Forget about the pandemic and global warming, the real challenge facing humanity is mediocrity, and it’s on the rise

Aprile 21, 20214 Minuti

Forbes magazine recently published their rankings of the biggest earners in entertainment and sports over the past year. Topping the list at a half billion dollars was Kylie Jenner of Kardashian fame. That’s more than Kobe Bryant earned in his entire career playing pro basketball. It used to be that success required actually accomplishing something and then amplifying it. But social media has turned that concept upside down. The long road to fame has never been easier. Stand out, attract enough followers and you too can become an “influencer”. Unfortunately it is a medium that too often rewards stupidity and extremism.

As Bertrand RusselI said, “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people are so full of doubts”. The bar has been irreversibly lowered to the point where anyone can have a voice, even if they have nothing to say. Everyone can now declare themselves an authority with no need for credentials. I see it in my own field. So much bullshit published by self proclaimed brand gurus and failed consultants promoting their often plagiarised insight with no evidence to back it up.

Mediocrity has been around for a very long time. Dante created a place between heaven and hell where the souls of those who lived self-serving, meaningless lives (the Ignavi) would dwell for eternity. That was the middle ages. Today, instead of ending up in purgatory they are celebrated. Social sensibility has led us to the point where children are raised without experiencing failure. We have the accumulated knowledge of mankind at our fingertips but general ignorance has never been so widespread. Anyone with the appropriate software can now produce music and art without having to master the skills that a decade ago would have required years of dedicated study. I’ve taught for half my life, beginning in Paris when I was 30. Over time I witnessed such a decline in the quality of students that a few years ago I decided to give it up. In one of my last classes I asked my students which designers they admired the most. All I got back were blank stares.

Most had never heard of Tschichold, Zapff, Rand, Bass or Brody. I was shocked. Were all those years I spent studying design and art history a waste of time? Is culture even important anymore? Mainstream has become very wide and very shallow. Attention spans are dwindling down. Opinions are formed by headlines, not through a careful consideration of the facts. We are losing our ability to discriminate between what is meaningful and what is frivolous. What has value and what is fake. Maybe none of this even matters anymore. Maybe I’ve become a dinosaur. Maybe instead of wasting my time reflecting on it I should just make a TikTok video of myself skateboarding naked through the studio with my designers dancing in unison, go viral and become famous. But I won’t. I have to hold on to the belief that dedication, hard work and achievement still counts for something.

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Drew Smith

An award winning designer and an expert in consumer brand management, NPD and packaging design with over twenty years of experience. Canadian by birth, he has been the Creative Director of several leading international consultancies and is a graduate of Art Center College of Design and Sheridan College, School of Visual Arts.