, 200, or 500 years ago, painstakingly trying to trace the truly relevant information and its potential significance, only this time using the contemporary methods available to us today… The information is no longer located in places we can visit in order to access it there. It is rather to be found among people, among ourselves, in individuals and in groups who have the will and the resources to take possession of the information—which almost brings us back to the Middle Ages…

Incompatible bubbles

Globalization inevitably involves standardization and leveling. It is therefore all but logical and natural that globalization also calls forth resistance. Increased internationalization is met on a broad front by nationalization tendencies. Regionalization and emphasis on local specificities are likewise perceptibly on the rise. However, the negative results of this self-elected «new» provincialism are not what I am heading at here.

Some years ago, a fascinating idea occurred to me: that we live in a world full of different bubbles. Periphery and center are nowadays to be found in one and the same spot, because it is no longer the places where information is located, but the people. Trump fans in the US, for instance, are at a very similar level of information or state of mind as Modi fans in India. In Zimbabwe, the USA, Vietnam, Germany, or Panamá we find bubbles of people who are entirely up to date immediately next to bubbles of people who have «fallen out of time». And these different bubbles coexist with a temporal gap of 50 something years or more between them. Misunderstandings and frictions are bound to arise when the bubbles inevitably come into contact with each other.

Reason for hope, nevertheless

Such anachronistic time capsules, as it were, float around in the same place simultaneously with bubbles that keep abreast of the times. This breathtaking fragmentation of society into groups and countless subgroups, all living side by side with utterly different perceptions of the world and the time line, is increasingly turning into a problem as many of these publics see each other as antagonists. In view of the current rise of so-called «Querdenker» («lateral thinkers») and thriving «conspiracy theories», it is evident that the general attribution of meaning is in a state of complete flux. On the other hand, this is exactly where we are breaking new, potentially fertile ground. Precisely the possibility of redefining everything holds an enormous opportunity. It gives us the chance to finally rethink matters in a radically new light and to create new links with a refreshing disrespect for the things tradition demands from us! 

The Beatles: Yellow Submarine

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