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The Era of Monologue

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The Era of Monologue: Hyperindividualism and the Invisible Audience

An epidemic is spreading in our digital/capitalist society. The vast multiplicity of mechanical extensions has hindered our sensibility toward others. It has caused a significant transformation in human relations. Red Alert! We have been secluded into a digital wormhole of individualism.

 

“Free Your Mind From Your Mind – The Cult Of Culture”

Con la canción “Comfort Eagle” de Cake

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Capitalist individualism lays the foundation for our cage of narcissism. It works like a matrix where each of us crosses the street, distanced from the rest of the populace in mode of self-defense or even snobbishness. We transit the streets believing that we are in control of who we are, what we think, our likes and dislikes, our own personality. We remain unaware of how we consume identifications that are sold to us via giant billboards, visual spam, word of mouth, and real-life pop-up ads. So tight are we under its grip that we unconsciously cower over others’ voices; we choose to control+alt+delete our problems and avoid confrontations. Phone calls are ignored as we opt instead for a text-based digital language that can keep us at a distance and in control. We daily slap our own backs through a Facebook status and remain addicted to the latest tweets from Planet Me.

 

The Cool Kids – “A Little Bit Cooler”

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Dialogue has died. This is the Era of Monologue. All of us are right, yet our discourses never connect, we don’t exchange perspectives, and we are never confronted. There is no exchange, only plagiarism as we see fit, and reaction as it adds another identification, another level of subjective coolness that we can add to the collection of slogans and brands that we pin to our sense of self—another reason to update the multiple profiles we have opened on diverse social sites where people can log in to know more. We don’t listen, we don’t read, we just regurgitate our own discourses and postures as if our own sole vote were the only one that counts to validate and legitimize it.

Uneducated guesses, perspectives, and assumptions flow throughout the net. Even with such a magnificent plethora of information readily available to us at a click away, we are heavily disconnected from our history and the knowledge that others have left us as their parting gifts. We wallow in pleasure when we hear ourselves talk and live as if under the constant applause of a digital audience that remains invisible, present and absent at the same time. The neo-narcissists bow as the curtains fall.

 

Pearl Jam – “Do the Evolution”

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Chris Hedges explores the pathos of our contemporary consumer society in his article “American Psycosis”:

It is the cult of self that is killing the United States. This cult has within it the classic traits of psychopaths: superficial charm, grandiosity and self-importance; a need for constant stimulation; a penchant for lying, deception and manipulation; and the incapacity for remorse or guilt…. And this is also the ethic promoted by corporations. It is the ethic of unfettered capitalism. It is the misguided belief that personal style and personal advancement, mistaken for individualism, are the same as democratic equality. It is the nationwide celebration of image over substance, of illusion over truth.

 

“The Valley of Malls” – Fountain of Wayne

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For many years, the chameleonic and evolutionary characteristics of capitalism have allowed it to be machiavellic in the use of technology as its vehicle and individualism as its branding. In his article “The Mental Environment”, Bill McKibben claims that we are trapped in “hyperindividualism”. Through the analysis of 24 hours of TV programming, he found the same message in all advertisements and sitcoms: “You are the most important thing on Earth, the heaviest object in the universe”. Through this asseveration, capitalism has succeeded in tightening its grip and sinking its roots deeper into our society. “From the fawning flattery of the programming to the mind-messing nastiness of the commercials, it continually posited a world of extreme individualism.” McKibben advocates a movement of “mental environmentalism” in order to cleanse our minds of the overwhelming plethora of advertisements and useless information that is being constantly fed to us.

The individualistic seduction is nothing more than fiction. Within the individuality that is sold to us, we are still numbers, data, statistics, and patterns of consumption; that is our true form as consumers. Even better: we are coded data in the invaluable databases of social network websites. Barney was wrong; we are not special. This paradox cloaks the actions constantly executed to anonimize and standardize our culture through digital globalization.

 

Does It Offend you, Yeah? – “We Are Rockstars”

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Baudrillard hit a bull’s eye when he spoke about simulacra: the original ceases to be original and the copy loses its quality of copy; they lose their difference and become the same. There are no starting points, no real McCoy’s. Only the pastiche is evident in our postmodernist society; the collective database of images proliferating in a digital sea where they are endlessly reproduced until they eventually get lost in the digital void. We are Baudrillard’s fractal subject; we have reproduced ourselves, in so many platforms and formats, to an extent in which we have lost our own identity. We have become a copy of ourselves, of others, of what we once were, of what we desire to be, of what others desire to be; once more without a starting point and without an end. We are holograms in a phantasmagoria where our multiplicity converts into Benjamin’s flaneur, transiting the arcades of capitalism, between fashion and mirage.

