The appearance on Amazon of the book Farmville for Dummies - a self-consciously dummed-down how-to for Zynga's Facebook "game" that is absolutely nothing more than a time-sink without an iota of mental challenge - so depressed Umair Haque today that he declared it the end of culture.
"You know what's really cool about our culture?" he tweeted. "Oh wait. I can't think of anything."
Hyperbole is hyperbole. But since this is a cultural golden age, I do not like to see the odd bump in the road cause one of our greatest minds to write off the whole thing. Contra Farmville for Dummies, therefore, a handful of points in favour of the culture at the start of the second decade of the third millenium.
2. Multiple media and artforms are at the crest of a twenty-five-year long wave of excellence. Both TV drama and comic books have gone from Twin Peaks and Watchmen in the 80s and early 90s through GBH, the West Wing, the Sopranos, 24, Dr Who, Lost, Mad Men, The Shield and The Wire on the one hand and Arkham Asylum, Sandman, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, the Invisibles, The Boys and the Walking Dead on the other.
3. Right now, the new Tolkien is writing the new Lord of the Rings. We are living as the greatest fantasy epic ever told - George R R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire - comes to life. And that's just the highpoint of a fantasy literature that is the best it has ever been by a country mile - Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Robin Hobb, Scott Lynch, all writing at the same time. The City and the City, The Scar, The Wind-Up Girl, All My Friends are Superheroes, The Baroque Cycle, Amnesiascope, Nightwatch, The Passage, Anathem, World War Z, Falling out of Cars...in the last ten years humanity has produced some of the greatest stories ever told, and better still all the old ones are still just lying around for anyone who wants to pick them up.
4. Of course Farmville is nonsense for fools. But computer games ("the only truly original artform of the C20th") that aren't Farmville...well, there we have more cultural highpoints. Azeroth, the game world in which Warcraft is played, is one of the great artworks of the C21st, a vast interactive world of staggering beauty, depth and intricacy. If you've never spent a few hours just visiting and looking around you're missing out as badly as an Englishman who's never bothered to pop down the chunnel to see Mont St Michel or a Texan who's never visited the Grand Canyon. It's right there for the seeing and it's staggering. The peace and simple beauty of Loch Moden at sunset, the vast grandeur of Dalaran, the quiet of the Eversong Woods at dawn, Winterspring and Dun Morogh in the snow...if you haven't already, go and see what the fuss is about. Ditto Skyrim, Eve, even Skies of Arcadia which is now more than a decade old. Every day people are building whole new worlds you can get lost in for a year out of ones and zeroes. And yet the culture is over? No.
5. It has never been easier to create, learn, share knowledge. Wikipedia, yes, so far so obvious and no less a big deal for that. The ecosystem of books created by Amazon Kindle and self-publishing online, by blogging and twitter and even sometimes Facebook has exploded creativity. Sure, it means there's more crap. Most people aren't Shakespeare and so very much of it is the quotidian babble of toast and toothpaste. But I taught myself economics in five years just by reading the odd book and stuff that was lying around on the web and mainly by talking about it in public, right here, until I started making a modicum of sense (quiet at the back).
Everyone shares their thoughts in public and much of it is nonsense and hardly anyone reads any of it and still every day a million things are created that are profound or heartbreakingly beautiful or just strange and wonderful. The fact that for reasons I cannot fathom they are still churning out episodes of Coronation Street and the X Factor, that Michael Bay call sell movies, that Coldplay are allowed to sing in public and Zynga isn't bankrupt doesn't for one moment detract from any of that. Every day our culture gets richer and deeper and more wonderful. It's only ever a problem of selection.