The virtual world—texting and Googling at ever-faster speeds—supplies a technological frenzy to mirror the physical one outside. Immediate reaction is all that's desired; contemplation, the critic's most precious tool, increasingly gets laid aside. A former student asked me, last month, to answer some questions about the future of criticism for an article she was preparing; I had to tell her honestly that I couldn't answer them because I wasn't sure it had any. As newspapers and magazines shrink in the economic downturn, both their coverage and their arts staffs get increasingly downsized; critic, feature writer, and reporter find their posts compressed into a single job with three hats. And the theater's lucky, at that; dance and classical music are watching even that single job disappear. The infinite space the Internet offers, meantime, gets filled up with reiterated tidbits of data or the infinite and not always well-informed sprawl of blogging.
Given the increased interest—and increased knowledge—of audiences and practitioners in every art, it's hard to see why criticism has been such a prominent victim of the crunch: You'd think that such a time would most need it and demand it. But hectic times often generate too much incidental noise to notice what they need most, until the engine driving their frenzy runs out of gas, or crashes. What are critics to do in the meantime? Survive, if they can. And contemplate their life, their art, their world, by seizing any quiet moment they can get. Like this one.