(a gentle disclaimer: These ideas about popular culture history are mine and don't bear any factual evidence. Therefore, in describing my understanding of technopolies, I will not attempt to be "soft" and speculative, but rather assertive as I theorize about the reasons the electric guitar has played such a vital and integral role in our everyday lives. And so let there be music...)
When one thinks upon the popular culture influences of the past 30 years, perhaps MTV comes to mind? Perhaps the internet? Instant Messaging? Text Messaging? All are technopolies, and perhaps some of the most important technopolies in history. I think we overlook the relevance of new communication systems and how they play a role in our rapidly changing society, but when one considers that almost all of our youth is immersed in this technology every day, it might seem more significant. To me, a technology that can completely eradicate the old in favor of the new within the realm of popular cultural is the most significant of all technopolies, because the usually powerless youth are for once on the cutting edge of history in the making. The whole grown-up world might point and laugh at the frivolity of instant messaging or of MTV, but in the end, those who are pointing and laughing will be gone, and we'll be around to write the history books.
Now with that said, what was the first, the most important, technopoly for popular culture history, especially within the past 50-55 years? What was the straw that broke the camel's back? because youth didn't always have the same power, the same sway that they do now. I'm talking about the youth revolution, man....about counter-culture...about rebellion. I'm talking about the ELECTRIC GUITAR, man. In fact, I sincerely believe that without the invention of the electric guitar, we can't be certain that there would even be such a thing as the internet. In fact, for the sake of this piece, I'll argue that there would be NO such thing as the internet. Now that's the power of a technopoly. And our parents said we'd go to hell for listening to rock & roll...
I'll give my 30-second run-down, my plea if you will, as to why the electric guitar is the preeminent technopoly in pop culture history: Before the electric guitar, music was hardly in the mix of popular taste. Folk music could be found in almost every nook of the United States just as spoken word used to be transmitted before the invention of the printing press. Blues music was, for the most part, confined to the musicians who played the blues, just like folk music, and so it wasn't classified as popular music either. Jazz music was closer to the pulse of popular culture, mostly because it was associated with old theater productions in the roaring 20's and continued to be popular as swing dance grew. Enter the electric guitar. The electric guitar captured the spirit of young people everywhere after World War II, and did nothing more with the technology than put an electric pick-up inside the conventional guitar. The results were brilliant, however, because at last the spirit of youth aligned with the technology, and a whole new stereotype was born: the rebellious rock & roller. Rock & Roll highjacked television through programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and Hullabaloo. Conventionally, television was a source for news and few other more conservative programs. Rock & Roll, however, came to redefine and push the envelope of what TV could be. Jim Morrison singing "...girl we couldn't get much higher..." and showing Elvis from the waist up was scandalous, and continues to have an influence in the programing of today. But why? I think because that generation, the Rock & Roll generation, the generation of free love, embraced the progress and the voice that they began to have in mainstream society. They're the ones who sit in our boardrooms today, the ones who call the shots. For this reason, without the electric guitar, the youth would never have earned the voice, the power, that they earned, and in effect would not have gone on to produce the technopolies that continue to redefine our society today. Media would have remained a predominately conservative creature, which means that programming like MTV wouldn't exist, and of course, the internet wouldn't be the product of a conservative media. In fact, I think it's no conincidence that Silicon Valley is just outside of San Fransisco, the center of free love and the "youth revolution" in the '60's.
Of course, it's possible to go back even further. Without the invention of motion-picture there might be no such thing as popular media, and without the invention of the printing press, the media might be non-existent altogether. The point is, and this is what technopolies mean to me, our history is a compilation of minute developments that have incredibly profound implications for the reality we experience today, and the most minor of these technological developments can align with our collective human spirit to drastically change our future forever. Much as another ice-age will come eventually and wipe out existence as we know it, a new technopoly will come and do the same.
Technopolies are an act of nature, always beautiful, always volatile, but always fair. No one is right if they say the electric guitar and Rock & Roll was a good thing or a bad thing. Is it a good thing that our kids only communicate through Instant Messaging? Or that they spend most of their hours on the internet? Or that they get most of their education watching MTV? No one has the right answer. It is all subjective, as is everything in nature. We just have to cope with our technopolies as they continue to redefine us as a species. I just think what we give and take is all part of a grand force of balance called nature, and technopolies are just as much a part of nature as is a blossoming flower. We may see this beautiful thing blossoming in the spring, but it will always grow blighted by the time fall rolls around. And in the spring, a new thing will blossom.