Foodies in a Digitized World

at 11:43 PM

The word "foodie" was coined in the early '80s, just as the personal computer revolution was gathering momentum. At the time these were, of course, very independent events. But with the passage of several decades you have to wonder if we have arrived at a point where our digital lives are encouraging our growing fascination with food.

There is the obvious economic link. Wealth is a great enabler when it comes to the quest for novelty. Jaded palates that have wearied of the familiar and the customary can summon legions of chefs and purveyors of fine foods who are quite happy to offer new delicacies.  And this is not merely a diversion for the tycoon. A world where content is free is one where there are extra dollars for the artisanal or hand-crafted.

But there may be a deeper connection. The Internet is, to a large degree, an apartheid of the senses. There is nothing to touch, smell or feel. The ability to summon any song or book with the press of a button means that content has to travel light: everything is stripped down to its essence. You want words, you get words. You want music, you get music, but nothing else.

In addition, the marriage of art and technology has, over time, traced a long arc that first removed the audience from the performer, and then the members of the audience from each other. Each of us can carry in our pockets a vast library and a concert hall full of music, but these are all private realms. And in the "on demand" world we not only don't have to attend together, we don't even have to watch at the same time.

In the midst of all this, dining remains an experience that not only draws on all our senses but is communal as well. An obsession with food - like any pre-occupation - can become pretentious and pedantic. But perhaps we should recognize that food's current exalted status reflects its survival as an experience that cannot be digitized. It is one form of entertainment that our phones can't deliver to us.

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At least not yet.

With a Perspective, this is Paul Staley.

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Paul Staley lives in San Francisco.

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