A myriad of psychological and sociological challenges face us tomorrow, born out of a world where novelty is scarce, the prospect of individuality, outnumbered, faces sublimation and creativity wilts in terra cocta.
λ ♥ Make It New!
We’ve seen the evolution of the distribution of mass communication from four channels to dozens to the internet. The internet is essentially the inversion of the concept of mass communication, where each person has their own channel. And for about two decades, the average person had access to the power of knowledge and information while the internet was completely free. This access is unequivocally greater than at any other time in human history.
But this can be just as dangerous as it is beneficial. If any information can be freely transmitted over maximally connected distribution networks, then who’s job is it to discern misinformation? In the previous mass communication paradigm, it was the job of journalists, editors, reporters and producers to vet quality of information. If this is almost completely lacking, and especially when we are lacking those cultural touchstones, the propensity for misinformation to alter our course of action skyrockets. Our beloved 21st century Library of Alexandria becomes it’s antithesis.
The Urban Dictionary is a loosely controlled collection of idioms and expression, but who controls what gets on there or not? Are there entries with false definitions? Or unused expressions? If we pull idioms and expressive language from experiences in our lives, then if we all have completely different experiences, can we communicate with idioms?
The newsfeed filter bubble is incredibly powerful, though incomprehensibly complex. How often do you check your friends facebook or twitter feed? How do you know what a consistent experience is if the sum of our experiences suffers from maximal differentiation?
λ ♥ Make It New!
Individuality is derived from how we and others present or perceive ourselves to differ in relation to some universal constants. Individuality is evaporating because these cultural touchstones we use to define ourselves are becoming buried in a sea of mimicry. It’s ironic that uniformly amplified, stochastic expression of novel cultural elements would threaten individuality itself. In other words, if everyone has the capacity for maximized, wholly and equivalent individualistic expression, then individuality disappears because we lose those centralized touchstones.
For what are we, if we lack these unifying cultural elements that we use to define ourselves? How can one compare themselves to someone else if we don’t all share some common experiences?
Decades ago, everyone was exposed to common cultural factors. Now, we have been thrust far into the noosphere, which is like the biosphere, but for knowledge. To be far into the noosphere means that we are far, far beyond the point where there is enough time in one’s life to consume all the books, movies, music, academic studies, and other information in the world. One could argue that we’ve always been there, but I think it’s clear that as the population grows, so do the cultural artifacts. In the past two decades, these artifacts have been piling up and who is to say which are relevant and which are not?
We have more genre’s of music every year because everyone struggles to sound different. Preexisting genre’s are combinated to create new ones, but at some point, there is so much differentiation that any hope is lost for creating a discernably different genre, at least to any degree of significance. Not only is there so much variation in content, there is equally as much variation in patterns of content consumption behaviors.
How many hipsters does it take to change a lightbulb? Well, if you have more than one, they’ll never be able to decide on the lighting spectum, the shape, the fixture, the environmental consequences and the vender. They’ll probably need something handmade. It’s really hard to market to more than one hipster. Too eclectic. And so there are economic consequences as well. Cost to advertise skyrockets and then there’s so much noise noone wants to pay attention to your marketing message.
Genres of music and art forms inspire subcultures to arise and diversify. Then, our culture becomes more fragmented, psychologically and sociologically. Memetically, this changes how people are psychologically structured and the degree to which their psyches can be predicted.
The exponential variation of memes decreases their viability. They are less likely to persist and this alters their epimemetic behavior. Epimemetics is to memes as epidemiology is to disease. For the most part, with increased number and decreased viability, it’s challenging for any memes to rise to the top to become a touchstone. And there would be very few touchstones universally pervading society.
Today, everything that has been done as been done before. We’ve all heard that before. It’s even in Ecclesiastes:
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
All new and old genres of movies are recombinations of pre-existing genre’s and works, maybe with new technology or a new perspective. But they’re all the same ideas. This isn’t to say that recent TV or movies lack quality. Quite the opposite: there is so much excellent writing and production in entertainment today. But there’s so much content on Hulu and Netflix that it becomes hard to experience it all.
