Culture without Context

I’m looking for somebody to ruin some perfectly good books for me.

Google has bred a cautiousness in me I don’t need or really want anymore, that snuck up on me and everybody else all at once, a habit not so much to protect myself from anything in particular but born out of the easy access I have to all this information. I’ll look at Yelp before I go out to eat and figure out what to get before I even get there. I can’t remember the last time I read a book were I didn’t already know the gist of the plot beforehand. Spotify prepackages all the new music I hear by relating it to the similar things it has already shown me. Culturally, it all starts to feel fatalistic, small surprises here and there but still within the big picture that I had from before everything even started. It’s hard to be enthusiastic for experiencing something new when I’ve burned through the newness online for a cheap high.

What I really want is to block out all the metadata about what I’m about to experience and somehow prevent myself from experiencing it only through the shadow of its context. I don’t want to know how long an album is, or the genre of the music on it, or the artist or when it was produced or what other people thought of it. Who cares about what page I am on or how many more I have to go to get to the end. I’m an adult, I can make up my own mind about whether I like the food at a place without the help of Jimmy F. on Yelp. I spend more time thinking about which shows on Netflix I should commit to watch than I do actually watching shows on Netflix.

I want culture without the filters of Culture on it. Let me be my own filter and flex all those critical thinking skills I developed way back in sixth grade. I suppose this is the fault of the information technology folks myself, a known hell of our own devise. We’ve catalogued everything in the pursuit of efficiency and haven’t quite figured out how to convince computers to recreate the magic of discovery. With all this media and all these reviews at my fingertips, I get to indulge and be picky and shield myself from the risk of wasted time. But what’s the point of consuming only the finest of everything all the time? I’d like to imagine I would get bored of drinking nothing but the finest wine all the time, but if somebody wants to supply me in pursuit of figuring this one out, please, do get in touch.

What’s the point of the highs if you can’t anchor them relative to the lows? What’s the point of experiencing something when you know when the end is coming and have your eye on it the whole way through? I would imagine half the thrill of drinking one of those bottles of wine from the bottom of the ocean is knowing you might be about to throw back pure vinegar.

Speaking from something I’ve actually experienced though, when I watch videos of Super Smash Brothers Melee matches online, clearly it’s evidencing a profound lack of maturity and providing further disappointment for my dear parents in their manbaby of a son. Moreover, most videos of tournament Melee matches are from a set of best of five games. Once I’d watched enough of these videos, I started to get a really clear sense of why all those tinder dates had gone so poorly and I started getting a sense of how long the matches were going to last and what was going to happen. If somebody is up two games and there’s three minutes left, then it’s pretty unlikely that a stirring last minute comeback is in store. The excitement of the unknown future is drained out of the experience and it’s hard to experience that same thrill that the audience is viewing was in real time.

I’ve thought about asking friends to buy a copy of their favorite book, cut off the covers and all the fluff about publishers and the Library of Congress, take one of those big paper slicers and chop off the page numbers and the authors and titles from the tops of the pages, and then have them give me a chapter or a few pages at a time. Or maybe have them mail me mixtapes of their favorite music with nothing else. “Zack, go to this address, look for the restaurant with the red sign, don’t look at the menu and order a number 17.”

The key thing here is a friend willing to strip away the context from something. It’s not something I can really do myself. So if you’re feeling the same way or want to try experiencing some culture with minimal context, shoot me a message and I can send you purposefully vague recommendations and instructions in exchange for equally purposefully vague recommendations and instructions. I’d ask “What’s the worst that can happen” but don’t tell me actually, that’d ruin it.

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