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The End of Individuality

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I have this vague idea in my head right now, but I’m not entirely sure how to go about putting it down.  Maybe I’ll start with an example:

High school (and I guess university could fit into this too) is very cliquey, right?  You’ve got your jocks and your goths, your nerds and your geeks, your loser Asians and your cool Asians (a la Mean Girls — oh Lindsay, how we lament your fall).  You would’ve been aware of which group you were in, where you stood in the social hierarchy, and how all of these groups were basically fragilely coexisting on a day-to-day basis.   And, up until around ten to fifteen years ago, you would also have probably been aware that all of these ‘styles’ or ‘personae’ or whatever you want to call them were coming from the media culture, mostly through music, but that might have been it for you; you would see the groups at school — i.e. you could say, ‘yeah, these are the ten goths at my school’ — but you probably would see no other goths anywhere else in your life (unless you went looking for them).  If you were a ‘jock’, you would admire the top athletes at your school because they would be the only ones you knew, and you would crush on the hot cheerleaders because ‘hot cheerleaders are the best girls at school’; if you were a geek, you might think the tall, gangly guy with the Elvis Costello glasses who introduced you to This Year’s Model and did clever/funny videos for the student council assemblies was the cutest, coolest guy you knew; if you were feeling disenfranchised about everything and you hated the cheerleaders, then you might naturally gravitate toward the guy in your science class who dressed like Marilyn Manson.

My point is that when socializing was based solely on actual human interaction, all these different people within your awareness seemed unique because they were the only examples you had to go on.

Then along came the internet to ruin everything.

First it was Friendster — remember that?  It’s actually still around!  Wow.  But anyway, Friendster was the first social networking site that I was aware of and used, and when my friends were using it too, it was a good way to send messages to them, and keep track of their likes and dislikes, and, of course, to make new ‘friends.’  You could do searches for people who had the same interests as you, or you could just go through your friends’ lists of friends and send messages to all the cute girls.  But then the mass migration to Facebook started; suddenly everybody had to have a Facebook account, and some people went nuts with searching for and adding not only every single person they had every met in their entire lives (I got bombarded with requests from people I knew in high school, some only in passing, but hadn’t talked to in years), but also people who had the same interests as them.  I mean, suddenly, if you wanted to, you could search for and find every single other person in your city, or anywhere, who had copies of the banned ‘Happiness in Slavery‘ video, or liked Adrian Tomine, or who cheered for the Wildcats, and every single person on your list could see what you liked and were writing as your status, and you theirs, and all these little interactions could take place that otherwise wouldn’t have.  And pretty soon your list would probably consist mostly of people who liked what you like, dressed how you dress, and did what you did.

And then blogs, of course, took off, and millions of users made sites like this here WordPress famous with either personal-type blogs or things like The Culturatti.  In theory it all seems great, right?  Everybody has the chance to create content and have their say and stay connected etc.  For me, though, all it’s made me think is this:

People are so boringly and vapidly similar.

I’ve had to hide approximately 50 people on my Facebook newsfeed, some for other reasons (like I barely know them but they added me anyway), but many because of things like this:

Every single day I would log on and there would always be somebody who had just posted twenty pictures of herself doing poses like the ones above, stemming from sitting around in her room apparently having nothing better to do; or, she had gone out with friends to a restaurant or club, and they had taken literally 100 pictures of themselves and thrown every single one into an album, even though those pics were pretty much identical to five other albums they had created over the past few months.  It was driving me crazy in how constant it is (you could argue that maybe this is just an Asian girl thing, but the ‘drunken partying at clubs’ pictures are, from what I can see, pretty universal).  Or food!  I have never seen people take so many fucking pictures of food in my life.  My god, it’s like every single meal needs to recorded and catalogued online.  Save me.

Then, of course, there are those people who are always trying to write some witty or clever status update (see also: Twitter) to make themselves appear witty and clever.  I admit to doing this from time to time, but I have officially stopped such behaviour — although there are definitely people who make their profiles fun and interesting and the banter is enjoyable to read . . . but then I worry about, if I don’t really know that person well, becoming a ‘Facebook creeper’ if I comment on their stuff too much; basically, there’s no winning.  Or, worse, people who can’t even come up with anything themselves and so just throw up quotes from famous people to make themselves look learned.  Even worse than this are people who just say things like, ‘Just bought a new sweater!’  Do you really need to tell everybody you know that you just bought a shirt?  Really?  But then of course that’s still not as bad as ‘Feeling down today,’ or ‘having breakfast,’ or ‘to my baby — you’re great!’  Or there’s an earthquake and EVERYONE immediately posts on Facebook: ‘OMG Earthquake!  Crazy.’  This video is a pretty good summation of that behaviour:

But then even all that isn’t as bad as when one person does one of those polls, or those ‘Which ____________ are you?’ and then fifty of their friends do it too, and every single one shows up in the feed . . .

Now, maybe it’s simply too much extrapolating on my part of the deepness of these people’s lives based solely on what they’re doing on Facebook, but when all the things they talk about are the same, and all the pictures they post are the same, and all the games they play are the same (I’m so sick of hearing about Pet Society and Happy Farm and Mafia Wars) well, you start to wonder just how unique and individualized they really are.  I’m starting to see so many people as merely mindless cogs in a giant media machine which exists solely to use their personal information for internet advertising purposes.  And even all those people that used to seem unique and cool don’t seem that way so much when you look at their friends lists, and the comments they make to each other, and almost all of those people are doing roughly the same things too.

And blogs — well, I don’t think it needs to be said just how much overlap and redundancy there is the blogosphere; I’m sure you could find articles somewhere out there which mirror every single article we’ve ever written here.  Hell, just googling the title of this post will probably bring up ten others with the same name; I mean, I admit it doesn’t seem overly original . . .

Wait a minute.  Well would you look at that?  There’s only one other, and it appears to be some strange conspiracy-theory-esque piece that doesn’t actually make much sense when you read it.  Could it be?  Am I really one of the few truly distinctive and individualistic thinkers out there on the internet?  Should you all really be coming solely to this blog to get real original cultural criticism and analysis?

Short answer: yes.  Long answer: why the heck not?

Well, I feel much better now — think I’ll go make myself a plaque.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Wednesday, September 1, 2010 11:38 pm

    I am now officially a hypocrite (if I wasn’t unofficially one before), as we have set up a Twitter account for The Culturatti to try and ‘socialize’ with others. So far my suspicions about Twitter seem to be correct — that everyone is more interested in what they’re doing instead of what others are doing (or they’re just trying to sell you something), but we’ll see how it goes.

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