For art and life in general, everything starts to blur together. Nothing is pure and nothing is original. When a work of art is perceived as a reconstitution of other ideas, what happens when there are innumerable, indistinguishable ideas to link to? Can any interpretations be said to have consistency in meaning? If no symbols can have relevance, then what happens to language? What does this mean for us? For individual cultures, old and new? For the entire world as one? In the context of semiotics?
There are many means of communicating with, motivating, relating to, empathizing with and manipulating people that depend on widely shared psychological structures. When and if there are none, the capacity to control is diluted. Regardless of your personal feelings about these methods of influence – for many there is an incredibly negative connotation – they are crucial to a functioning, robust society. We need to be able to predict and coordinate behavior through socialogical and psychological structures. And so, if nothing rises above the noise, we’ll have problems.
This takes on an interesting dimension when it’s now possible to know the information that a person may know or have seen. While for most of us, we see simply noise, those operating a panopticon can draw useful statistical inferences based on categorizing people on overlapping sets of information that we have consumed and our behaviors. Obviously, such a capability isn’t available to all of us, just those who happen to have a surveillance apparatus on hand.
There was a 19th or 20th century French philosophy that, for the life of me, I can’t find. I think he was a contemporary of Heidegger, but I can’t be sure. This philosopher dropped out of college and refused education out of concern for the potential for others to know the extent of his knowledge. I can’t find this philosopher and, while he wasn’t hugely popular, that really resonated with me. It’s more relevant now than ever, with information consumption primarily funneled through ISP’s and the internet.
There are some links that you could click on and you do not want to click on them … an extreme example, there is a horrible, terrible, no good cookbook that you probably do not want to mention or accidentally click on. But, our society will continue to extend it’s capabilities for classifying and categorizing people based on what they are known to know. And while you will never have this power, they will.
So as the semiotic noise increases, what happens as our cultural artifacts become less pure and more diluted? What happens as our cultural artificers – our musicians, directors, poets, etc. – become more capable than ever of creating, but less capable of standing out? Or incapable of pushing the boundaries? If it’s impossible for anyone to push the boundaries in most fields, what does that imply about the people in that society? What are their lives like? What do they feel? Where do they find happiness?
I Want To Know…
I Really Wanted To Know… Don’t You?
For the most part….
There are some insights into creativity which can only be learned experientially. In order to obtain these insights, you would have to be extremely creative in a particular field, truly pushing the boundaries. There are many insights which, when learned firsthand through experience, will resonate through the core of your being and facillitate a much greater change than anyone could ever experience through the academic study of that thing. This is true for creativity itself too. So therefore, the death of creativity is very depressing indeed.
For me, jamskating was a new burgeoning sport that was mostly undeveloped and this was the thing that experientially taught me about creativity. I always enjoy watching the end of Bones Brigade. The last part of the interview with Rodney Mullen never ceases to blow me away. His understanding of philosophy is on mystic guru level.
A Brief Treatise on Lampshade Warfare
For me, there was no greater pain than being constantly pushed out of jamskating and made into a hasbeen. Even though most of my accomplishments there were downplayed, I still have the most valuable asset I built with my time in jamskating and that is my creativity. I learned out to generalize it when I asked myself: what if I took all that energy I applied to jamskating and figured out how to apply it elsewhere?
And I realized that, if I could do that, no one could ever assert that my contributions in jamskating were inconsequential. It wouldn’t matter if, every single time I tried to start skating again, a handful of people interfered. If I managed to prove beyond any doubt that I could do apply the same level of creativity to life, no one could ever make the assumption that I wasn’t really that big of a deal. It wouldn’t matter if I had been forgotten in jamskating because I would eventually make damn sure that I was remembered. And all those people that would hold me at arms length wouldn’t be able to hold me back elsewhere.
[Points at Genitals]
That was my long game. They wouldn’t let me shine, so I took my ball and went somewhere else.
ට The Prior Artificer
P.S. I wish I was capable of producing some book or movie or painting which captured these ideas, wrapping them within a clever story that enables the reader to explore them on their own, without forcing concrete assumptions on the reader. Like Kafka’s Metamorphisis. Or the Trial. Or Nietzche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.