a) I dunno, personally I enjoyed the long album cycle of old. I was way more of a “poptimist” once upon a time because even if you had no particular interest in an artist, you could still follow the trajectory of singles/performances over time. I look at someone like Carly Rae Jepsen whose album is breathlessly touted as a classic by every constipated rock critic on earth; I listened to the album and had no kind of feelings about it at all, but I bet if I just heard one song dribbling out every three months or so I could at least enjoy engaging with it as a music fan. Does that make sense?
b) There are of course popular memes and hashtags on the internet, but there are also more niches than ever before. Furries were a thing in 1985, I am sure; but furries are a fucking *thing* now because all the furries of the world can scurry to the same subreddit. Your aunt Cathy may occasionally share a meme that originated with Black Twitter, but she’s no more part of that culture than my dad was when he quoted Homie the Clown. I’m told there is a populous country on the internet where Brand New are the greatest band of all time. I hope I never accidentally wind up there.
c) Yes, I definitely think the fact that 1996 was a year when there were huge albums means 1996 was more important in terms of albums. Your aunt Cathy owned every big pop album of 1996, but she hasn’t bought an album in 15 years that wasn’t by Adele or that Hawaiian guy who did “Over the Rainbow”. 1996 was a bigger year for albums in the same way 1906 was a bigger year for the circus.
d) Are we talking on the internet about things we experience in private, or are we experiencing things for the sole purpose of talking about them on the internet? When somebody files an 8,000 word review of a mixtape that came out three hours ago, it feels like the latter. Kinda like photographing yourself in a yoga pose next to a waterfall instead of just looking at the waterfall.
BUT… I’m not trying to say that the old model was better than the new one. Just that it’s different. Personally, I liked things better the old way but that’s also just a thing that seems to happen more often the older I get. I’m under no illusions that my preference is objectively right.