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The RoBlog
Sunday, February 22, 2004
Modernism and the Individual
John McHale's essay "The Plastic Parthenon" discusses the emergence of "mass" culture.

Could it be that mass culture was required in the increasingly global context of society brought about by the telecommunication boom, mass production, distributed manufacturing, and mass global movement? Perhaps it was a way to give us not only an understanding of other cultures, both at home and abroad, but a common language divorced from any particular geography or cultural history.

The problem became that it was only economically viable to communicate a relatively small amount of things that would be of interest to very large audiences.

Modern communications, such as cable TV and the Internet have made it more feasible to distribute a much larger number of things so much smaller groups of people. The Internet has gone one step farther and given ACCESS to mass communication to a vastly larger segment of the population, allowing 1-to-1 communications.

The problem that arises is that the amount of information to be absorbed is significantly more than any individual can hope to handle, so choices have to be made about what to be interested in. The 1-to-1 nature of the Internet allows for a person to choose whatever source they may be interested in on whatever topic they may be interested in, allowing people to become more highly individualized than at any time in history. The common legacy of "pop culture" that blossomed in the 1960's, which provided much of our common language is being replaced by "micro cultures". The children of the 1990s may discover that it is difficult to strike up a conversation with random strangers their own age as they share little in common with each other both geographically, and in terms of common culture.

The next major sociological problem to be solved by technology, then, is to connect these disparate individuals with those other individuals who, though they may not share the same cultural waypoints, share at least enough to form common bonds. An alternative (and likely less of a one-or-the-other choice) is to connect individuals who may not have any common culture, but who are complementary in other ways in which humans bond.

We have spend many millennia now dissolving our tribal heritage. I believe the next decade or two will emphasize the creation of new, modern tribes that may span the globe while still constituting our network of friends, supporters, and advisors. Technology will be used to pick these people out of the ether for us in ways we could never have done without it.

The recent past of the Internet is already rife with examples of attempting to assemble the modern tribe for us: Collaborative filtering engines were the hallmark of the Internet before the turn of the millennia; sites geared towards finding the perfect mate were also early on the Internet scene; more recently, sites like Friendster.com or Tribe.net have appeared to weave together our existing people networks into a mesh that we can knowingly travel for specific purposes. But these sites are not yet the transformative engine by which the modern tribes will be forged.

Stay tuned for more...

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