on media, technology & digital culture
If you really want to go back in time, individuation began with mans separation from nature. Fromm compares it to being evicted from the Garden of Eden and he is absolutely spot on. You, however, probably reached Enlightenment sometime between the ages of seven and twelve. It’s that moment when you look at yourself in the mirror and realize that you are a unique snowflake (just like everyone else). As you grow wiser, separate from your parents and continue your education, the knowledge you are attaining perpetuates your individuality and it peaks around the time you finish college. You may remember that moment after graduation when you believe you just grabbed the world by the balls.
For most people, the world is not a place that is funded by their parents so the sooner you find a job – the better. That’s where your sense of independence kicks in. With independence comes anxiety and insecurity. Its only natural to have these two motivators paving your path to a better future. However, this is a double-edged sword. The human being is prone to submission because it provides him with security and mental relief. That’s why most of us weren’t anxious and insecure until we reached puberty – because we had our parents to rely on and submit to. And that’s why most of people work for other people, not for themselves.
The loss of true individuality begins at this point of transcendence, when you realize that you are shifting from this imaginary freedom to the lack of thereof. Suddenly, you cant resist the urge to be submissive, to belong, to seek approval and satisfaction from other people. That’s why most people like to belong, they find satisfaction in realization of their self through the eyes of other people. They seek the approval of family, friends and colleagues because to belong means to have a spot reserved for your self and to eliminate all notion of insecurity and doubt. Family does that. So do friends. Your colleagues, I’m not that sure – not as much anyway.
Recently, I was catching up on Adorno and his work “Minima Moralia”. During the II. World War, Adorno had to flea Germany and find refuge in America. Along with a couple of his colleagues, he huffed and puffed his way through exile. However, unlike his colleagues, he wasn’t infatuated with America. He found it appalling, to say the least. Everyone was driving the same cars, lived in the same houses and watched the same TV shows. According to Adorno, that meant individuality was heavily suppressed, almost frowned upon, leaving no room for innovation and critical thinking. People seemed to have lost all sense of their self as they became a product of their own capitalistic society. I believe individuality does exist but only as an anomaly in a system that is savaged by the “status quo.” Rosa Parks was that anomaly. She stood up for her beliefs while starring in the face of everyone, for the betterment of everyone, for the absolute evolution of the human race.
Many believed that the birth of the Internet would somehow inspire individuality, maybe spark some fires that have been almost extinguished in the past. Finally, people would be able to express their own opinions in the safest way possible – anonymously. This gave birth to forms of online expression like comments, blogging, forums, social networks, etc. At the same time when people believed that freedom was finally possible, they were again influenced by all the people they interacted with online. They couldn’t stop comparing themselves with people who shared their interests, which again meant that individuality was a dream and that technology might put an end to the wrongfully perceived notion of individuality once and for all. We’re all eating from the same plate, are influenced by the same media and it is only the power of filtering out information that makes us reach our slightly different conclusion and the fact is – our conclusion are always in line with someone else’s.
It should be said that people who have a strong infatuation for Apple’s products are not individuals, regardless of the “Think Different” slogan. When you shell out $2000 for a Macbook Pro, you’re not practicing your individuality; you just have some extra money lying around. So, give the people the perception that they might nurture their individuality through consumerism while still being a part of their surrounding nature (in this case – digital environment) and they will jump and grab this opportunity like its going to save them from drowning.
That’s why if you take away “the social relationships and the relationship the human has to technology, there is not much left but an empty, shallow onion. Because without the relationship to others, and to technology, we have no way to measure and compare ourselves to others, and in that way it is hard to figure out who your “self” is. And if you take away the web and social media as well, then the human suddenly has no way to present its “self”.” (http://mastersofmedia.hum.uva.nl/2013/11/17/have-we-all-become-cyborgs/)
Without the internet, your self wouldn’t be able to happen, you wouldn’t be able to self actualize. If anything, we are moving from individuality at a rapid pace and have become victims of our interests, desires and wants. We are sellouts, vastly rooting for the best possible representation of our self in the digital world. Our actual needs have taken a back seat and we are willing to sacrifice them for anything that would help us stay in the very same collective bubble we all crammed ourselves into.
Is there a way around this? Should man give up all technical advances and go back to nature to figure out the purpose of his true self? Or should we go with the flow and as the quoted articles suggests – let the Internet do its magic and turn us all into cyborgs?