A note to Sir Elton: Did you really just say that?

Sir Elton,

First of all, while you well may be a Luddite, I would like to add my voice to that of your fellow Englishman Mark Steel when he suggests that the pejorative nature of the term seems incorrect. Enough said about that, because there are a couple of other things that seem a tad more important.

The first is the obvious: the internet is here to stay. In fact, our lives are so dependent on networks that in even making the suggestion, you are registering yourself in people’s minds as being simply absurd. And this is the problem. In the first place, you are embarrassing yourself. Now, I’m not the kind of fan who will squeal and swoon over a chance encounter with someone of your stature, but I am the kind of admirer of art that develops what some would suggest is an illegitimate bond with the artist. That it makes me sad to hear that you have said such things is my own problem, but what makes me sad is that someone I admire is embarrassing himself. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to listen to your music any less. I’m not going to start pretending I don’t know the words to “Rocket Man”. But you’re embarrassing yourself with such statements, and unlike politicians or the latest famous-for-being-stupid celebrity, it actually kind of stings.

But more importantly, the suggestion registers so poorly that people will miss the more important issues you’ve raised in an August 1 article from The Sun:

He claims it is destroying good music, saying: “The internet has stopped people from going out and being with each other, creating stuff ….

…. “Let’s get out in the streets and march and protest instead of sitting at home and blogging.

It is an interesting time, but compared to the last years before the rise of the internet, sitting home and blogging is at least marginally better than sitting home and playing pinochle. The exchange of information empowered by the internet is a tremendous part of what has led to protests in the streets; without the internet, the constant harassment of the World Trade Organization, World Bank, and other institutions would most likely be limited to a few marginalized socialists. Introspective social studies are rather quite needed right about now. People are finding out that the world is not nearly as simply arranged as the myths of their upbringing and education has suggested. While people may be suffering from information overload, they are at least receiving information. Sorting out their positions in such tempestuous seas is a tricky feat. Retreat from the technology will create and enforce a sense of isolation.

Introspective art is inevitable. Modern technology has brought artists, especially musicians, incredible opportunities. You can record an album on a desktop computer, Sir Elton. You can distribute it to the world from that same desktop computer. The idea that this opportunity should present itself without a generation of artists, who have seen it coming and waited the most of their lives for it to arrive, diving headlong into the abyss is counterintuitive. Nature abhors a vacuum. That industrial concerns exploit the technology to generate pabulum is also inevitable. The corporate tendency in music does more to foul artistic output than the current introspection.

And that’s the other thing: It will pass. The introspective fascination will pass. Think of what happened to synthesized sound in the pop music of the 1980s. Musicians got over it, moved on to more dignified considerations. There were at least a few good songs buried in all that artificial noise, but with the tools available, how were artists not supposed to accidentally go overboard with it? It passed. You have some appreciation for synthesized piano notes. And you don’t need the thing to wolf-whistle or make laser noises. And what of jazz? Does not the electric piano have its own merits as an instrument? Have jazz musicians done so poorly by the technology? Every time musical technology advances, a good many artists will jump on, and somebody at least will go too far with it. But the trend passes, and life goes on.

In time, artists in isolation will tire of the isolation and either come out and play with others or do other things entirely. It does not necessarily bode poorly for long-term artistic vision; many of these artists will be forced to end their isolation because they cannot fulfill the vision on their own. Production and distribution technology might be pulling a lot of free souls out of the daylight, but I can only beg you to not overlook what this price can buy. Students applying to prestigious art and music schools might arrive with three albums and some good touring experience in their portfolios, saying, “I can do this, but it’s not good enough. How do I do this better?” This is a far cry from a generation ago, when the question seemed, “Hear how well I can play, listen to what I’ve learned about theory; now what?” The competition is more fierce because more people are trying to do it, and they’re doing it better because they must. The technology is inspiring as much as it is forcing an ever-dynamic standard. Was it Francis Ford Coppola, in the Apple commercial, who said that he would like to get three million iMacs and give them to three million young people, and maybe we would see the next Mozart emerge? The appearance of self-obsession will pass, the quality ratios of artistic expression will improve.

And so it is with the social introspection. The next generation will be more comfortable with the information exchange. Their relationship with it will be more efficient. And at some point, even the current generations will come to a point where they are comfortable enough with their position that they will be able to say, “Okay, I think I see what’s going on, and, seriously, you’re kidding me.” They will stand up. They will stretch their legs and wander into the sun and make their way down the the state houses and say, “What the hell is going on?”

In the United States, protest action and civil disobedience have fallen into disrepute better exploited as comedic fodder than employed as a means to any given end. The information coming across the network is often confusing and overwhelming for many. They will damn well be sure of themselves before they buck the trend and wander into the ideological combat zone that is public demonstration. But it is the same information exchange that is driving people indoors to introspection that will eventually conquer the self-reproach and coax them back out into the light.

I believe you’re looking at a snapshot, a still-frame taken of a dynamic condition, and imagining the captured conditions echoed and extended into perpetuity. What is happening is an inevitability, and it will pass. And while it is a fair question as to what condition people will find when they look outside again, I think you’re worrying too much about a static condition that does not exist.

So, come on. Please? Enough with this bit about shutting down the internet for any period whatsoever. Not only is it obviously infeasible, but it is so absurd a notion that you should expect to hear some vitriolic and hurtful retorts. And I promise you, these aren’t slings and arrows that anyone need endure right now. These trends that trouble you will pass. I can only urge you to be less troubled by them. They can lead to better things, and would be better served by our encouragement than rebuke.