Hey what’s going on?
I don’t mean with you in particular, though that’s not to say I’m not interested.
I mean to say, what is going in now. As in, what’s going on around us. What’s of the moment? What’s good? What’s popular? What’s cool? What’s trending? What’s everyone talking about?
What’s the zeitgeist?
Are you familiar with this word? Zeitgeist? It’s a word that’s been around for awhile, at least since the mid-1800’s, or so says the internet. I have only become aware of this word in the past few years, and I’d say that it’s only been a year or two that I’ve seen it used with regularity.
It’s a German word, defined as “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period as shown by the ideals and beliefs of the time.” You can delve into it more here on Wikipedia. But for me and they way I am understanding it it’s a way to understand what happened or what is happening. It’s a broad and loose word as it’s defined and I think it’s open to interpretation.
What is the spirit of our time? What period are we in? What are our ideals?
The problem with the zeitgeist is that we may only be able to define it in retrospect. It seems to be a word for historians and philosophers. The word may have only come into existence in the past century and a half, but the idea of it has been around a lot longer.
The way I see the zeitgeist as it has been applied to our times is the way certain time periods have been labeled. In just our most recent history we’ve come to define periods by labeling decades with some overlap. You could go as far back as you’d like, but think of things like the roaring ’20’s and the culture associated with that. We talk about the beatniks in the ’50s, the hippies and counter-culture of the ’60’s, the grunge of the ’90’s, the obsession’s of the 2000’s.
But it’s more than decades or a period of time and how they are defined. It’s what the dominant thoughts and opinions of the time that was the zeitgeist.
We have this constant need to define and group ourselves by generation, and to attach a label to that particular generation. “The Greatest Generation”, “Baby Boomers,” “Generation X”, “Generation Z”, “Millennials.” They’ve even come out with a new one I’ve been seeing – “Xennials,” or older Millennials that straddle both GenX and Millennial.
I’m not sure why we have this obsession with naming and labeling the generations. The definitions seem to broad to me, and with any labeling I feel like it’s irresponsible and sometimes dangerous to group an entire range of people with only a few defining characteristics. Sometimes I think it’s only for branding and advertising.
But however a generation is defined, the latest one, the one that is current and in their prime, perhaps they are the zeitgeist. And whatever is happening during that zeitgeist is the zeitgeist. Whatever is happening in politics or pop culture, whatever movements have sprung up are the zeitgeist. Anything of the time is the zeitgeist. The Renaissance was the zeitgeist. Psychology was the zeitgeist. Any art movement – impressionism, modernism, surrealism and etc.
When does the zeitgeist end, then? When does the spirt of the time change? Perhaps it turns over generationally, and when one generation get’s “old”, however old that may be then the next generation takes over and their defining spirit or mood becomes the zeitgeist.
How long is the zeitgeist? I think it’s been thought of in many different ways. And age is too long and would encompass too many generations. I think generational turnover may be a good way to define how long it is. And so whatever was the original definition of the zeitgeist, I think that without even knowing what the word is or that there is such a word, the zeitgeist is youth culture. The zeitgeist is now. It’s happening. It’s what everyone is talking about.
When you start to feel nostalgia, real nostalgia for the way things were, when you start comparing your generation to the current generation you’ve lost the zeitgeist. For me, when the kids stopped wearing flannel and stopped listening to grunge and gangster rap, or when those things became retro then I exited the zeitgeist as I’ve been defining it. If you think to yourself something about “those kids today” and how things were better back in your day, you’ve lost the zeitgeist.
And none of that may matter or even be a thing. Why am I talking about the zeitgeist? Who cares? Why is it important?
Maybe it’s not, but to me it is, and I think it is in general. When the zeitgeist has passed us up it’s a hard thing to realize. We want to be relevant. We want to be hip. We want to be of the moment. No one wants to admit that they’re old or that they are getting old.
So we chase it. I chase it. It’s a dangerous thing, chasing the zeitgeist. If you chase too hard and try to be of the moment when the moment may have passed it looks like you are trying too hard. There’s nothing worse than a middle-aged man using the current slang without being ironic or wearing the latest fashions out of context or simply just trying too hard to hang on to it. It’s possible to straddle the zeitgeist, I think, but if you try too hard it can come off as a bit pathetic.
Everyone gets old. No one wants to admit it.
I perpetually chase the zeitgeist. I always have. I’ve chased it even before I knew what the word meant or that it was even a word. I’ve always wanted to be “cool”, or whatever the kids may use for the word “cool” these days.
I may have been of the zeitgeist for a few minutes back in the ’90’s but it did not last long.
I suppose I overthink the whole thing. None of it may matter. Maybe you don’t pay attention to the zeitgeist. It gets harder and harder to define. I think it changes quicker than it used to – yesterday’s meme or gif or video comes into and out of the zeitgeist so quickly that it is hard to keep current. Even the Zeitgeist has become part of the zeitgeist. It’s trending. It’s a hip way to define the micro-moment. It’s used as an adjective now. Things are zeitgeist-y.
But I think you do pay attention, even if you do not know it, even as the period of time is not defined until it’s over and even if it changes at a quicker pace than it ever did before.
I know it matters to me. It probably shouldn’t, because the chase is over. The zeitgeist has passed me by.
But despite myself I chase. I’ve been writing (somewhat obsessively – ok, obsessively – ok, super-obsessively) thousands of words a week in the recent x amount of time. I don’t know how long it will last (what am I up to? 10,000 words a week on different platforms? More?) I know I cannot sustain this pace, but I may as well get it out while the getting is good.
It’s because I’m chasing the zeitgeist.
But I think it’s more than that. I want to be part of the zeitgeist, yes. I want to trend, I want go viral. I want to be of the moment.
But what’s worse is that I want to be the zeitgeist. I want to do the defining. I want to start something. I want to be the defining spirt or mood of a particular period even if I cannot fully define that period or mood is that I want to define.
I am the Zeitgeist.
Listen to me!
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