(This is not, by the by, NaNoWriMo-related)
Mass production and distribution, combined with national and multinational chains of stores have made goods remarkably uniform across the country. Wal-Mart, McDonald's, Oreos, sure, but it goes far beyond that. Even generic brands often come from the same factories and are simply labelled differently for shipping elsewhere. Very spoilable products, such as milk, remain relatively regional but this, too, will become less true as distribution improves.
Television promised to do the same with mannerisms, speech and stories, to replace local folktales with the intellectual equivalent of McDonald's and Taco Bell, and in many social circles it has effectively done so. Teens in Boston, San Francisco and even Kansas City will find more common than uncommon ground because they have the baseline of television and to a lesser extent, radio and printed media, to fall back on.
The internet has taken this another step forward in both directions -- e-retailers are new, but they're unlikely to go away. If Amazon were to declare bankruptcy tomorrow, there would be five new heads to take the place of the one severed. On the social front, newspapers are dying and radio is almost exclusively an in-car phenomenon, while the internet is becoming an ever more common source of news and entertainment. There aren't many web sites (any?) that could claim a readership like the viewership of The Simpsons, but the day is coming. People like to find common ground, and that means people like a source of common ground, and that further removes regional differences. Differences in speech and even perception wear away as you interact with people with different regionalisms, and the internet pumps a constant supply of dialogue from Los Angeles, Prague and Bangkok into the home.
This is an eroding of regionalism, a globalism of the world, the mind and by extension the body. There is much to say about it. The Japanese national self- and body-image, for instance, is a topic for a different bit of text. But it has been extensively remarked on elsewhere.
What interested me, thinking this morning, was about the globalization of sources of knowledge. This was the promise of books back in the centuries before Christ. It has come ever closer to fruition as distribution improved and languages collapsed together into fewer, larger pools of speakers. The imperialism of all nations over the span of centuries has paved the way for Barnes and Noble -- Halleleujah.
But the internet has taken this a step further by distributing this information globally. That promise is not fully realized yet. The publishing industry prints only a single book from which every book-taught contact juggler learns. James Ernest wrote it, and there is, in effect, only one available. That's an impressive achievement, yes. But the internet equivalent is that the same penis-enlargement information is available, from many indistinguishable sources, to absolutely anybody with an email address. And that puts the publishing industry's efforts to shame. That is now a truly global form of information and (reputed) improvement, whether we want to hear about it or not. It is only a matter of time before the same is true of learning guitar, ordering a full set of (paper or virtual) Shakespeare's works and learning forensic pathology. The distribution channels are present and adequate, they are merely clogged with penises.
Still, even as the medium and the distribution mature, some products will be more popular than others. Simons, Travell and Simons' "Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction" is a truly fine text, but it will never outsell "Nosepicking for Dummies" regardless. The same is true of similar content, paper or electronic, that is distributed via the internet.
The "McMansion" is a modern observation, of copied, slapped-together, mass-produced, but still large, impressive and expensive houses. It's a way of deriding spending a massive amount of effort on a trite, unimaginative result.
The obvious extension into the intellectual realm in our times of mass-production would be the "McRenaissance Man". A man who reads up on Islamic Culture and Middle East politics now is doing something to broaden his mind, and doing it in the same way as a very large number of people around him. He could precede it by reading Shakespeare and Poe, who are collectively Middle America's idea of the Great Poets. Perhaps post-globalization it will be Shakespeare and Goethe, who knows?
In the age of books, this was stopped by the massive lag in producing books, which continues to grow shorter. The management fads for books like "Who Moved My Cheese?" and "What Color Is Your Parachute?" may presage ever-larger similar fads in the population at large. Self-help books have had such rushes for a long time.
Subcultures have had these trends as well -- a subculture, in some ways, is a large chunk of diverse abilities and exposures which propagates itself through the population, and they don't limit themselves to music, television and clothing. Renaissance Fair folk are more likely to learn leatherworking and meadmaking, the aging suit-and-tie crowd discover lawn care, country-music aficionados may jump at the chance to ride a horse...
And as these subcultures unite over ever larger geographical areas, as goths in Providence and Sacramento can connect to each other and exchange trends, and as books on Sadomasochism, Expectant Fatherhood, Golfing and Mongolian Cooking all become more geographically unified, you'll see ever more bland McSubcultures. The sexual underground of gays, BDSM practitioners and leatherfolk have seen this shift already -- suddenly there are real instructional books and classics available, and so it feels like everybody has read everything, which they could practically do in a week anyway. "Everything" that's currently popular, which in those circles is almost everything available, still isn't very much.
Interesting people will always exist, and perverse people (tip o' my hat to you all) will always seek out the dusty unknown simply because it's not widely discussed. Some of us will always read Erickson or Emile Coue rather than Hypnotism for Dummies (which isn't bad, I'm told). But I speak as somebody who has read most of the McRenaissance Man books in a couple of microcultures, and I'm beginning to wonder whether I'm looking at a lot more competition in these next couple of decades. I'm not the only bozo that has discovered Amazon.
I'm not sure whether to grin at the broader distribution of basic knowledge, cringe at popular literature's trimming of the market's edges, or both. "Both", I suspect, is the right answer.
Which mean I'll need to find some stuff that's really obscure. Don't wait up.