The twentieth century saw incredible change in almost every part of social life. One of the most significant occurrences lies in the transition of a society at the pinnacle of industrialization followed by the ascendancy of an information society. This shift enabled commerce and communication to thrive as they had never done before. The ability for people to be inter-connected with places, concepts and things were dramatically altered in a way that allowed them an almost instant ability to assess information and to acquire objects. Technology was the code that unlocked the Pandora’s box of the world and allowed individuals the means to achieve interconnectivity at such an accelerated pace that it was difficult to imagine; the telephone, radio, television, the cell phone, the personal computer, the internet, and satellite communications have all come into existence in only the last 135 years. In recent years, this exponential access to information has coincided with another cultural phenomena; the relativation of the known through postmodern “truth-letting”- the slow and inevitable death of all grand narratives via the communication meta-stream.
Because technology has brought an instantaneous availability of other cultures and their varied narratives clearly into view, time and space have become compressed, the result is that time and place have lost meaning and significance. People begin to lose faith in the narratives that they once believed were in control of their lives and find themselves searching for some modicum of control.
As this phenomena takes hold, media images and communication devices themselves have become the language of communication, while the actual information or content becomes secondary. The McLuhan-esque effect of, “the media is the message”, becomes real. This devaluing of information through fragmentation and shear volume, inevitably leads to the breakdown of information into symbols that might be commodified. This commodification further alienates truth from the individual who comes to believe that truth can simply be bought or sold. (You choose – Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch)
The effects of globalization and the commodification of information have created a society in which there is an increasing emphasis on the self. Information, relationships and identity have all been commodified by media and technology to the point where the individual is disengaged and mistrustful of all information, and has kept community “at arms length” through the construction of an external, public self-image, that is exemplified by the worlds of Facebook and Twitter. (Lindsey just took her first tinkle in the hoosegow-OMG)
As globalization has brought cultures closer and increasingly interrelated, and technology and social marketing has commodified information, people are suffering from a kind of twenty first century anomie. This anomie is unique in that each successive generation has suffered increasing alienation from its role as part of a greater society and has been ever more reliant on the “self” to interpret, value and discern a vast amount of information through an ever changing technological matrix. ( “There is no spoon”)
When these destabilizing conditions become the norm within culture, there is a profound effect on the individual that sets the postmodern condition apart from the social challenges of previous eras. Now de-centered, the individual looks for another source of anchoring and finds a willing participant in the media culture. ( Dude, I just TiVo’ed Beck and Olbermann from my iPhone…wait can I watch that on my iPad?)
Media continues to contribute to this de-centering as it provides often inaccurate and always fragmented information that is focused primarily on image, thus the content is irrelevant- image = content. Void of narratives, and discernable truth, a cultural destabilization takes place as individuals seem to have no other alterative but to randomly invent meaning from cultural symbols whose sole purpose is to provide an affirmation of the self. (“Are you a Mac or a PC?” “Coke or Pepsi?” “Jesus Christ T-shirt or Che Guevara T-shirt?”)
During the search for meaning in cultural symbols, individuals become reflexive, looking for the next potential meaning in the image du jour. The proliferation of images becomes rampant and the channels to receive the images are unlimited. As a result of this reflexivity, combined with the compression of culture, the image culture cannot provide stable meaning. What is left to make up the self is the pastiche personality. The loss of the internal voice has led to an isolation that is profound. Once isolated, the postmodern person feels as though they are in control of their life and have a decreasing connection to the culture. Yet there is a paradoxical relationship that occurs in the postmodern information society. As the individual becomes more detached and retreats into the micro world and illusion of autonomy, they are simultaneously allowed to expand their standoff connection with society through an ever-expanding web of communication and information yielding systems and devices. (My car just parked itself.)
The information society has promised a revolution in communication. But unchecked it cannot sustain itself. What promised more freedom has ultimately provided isolation and the loss of identity. If we do not find a way to swing the pendulum back to the center of tension between technology and humanity, then we will fall pray to the juggernaut of the information culture and lose ourselves forever along the way.