We have written elsewhere on this blog about the inexorable march of progress and technology, and one of the missions here is to examine ways we’re affected by digital culture, and explore how that is changing us as people.
Something that has been in the back of my head recently, as an undefined thought: the instantaneous moment-to-moment nature of the online world is actually killing the persona of the loner, although I suppose you won’t find too many lone wolves on social media platforms, which is where I’m exposed to the greatest variety of viewpoints and ideas these days.
I’ll show my age here, and point out an example. Consider the Red Hot Chili Peppers unusual album filler from back in the day, “Thirty Dirty Birds”:
Right about now, you’re either somewhat amused, or you’ve left this page.
If you’re in the former category, you and I may have some converging interests, in that we share a sense of humour, or remember the first time a friend played the track to us, or wonder why it was there in the first place.
I’m not suggesting that we both share an interest in eating worms, that would put you in a converging interest group with someone else…
Nothing revolutionary about that, people like all sorts of different things, but what’s changed is how fast you can find all the other people who like the same things.
If we consider the example above, the first time I ever heard of the Chili Peppers was in a movie that came out in 1986, Tough Guys. (The scene is here).
Forgot all about them, until Blood Sugar Sex Magic dropped, with the smash hit “Under the Bridge”.
By then, they were pretty well known. But they had quirks in the back catalogue, and Thirty Dirty Birds gave us a fascinating glimpse of this…
So, for you to have ‘got this’ as a cultural reference would have implied you had listened to a lot of weird stuff, maybe you had a certain affinity for subversive humour, and it all took a great deal of TIME. It took a long time for the Chili Peppers to build their career. It took a lot of time wandering around as a misfit teenager to find a snippet like the above, that made you smile for reasons you didn’t understand. A number of unlikely coincidences would have been necessary to bump into somebody in a pub who would ‘get it’ if you quoted it. And believe me, there wasn’t much stuff like this around at the time.
So, in short, it was pretty hard to find people who were like you. Maybe nobody was. Being honest, there was a weirdly grim comfort in the fact that you may have been totally misunderstood, mysterious, and unknowable. You weren’t, but we didn’t know that back then.
Today, technology has decreed that no matter how weird, mundane, illegal or banal your interests, there’s a forum for them somewhere, and you can immediately start pitching in with lots of like-minded souls, who also collect chewing gum from the street, or whatever it is.
Remember, you’re still a weirdo, (we all are) but it must be gratifying to know you’re not alone, and you’re not the worst. (Who is?) It is also instantly gratifying. No more feeling alone and alienated for long, we’ve just moved the ‘us and them’ goalposts slightly.
So, if there’s no more conforming, because everybody wears all of their interests like flair badges on all the available profile spaces to indicate what tribes they’re in, chances are that everybody is actually conforming, if you see what I mean. So where does that leave the difficult loner?
Dead and gone, with some other tough guys in the grave, because the terrible beauty of being yourself seems to finally be ok.
That’s not to say I’m ok with it, I still feel surging inexplicable anger towards lippy hipsters, but we all have our crosses to bear.
In short, I think it took longer to find your tribe in pretty much every previous incarnation of teenagers; since the ‘discovery’ of teenagers as a distinct group by marketeers and film studios, the James Dean generation teens.
It is possible that there were merits to feeling alienated, such as building resilience etc etc, however it is highly probably that we’re eradicating the phenomenon of an isolated conscious mind, within a generation, through endless collaboration, feedback and digital connection to everybody.
Stop, and think for yourself about anything for one minute today, and don’t tell anyone about it afterwards.
If this exercise hurts, there is something very weird about that.