Back in the hippie-dippy days of the 20th century two things were a Big Deal: Hair and Astrology. Long-haired men faded as an issue when pattern baldness and changing fashion inevitably reduced their impact to statistically ordinary, and astrology – replaced by ecology – quietly slid back into the funny-pages of the daily paper.
Hair spawned a gaudy Broadway musical of the same name, all but guaranteeing the evolution of long locks to the passé. The Age of Aquarius’ peace and understanding was blotted out by Dow’s poisonous Agent Orange, America’s failed military adventures in Southeast Asia and consumer-capitalism gone wild. Ultimately, a Be-In of super-speed Information Age technology revealed a far stranger happening: The Age of Aquarium.
Bucky Fuller’s Spaceship Earth turns out to be Fish-tank Earth; we have become self-contained obsessive observers of ourselves. In the process of implementing near-light-speed communication, digital miniaturization, database development and pattern-recognition software our historical tendency towards self-interest has morphed into a full-fledged episode of global narcissism in which people play the only meaningful role. Nature conveniently provides the setting but humanity provides the plot.
Now we know what life is like in a fish-tank; we are the fish and earth is the tank. Outfitted with castles, shells and gravel, deserts, mountains and rain forests, Fish-tank Earth is under our constant surveillance, along with all us fish. Privacy is obsolete; we’re counted and calculated, tracked and tallied. Our movements are measured, wealth weighed, consumption compared. Fish-tank Earth is of our own making; strangely we are simultaneously producer and performer.
It’s hard to tell how this immensely popular show will end. Will our narcissistic fascination continue to hypnotize us and divert our attention away from the increasingly unhealthy conditions of Fish-tank Earth? Is our self-love so great that we’ll be willing to sacrifice every other living thing or will the growing heat and murk of our tank finally disturb our obsession enough to break the seductive narcissistic spell that holds us? It doesn’t help that the utopian Myth of Individualism grounds our global religion of consumption; in short order nearly everyone will have a Fishbook page upon which to lavish daily attention.
Like the reflection in water at which Narcissus unbreakably gazed in fascination, 21st century technology provides a hand-held mirror for each individual, enhancing an illusion of autonomy. We each act as if we are in our own little tank and when we approach the glass we are interested in selfies. We think can remain separate and safe by paying close attention to ourselves and our own aquarium, but outside our little tank is a bigger one, and far bigger ones beyond that. Technology brings news of other aquariums to us, but generally it’s not news we can use and always accompanied by sales pitches for new gravel, better rocks, tastier fish food and cuter castles – things to make us fall even more in love with own little tank. Yet, if you’ve ever had an aquarium, you know the messy pitfalls of distracted self-absorption. Sometimes the water gets too hot or cold, runaway algae clogs the filter and things begin to decay.
They were almost onto something cool in that 60’s musical but it was too outta’ sight. Man, what were we fish smokin?