08/11/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

"We Are Not Alone"

Right now, for the first time I can remember, commerce became more important to us than culture -- and no one expects it any differently. Perhaps that's the sincerest definition of mediocrity. Those are the times we live in.

Sam Smith, writer, activist and social critic at the forefront of political ideas since the 50s, is a soft-spoken award-winning alternative journalist. and editor at Progressive Review. [Big parenthetic point: As some of you who have been following my stuff on HuffPo and know, I am obsessed with Sam Smith's Great American Political Repair Manual, a book from the 90's. He said once -- it struck me -- that changes in individual control have affected our ability to succeed.

"Successful people in an earlier time had more fun because they got to live life their way. Imagine Orson Welles working with David Geffen? J.P. Morgan standing still for a photo op with George Bush? Eleanor Roosevelt going on Saturday Night Live to boost her numbers! Once a reward of success meant YOU got to make rules. Today all rules are given you via conference call with your manager, agent, and lawyer."]

Mr. Smith sees the need for counter cultures, but he sees the younger generation not being taught how to really move. "Teach people they are not alone," he offers as a solution. "That as a result of having places to meet, counter culture, artistic expression representing people outside the norm." He says, if you are part of, say, a movement, like jazz in the 1950s, you can act on it.

"Spirit of art is important when trying to find a counter culture," he told me. He thinks Washington rallies of the 2000's have been highly organized, "and surprising and quite impressive. But this was not like 60's rallies. We lack the emotional side. We have no rebellion." Could we be less rebellious because of all the pharmaceuticals we take?

Sad. Yet what would it be like if we all looked up one day and said:

"Time for a change."

What would that look like -- I wonder. Messy, for sure. It might make us more apt to question everything around us. Dangerous world.

Whatever happened to reading? We don't really read books. We read whatever people hand us or glop onto us via IM -- we skim from the top. Wow, gaze at how much information is there for the taking, so much of it is now online courtesy, yep, books. Free for those who are alert and have a decent broadband connection.

Any true media junkie -- which I assume everyone reading this is -- must obsessively keep up with the daily newspaper and weekly magazine world, particularly since so many of them are seeing their days numbered. It's time for us to be the best informed we could be since so much is happening behind closed doors.

As Jefferson remarked once in a moment of wistfulness: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to choose the latter."

Choose to read up on the crap that seems like opinion (blogs) but in many cases is knowledge passed subtly from a source to someone with an eagle eye. Every now and then remove your eyes from your iTouch. Read Letters to the Editor (the original user-generated content!) and raise your fists with glee. Pour through those stacks of fire hazard The Weeks and get them inside you.

Fundamental, indeed, but it sure makes you a better catch at parties.

I'm Richard Laermer, and this is a musing ripped from the pages NOT in the book, 2011: trendspotting for the next decade, out from McGraw-Hill. Any thoughts? I'm here.