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The Death Of Mass Society

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Gordon Downie died the other day. He was the front man for a band called the Tragically Hip. I don’t expect anyone who’s not from Canada or Western NY to know who they are.

They were the voice of a country — of a culture. Something that said “Canada” in big flashing letters. We probably won’t see anymore bands like this. Mass society is dead.

I grew up between Rochester and Buffalo, New York. However, the radio stations coming in from Toronto across Lake Ontario would often come in just as well, if not better, so I would listen to Canadian radio and watch Canadian TV. Part of my media-driven acculturation was — are you ready for this? — Canadian. So I loved the Tragically Hip. Along with the punk and whatever else my friends and I would get into the Hip would always be a staple.

I was born in 1981. I grew up in the final pre-internet generation, with one foot in the analog age and the other in the digital. I am old enough to have been initially acculturated into a world without computers and smartphones and the internet. I am young enough to have been able to absorb these new technologies seamlessly.

Growing up, I remember how entire homes could be labeled with the word “computer.” As in, “They have a computer in their house.” A common question we’d ask each other back then was “Do you know how to use a computer?” Most people didn’t. Our schools introduced them to us as the tool of the future that we’d all be using someday. Many were skeptical.

I can remember when my best friend first got a computer in his house. I marveled at it. I would watch him use it but he’d never let me touch it. He once tricked me into touching his dog’s wiener, but his family’s computer, no way.

“He really likes it when you rub his belly. Go ahead, just rub his belly and he will like you forever.”

[rub, rub.]

“Ah!!! You’re touching Poorhouse’s penis! Mooooommmm! Wade’s touching Poorhouse’s penis!”

My society was on the same page in those days. Everybody got their news from one of three sources that were all pretty much the same. You either came from a home that watched Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, or Dan Rather every night. There were no other options. You could show up to work the next day and talk to random co-workers about what you watched on TV the night before. Chances were they watched it too. There was an order to society, people lived with the expectation that they would work their jobs that they retired — people actually retired back then. Parents and teachers would all tell us about how we would grow up, go to college, get a good job, and that would be it.

Then everything changed. The internet evolved beyond being a fancy toy. The companies left for other countries. The world opened up. The smartphone was pan-culturally adapted. Families and communities split apart in search of better jobs. Society was shredded into niches. I have no idea what music, TV shows, or movies the people around me watch. If I began talking about what I watched last night chances are nobody would get it.

The Tragically Hip are gone.

Mass society is gone.


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Filed under: Canada, Nostalgia, USA

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3715 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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