Of the Obsolescence of Man

Hugo JACOMET

Of the Obsolescence of Man

Of the Obsolescence of Man

Editorial by Hugo Jacomet

(Wonderful) translation by Joseph Nexon

As Parisian Gentleman attracts multiplying and ever more intense projects and requests (writing projects, conferences, master-classes, Parisian Gentleman events, films), I must confess to still being surprised at the breadth of the “sartorial phenomenon” on the internet and by the worldwide audience that websites like ours enjoy nowadays.

Given this, along the way, I spent a lot of time thinking about the mechanisms of the sartorial phenomenon, so as to understand and amplify its reach further. And, it seemed interesting to share on occasion, my analysis and perspective on the sartorial wave that is breaking over western societies. Even though our societies are in the midst of a dire economic crisis that would somewhat mask the importance of the phenomenon, it cannot be ignored any longer, nor can it be seen as a fleeting fashion (case in point) and even less as a fringe phenomenon… We are, through our large and ever-growing readership, both its privileged witnesses and its advocates.

More and more often, and much against my will — I am mentioned (online or in print) as, believe it or not, a “world authority on men’s style, known for years on the internet”. Nothing less. That’ll make mother proud. Call me doctor…

Of course, being so described in the media is both pleasant and flattering. Notwithstanding purported “authority” (I would rather it be called influence), this praise, though a tad overblown, does have the virtue of making us put our shoulder to the wheel and seek to improve even further after over 1000 posts about men’s style since… January 2009.

Though it may surprise you, rather than the praise, it is the expression “known for years” that catches my attention the most.

Indeed, if we go by the feedback from our readers and commenters, we would be long since counted, along with the English-speaking fora and a few blogs across the Channel and Atlantic, among the great old ones of the field, even though we just finished up our fourth year and just got started on our expansion phase over the last few months…  How incredible the compression of time, brought on by the technological revolution and its obsession with immediacy — as it presents a merely four-year old publication (barely adolescence for a real long-term editorial project) as an authority! Are we so lacking in authors in a field that happened to be, so far, mostly covered by non-specialist writers (in charge of “secondary” or even superfluous subjects) in the traditional press?

There used to be a time not long gone, fifteen years ago at the most, when being an authority was more meaningful, and had more depth and significance. A post-industrial but pre-technological time when it so happened that being called an “authority”, regardless of one’s field, rarely happened ante-mortem (I am in no hurry, mind you…) A period when time had substance and heft, when everything seemed slower.

It was the time, so close and so far away, of a “vertical” society, when the intervention of mediating bodies (political parties, associations, companies, schools) was the ruling norm, and when to educate oneself was thought of as requiring time, solitude and silence, and a time that education was based upon the understanding of “causality links” obtained solely through the lonely process of a working over (verging on getting worked over) of the classics of literature and philosophy.  Then, times of study and of education were often also times of introspection and personal devotion and inner struggle… or mindless boredom, also.

Nowadays, in this society which is undergoing a technological revolution, times of education are most often collective (behold the blind and mistaken adoration of the overly purported virtues of group work). And, the media used in times of private study (connected devices in open environments) do not leave much room or many chances for introspection and personal understanding, in an environment committed to exalting the “extrospection” of the internet user and his boundless freedom to browse and to make so-called choices.

Thus, the eternal and disastrous confusion between the access to knowledge, and knowledge itself…

For sure, reading War and Peace by Léon Tosltoï on a smartphone or tablet computer while playing three cash games on a Poker website, bidding on two rare LPs on Ebay, chatting with a dozen friends on Skype (text or call) and following the rest’s updates on Facebook, booking three train tickets and comparing 34 hotels with a deal finder, all the while tweeting, retweeting, posting, reposting, commenting, sharing blogging and reblogging ceaselessly, is probably not ideal to grasp the substance of this colossal and timeless work.

Hence, as Gunther Anders, a German philosopher better known outside of Germany for his brief marriage to Hannah Arrendt than for his occasionally brilliant part in the criticism of modernity– had already foreseen in 1956, man could indeed be becoming, through utter lack of mediation and protection of this introspection that is invaluable to the growth of one’s judgment and reasoning, a mere link in a chain, or merely the transmitter of a continuous feed of data predicated on the injunction : “do not judge, go forth!”

