[Author note - I wrote this shortly after getting my wisdom teeth removed so feel free to read this more as a stream/rant than something contentful]
2020 has been a long 16 month year (2021? Haven’t heard of him) and covid has been an accelerant for many things from remote work to social media. However, under the surface of these trends, we seem to have much more generally reached a point where, like high school, your real identity matters much less than the role you’re supposed to uphold; namely, we have become faceless.
Prior to the pandemic, it was expected that you would go to college to make life-long friendships and grow as an individual with your own unique story, not pay for an overpriced Zoom subscription. It was expected that updates on your social media were nothing more than record keeping of the exciting life you were living, not where your life would actually only exist in. It was also expected that people wouldn’t break into an extreme scarcity mindset over something as mundane as toilet paper but, well, you saw how that went.
While this is something Mark Fisher would probably nod in agreement to, this isn’t a question of what the world will settle on after
acceleration but where things are presenting today. Take a gander at remote work for instance: when all your meetings are held in a browser with icons and animated animals in a flat grid, it becomes a bit of a joke to think that the team has a sort of synergy together when all your responses are a bunch of formalities. While it’s become a dream come true for hiring managers to access talent in places with lower cost of living or lower presumptions for salary (in case you were wondering, it is already a market), it emphasizes further that the employees are nothing but faceless modular means of accomplishing some tasks.
Considering the massive growth in people jumping into becoming content creators, it’s not like people are trying to reclaim novelty in their lives when their aspirations mean being just another
brick channel in the wall. It’s delightful to think about becoming a streamer when that means you get to play video games all day but you don’t become a “gamer” because it’s a path you take such as becoming a doctor or lawyer. You become a gamer because you become an insignificant search result under the “Fortnite” or whatever tag. Even from the angle of the viewer, humanity has succeeded at being rather hedonistic and prosaic as numerous companies have had to throttle and limit the amount of data they were streaming. When the pandemic hit, there was no question that we had all woken up as toilet paper craving cockroaches out of a Kafka novel where we make ourselves busy by numbing ourselves with internet videos.
Even offline, these characteristics are still relevant. Whether you want to pin it on modern feminism or religion or something less exact like loss of ‘family values’, the ordinary gen-z’er or millenial is culturally detached from things like marriage or having kids. With Japan being perhaps an extreme that the US hasn’t reached, it serves as an analogy for what the typical American adult wants; a life that’s solely focused on how their fulfillment directly ties back to themselves. You don’t have a kid so you can help them live a better life than you, you have a kid to help yourself grow. You don’t become involved in community activites with the goal of lifting the collective around you, you become involved because it makes you feel good.
We’re no more caricatures of “progress” today than the hippies were caricatures of liberty and happiness. In the name of accomplishing further goals or individualism, we’ve lost the very essence that makes a unique genuine human experience. With career politicians taking us further into a political bubble in which we’ve become more dependent on our “elected leaders” than ever before, the dystopia we’re entering is not out of an Orwell novel but something more akin to Huxley.
What’s the solution to it all? Well, if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t be droning over the circumstance, would I?