It’s always fun to label historical ages, which is why our history books are full of things like “the age of sail” or the “feudal period” as convenient shorthand. The label provides a quick way to think of what was important in a certain time. Lots of people call the age in which we currently live “the technological age” because of the microchip. That seems right, as the microprocessor has fundamentally altered human society and continues to alter our world. That said, a better label would be “the age of the public gesture.”
What technology has allowed is for everyone, to one degree or another, to be a public performer. The door to the stage is in every pocket, as the mobile phone is now mostly used for getting on social media and performing, either as yourself or the character you have created on-line. The platforms themselves are just carnivals of virtue signalling, in which nothing practical is communicated. Instead, they are ad hoc morality plays in which millions perform to either signal their virtue or condemn the lack of virtue in others.
Recently, fake black person Shaun King claimed in a tweet that he was at the market and encountered a white person doing a Hitler salute in the market. He then claimed to have confronted the person, forcing them to leave the market. He has since deleted the tweet, it appears, because people were laughing at it. That and it was such an obvious lie that it was self-defeating. The entirely of Shaun King’s life is one big gesture. His pretending to be black, his Talcum X routine, and his social media life are just a performance.
Over the weekend, naughty librarian Katherine Timpf claims to have been accosted in a store, because she is something the Left does not like. Of course, there is no proof of this and it coincidentally happens when Fox News star Tucker Carlson is in the news for being regularly attacked by left-wing goons. It is a ridiculous fabrication, but in the age of the gesture, the truth is not what matters. What matters here is she gets to play the role of victim and get extra morality points for how she has performed the role on-line.
These two incidents where D-level celebrities went on-line and performed a dramatic gesture to gain attention can be written off as just that, attention seeking. That’s clearly part of this whole culture, though. The D-level celebs see their betters, the people they wish to emulate, doing the same things, but on a larger stage and maybe at grander scale, so they ape them at the small scale. Twitter is full of anonymous cat ladies posting about how their daughter asked them why Orange Man bad for the same reason.
Of course, our politics have become just an endless series of gestures to signal piety or seriousness, depending about the nature of the event. In Europe, every time one of Merkel’s Millions goes on a murder spree, the local authorities have a candlelight vigil and walk around arm-in-arm for a day. When a nut goes shooty in America, the usual suspects come out and repeat the familiar chants about gun control. This age is a time when doing nothing, while looking pious, is the most cultivated and coveted skill.
No age lasts forever and this one could be in its final phase. When D-list celebs have mastered the skills, as we see with Timpf and King, then the value of the act has fallen to zero. If everyone can do it, then it’s not special. The troubles plaguing social media giants are due, in part, to gesture culture reaching an end. The signalling as become so intense and frequent, the platforms are now just irritating strobe lights. Something similar may be happening with the mobile phone industry, which is suddenly very bearish.
No company has done more to profit from and develop the gesture age than Apple. Their products were always about design, rather than function, which is why their mobile products have always been popular, while their desktops languished. Steve Jobs figured out that he could move a lot of product by turning his company into a type of secular religious iconography, aimed at a population lacking a soul. The appeal of Apple products was always the antiseptic design that was a celebration of the total lack of humanity.
It was a stillborn aesthetic for a people with no purpose other than to signal to one another like fireflies. When Jobs would hold one of his rallies to evangelize about his new products, he certainly knew he was selling an identity to people lacking one of their own. He was too smart to not know what was happening, but in an age where no one can think of a reason to not kill themselves or their fellow citizens, the pointless gesture, the last flickering of a bygone sense of self, is a great way to move over-priced toys.
Perhaps the slump in the mobile phone market and the troubles with the social media giants is the final signal of the age of gesture. The business models of these companies have always depended upon people believing they had to have the phone or they had to have a social media presence. That worked when everyone believed it. Maybe enough people are not believing it so that the whole thing is coming apart. The phenomenon of people cutting their cable could be a sign of something larger than money saving.
Of course, every age comes to an end, but every age is replaced by something else that seeks to address some need in society. The Age of Gesture appealed to our rulers because they believe in nothing, not even themselves, so they created a null society. In an age when the gesture is not enough, the morality tales are no longer useful in keeping order, what comes next? As much as it would be nice to see the end of the constant virtue signalling, what comes next could turn out to be a much less pleasant age.