American Decline

Part 1: The 1990s was Last Great Decade for People Living in USA and West

Here is a series I first contemplated writing over five years ago, though the core idea occurred a bit before that and in an unexpected place. See.. spending too much time on the less frequented parts of the internet often helps me notice correlations, trends and patterns that escape the attention of most people. About seven years ago, I was going through a newsgroup about large architectural projects all over the world and noticed an odd trend. Increasingly, the most interesting and large projects were in Asia, not North America or Europe. Some of you might attribute this to Asia finally catching up to the West, and I too initially considered that possibility. Then I noticed something else.. most of the few large building projects in West were heavily over budget and took far longer than expected. More interestingly, the results were usually of poor to atrociously bad quality and full of poor design choices.

Then I started noticing this same basic trend in many other areas, from drug discovery and computer technology to video games, movies and music. It was as if the past 15-20 years have been one continuous blur of stagnation if you were living in USA or any other western country. Some of you might say that smartphones, “machine learning” and other assorted bullshit is a sign of progress. But is it really? Pocket PCs with touch screens running Windows Mobile could be used to browse the web, check email, play games, watch movie clips, take photos, utilize GPS and many more things almost 20 years ago. The biggest “advance” smartphones represent is that they are permanently connected to high-speed networks because data transmission costs have gone down. Has all that hype about “machine learning”, “deep learning” and “AI” translated into any worthwhile improvement in your quality of life?

While I would like to start this series by talking about how technology has stagnated, a better (more popular) place to start would be how cultural products have stagnated or gotten worse. While trends in music and video games will be addressed in subsequent posts, we will focus on trends in films and TV in this post. But before we go there, let us first define the 1990s. In my opinion, the 1990s began on December 26, 1991 and ended on September 11, 2001 though it kinda dragged on until August 31, 2005. The period between those dates was the last time the west (especially USA) was dominant and relatively prosperous. As you will see, these dates also define that decade in many fields. It is as if this time-span was the last hurrah for the western socio-economic model including neo-liberalism (and neo-conservatism).

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