 

Multiplicity Movie

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Today, the image matters more than ever. We don’t need to get to know a person if his/her auto-fabricated character is posted online, accessible to anyone. We can simply compute all the information available (statuses, photos, blogs, likes, and dislikes) into a package of personality and formulate a narrative around the identity of the person. There’s no room for imagination and curiosity in a world where we are constantly fed pre-made narratives so we don’t have to do the work ourselves. Friends are no longer useful unless they add to our digital coolness in Facebook, to collect them like Pokemon and have them post and tag photos to add to the public scrapbook of our fabulous lives of digital rockstars.

 

Gary Numan – “Are Friends Electric?”

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Sensibility toward the “other” disappears; his/her spirit remains trapped in the web to be consumed and reproduced. Meanwhile, his/her flesh is the only thing that is sought after in the physical world. All that remains is what the Internet can’t replace: the pleasure obtained by physical intercourse. It is then that we decide to leave our digital cave and commence the hunt for the flesh.

We live in an iCloud, where everyone can download us and from which we never descend. We justify our stasis and mediocrity by publishing our insignificant daily achievements in Facebook, where others can “like this”. And when someone sinks their finger into the surface, to test the depth of our waters, our true narrowness is revealed. Achievement unlocked. But it’s ok as long as we can block their comments and remain in our hedonistic indifference.

 

“She Blinded Me With Science” – Thomas Dolby

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Aside from the epidemic of apathy, our society hungers to reconnect with others more than ever. We try to achieve this goal by using the Web, but where once we succeeded, we now fail in our attempt. Social Networks like Facebook amplify the feeling of loneliness and seclusion in a sort of paradox fueled by the idea of an invisible audience. We become trapped in a cycle where the closer we think we are to others, the more distanced we really feel. It seems we are not alone and yet a sense of loneliness overcomes us, perhaps caused by our realization as voyeurs or the human inclination to compare ourselves with peers. Either way, self-perceptions of our own identity become affected as we turn and gaze into ourselves under the reflection of the digital presence of multiple others.

“We are the first few generations to receive most of our sense of the world mediated rather than direct, to have it arrive through one screen or another instead of from contact with other human beings or with nature,” Bill McKidden stated in his Mental Enviromentalism article for Adbusters Magazine. Meanwhile, anthropologist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri at Columbia, talks about “social intelligence” and explains that our evolution as a species is based on social interaction. “It’s the interaction with members of our own species – in terms of competition, cooperation, and help that has shaped the evolution of the human brain and human abilities,” says Carol Ward.

 

“Fake Plastic Trees” – Radiohead

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Considering both discourses, it is unavoidable to wonder about the role that digitalization plays regarding our own human evolution. Hiroki Azuma has a theory that claims that we have turned into database animals. We have become hedonist mechas; dehumanized, we transform into reconfigurable data while postmodernism animalizes us and we can only but hunger and consume what is fed to us. The ray of hope that could indicate the awakening of our conscience to these occurrences lies in realizing that we have turned into sanitized hermits, obsessed with sterilizing our own human interactions and experiences. Perhaps some day we might decide to disconnect in order to actually connect.

 

Arcade Fire – “Deep Blue”

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References:

The Mental Environment” by Bill McKibben

The Adolescence of Mental Environmentalism” by Micah White

Postmillenial Tension” by Michael Larson

iHuman” by Micah M. White

Big Brain Evolved Through Social Problem Solving” 
by Kate Melville

Myths of Individualism” by Tom G. Palmer

American Psychosis” by Chris Hedges

Videosfera y el sujeto fractal” by Jean Baudrillard

Carol Ward Finds Being Social Helps Humans Evolve” by Lindsey Patterson

 

Check out our video playlist “Digital Consumer“. Its a compilation of songs about the digital era and consumerism.

 

About Sheyla Rivera

Sheyla Rivera has written 36 post in this blog.

Escritora, músico y gestora cultural. Nació en Puerto Rico en la década de los 80s, entre el campo y la urbe. Completó un bachillerato doble en Psicología y Sociología en la Universidad de Puerto Rico, recinto de Río Piedras, y cursó la maestría en Medios y Cultura Contemporánea de la Universidad del Sagrado Corazón. Se destaca en el manejo de organizaciones artísticas sin fines de lucro, cultura visual japonesa, estudios de género y teoría cultural.

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  1. Sylvia I. Antunez says:

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