What is our current relationship to community?
I’m torn. I think technology has added richness, efficiency and effectiveness into our understanding of connectedness. But I also think it adds noise, clutter and distraction. Technology is increasingly enabling surrogate experiences to shape our lives.
I want to rant. But a rant is too one-sided.
Largely, I think people are becoming inured to depersonalised relationships. By 2020, an estimated 85% of the relationships people have will be with technological substitutes (eg databases). This isn’t hard to imagine.
Think of the ways current financial transactions are conducted:
- Self-checkouts at the grocery store
- Card payments at a gas pump
- Purchasing apps and content on a mobile device
- Taxes done online
At what point does your transaction interact with an actual person? If everything is working right, never! These are all interconnected, automated systems.
You are being distilled into a tiny source of information connected to a myriad of informational hubs. You already have a multi-pronged relationship with a variety of databases. These databases hold vast amounts of intimate, concrete detail about you, and can quite accurately infer a whole lot more.
You are being sold something at every turn. To that end, your entire life is being turned inwards to reflect you: your values, your expectations and your aspirations. Apparently deep organisational affiliations can be made with very little input from or interaction with actual human beings.
I often hear people blame parents for their kids’ sense of entitlement. It’s not parents. Or perhaps more accurately, it’s not just parents.
The tsunami of entitlement is culture!
In this world where everything is catered to each person’s whims and desires, who doesn’t feel entitled?
Our entire economy is based on “can equals should” — or often, if we’re really honest, “should trumps can”. By making people feel important, they are steered to spend money, or affiliate, or advocate, or align in some way. These connections are aimed at emotion, not rationality, so they can steer people into their own big messes. (What’s the average debt load people carry these days?)
Making people feel important is reciprocated. It has incentive attached to it. Legitimately empowering people earns you money, attention and popularity.
Of course, you can’t be can be anything you choose. But you don’t need to get too deep into it any more. If you want to be a web designer, you can grab a WordPress template and the majority won’t (or can’t) discern any difference between it and a custom site. You don’t have to be a photographer — you can find stock photography, cheaper and higher quality than most photographers can pull off. You don’t have to be an interior decorator, artist, or chef with original ideas — that’s what Pinterest and YouTube are for.
There’s a baseline of ability you can aspire to that’s higher than any previous generation in a wider assortment of fields. Whatever you want to know is available to you without the drawn-out process of learning the theory and becoming an apprentice.
In all the resultant noise and confusion, it’s more unlikely than ever that any of us will be remembered by history — but that doesn’t seem to matter to most people. Enjoyment in the moment does.
There are broader implications.
As just one example, the world’s current leader in technology and wealth, the USA, is seriously polarised. It is beginning to encounter the diversity within itself, and it is being rocked to the core by it.
All 7 stages of grief are in full display simultaneously.
The social structure doesn’t welcome or even accept the diversity it contains. Each side sees each other side as anathema or absolutely incompatible. Groups of people who have never before faced the reality that their opinions are not universally-accepted fact feel threatened by each other. This is not helped by their apparent willingness to apply shallow, reactionary labels, and respond in arrogant dismissal, or (threats of) violence.
This is the struggle we face when we talk about the value of community as a human default: we don’t know if we’re right.
We can talk about the need that people have to know and be known. We can talk about reducing fear of the ‘other’ by breaking barriers and engaging in dialogue. But when fear is entrenched, community is something to only engaged-in on shallow terms, or to be avoided altogether. There is human-nature driven momentum leading us away from community.
I wonder about that — what are all the fears of community? And who’s benefiting from keeping our populace afraid?