It is as if Norbert Wiener’s cybernetic utopia (stemming from the traumatization of World War II and the monstrosities the human brain could create of a disembodied society), the pillars of information and communication, was at last being born in front of us. An utopia that questions the superiority of the living Subject, and thus man, over inert objects, machines, and even algorithms.

This hellish descent that destroys the opportunity for introspection, and noisily crowns its haunting and toxic sibling, is the result of transparency; that is, the catastrophic belief that there ought to be no boundary between public and private lives (thanks a lot, Facebook), brings us straight back to Anders’ works, particularly his famous, most evocatively titled book : The Obsolescence of Humankind where, according to the author’s disaster scenario, man has to urgently seize back control from machines and objects. An injunction that, 55 years after the publication of this visionary work, should rather be read now as “protect yourself from algorithms ” for the experts and as “change your privacy settings” for the rest, or something of this ilk.

Obviously, these reflexions do not, by any stretch, mean that I am a Luddite or that I preach an omnipresent “it was better before”. It would be an outdated approach, an objectively indefensible position, a ridiculous and doomed attempt, highly reminiscent of the long forgotten war once waged by the copyists on publishers during the rise of the printing press. They argued, likely with some merit, for a ban on this method of duplicating texts as it did not allow for each copyist to annotate the text and make it more understandable. Which, all democratic concerns aside, was a valid point…

Be that as it may, and despite the fascination that this glorious history of writing exerts on those who like us, who are smitten with style, whether in dress or of writing, we have to keep in mind that Parisian Gentleman, contrary to appearances, is a pure product of the internet and simply could not have come to be before the last ten years.

Therefore we are not here to deny in any way the tremendous positive effects of the advent of a “connected” world and of the revolution that goes with it. Still, part of our topic –and suddenly we return to our prime subject of men’s style– is about the large alternative movements that these massive revolutions generate without fail and from which we stem directly, as a website but also as a “sartorial” community.

The systematic use of the automobile in society peaked in the nineties; and eventually, had the counter-effect of creating a sudden and lasting enthusiasm for jogging and running in all shapes and forms.

In the same way, with the systematic access to information in our society, we are witnessing a far-reaching revolution with deep and lasting effects that also generates alternative movements that are trying to promote, in a variety of ways, more disconnected moments for the cognitive well being of humans.

Indeed, it is on public record that the offspring of the (ultra)rich, (ultra)young, (ultra)powerful CEOs and directors of internet monsters such as Google, Amazon, Apple (under Steve Jobs) or Twitter ALL attend “offline” schools where (with the utter lack of understatement that Americans are wont to display) pens and nib pens, blackboards and chalk, copybooks and books (truly, real books with pages made from paper that comes from trees, my good lady!) are once more showcased, but also where arts and crafts as well as sports are put at the core of the education of these (ultra)privileged youths.

Is it not the absolute oxymoron, for these new Masters of the World, whose omnipresent communication sings, occasionally ad nauseam, the praise of the connected world, to choose the good old ways of our parents and grandparents to raise and teach their offspring? Nonetheless, we do not see any attempt on their part to honor tradition or the right to disconnection and introspection of their children, for their reasons are much more pedestrian.

Indeed, every comparative study on cognition conducted on education methods incontrovertibly show that while reading and learning on a computer grants a fractal perception unattainable through printed works, the latter are much more efficient than the former in the identification of causality links in a text. To rephrase it in simpler terms, books still have the upper hand over computers in a few key domains, education in this case. Surprising, is it not?

And this logo-and-sportswear-obsessed society, this society of the ready-to-wear-ready-to-think of course spawned a new masculine community of  the “sartorialists”, who are passionate, sometimes to the point of obsession, about classic menswear. These men surely existed previously and independently all over the globe.

Their gathering on the founding fora, however, (StyleForum, AskAndy, The LondonLounge) not only allowed them to flesh out an extremely active and outspoken community, but also to jumpstart the creation of a new generation of men who are more concerned about their personal style, more educated in the matter and demanding of the players in the market and thus more prepared to… take their time, whether in the selection of a RTW suit or in the almost transcendental experience of made-to-measure suiting or bespoke tailoring.