Shallow Experiences and Imagined Communities

How do we define the difference between rich or deep experiences and those experiences which have little to no direct impact on our lives?  Secondly, how do we make another understand that there is, in fact,  a distinct difference?  And further, how do we explain that these richer, fuller experiences do not have to have anything to do with religion although people often immediately point at some sort of spiritual or religious explanation when having a meaningful relaitonship with an experience.

These are some thoughts which keep me sleepless sometimes.

It occurred to me one day that these new generations of people are very ignorant with no change in behavior in sight.  We are constructing a culture of pure ‘stupid’ in the full definition of that word – I do not mean it as a slight but as an observation.  I consider myself rather stupid when it comes to using Adobe Illustrator, for instance.  But the difference between me and the rest of the society I seem to find myself in, is that I strive to improve on that stupidity, at least when I am aware of it.  And thus, my epiphany: When unaware, the public continues as if there are no problems in the world at all – which relatively, there are not.  We cannot argue.  The cell-phone and text-message phase of human evolution is a dangerous step towards extinction.  I don’t mean extinction of the species, but of something else: extensively shared meaning.

Sit in a Wal-Mart sometime and watch the teens walk around with their cells.  Try not to be creepy, please.  You’ll observe that the act of being with friends at the store, the act of being at the store at all, and the act of meeting people is far outweighed with the personal interest involved in the text messages which will erupt on their phones every few seconds.  This is because there is a much more intensively personal imagined community occurring in their minds (cf Benedict Andersen).  Why would anyone pay attention to the world they are currently walking around in when much more important things are happening between the space constructed mentally between texts – the text-web, as I sometimes call it.  So many experiences of life are being completely ignored – so many social skills are going unlearned, undeveloped, as people Twitter, ironically, about what they are currently doing, sometimes so quickly that the Twit is posted before the action even occurs.

One might argue that with new technologies and innovations, new behaviors and identities will form.  Sure, I cannot disagree.  I also text message, use Facebook, obviously blog, and have occasional public conversations on my cellphone.  But with the use of these handy tools, I understand a certain context for them.  I have had life experiences which did not include these things.  I have had many experiences which were deep to the core of my character and have developed me in much more rich and powerful ways than I expect any of these kids on celly’s will ever in their lives – and I am sad for them.

-To a point.  Instead, I look elsewhere, for others like me.  I thought I could find them in the art world, where they used to be, but the art world now is ridiculously involved with itself and its little shallow messages to itself.  Fine art today is like a sad kid who sends himself text messages in a language he does not understand, but up high so all can see.  Bravo.

Moral: Get off your damn phone and talk to a human you don’t yet know.  Then, get their number.  You are not anywhere near as important as the act of direct interaction between people is.


3 Responses to “Shallow Experiences and Imagined Communities”

  1. inaliableright Says:

    I don’t agree that electronics have led to a greater anomie than in times previous. People, in fact, stay more connected to friends and associates through electronic social media like Facebook. Perhaps the depths of many of those interactions is lacking, which I think what you’re getting at in your blog post. Only through face to face human interaction can you really get to know someone.

    Social media has allowed people to connect and reconnect easily and maintain friendships that would have long since withered due to time and distance. Facebook, MySpace, and all the rest allow college or high school buds, grandmas and grandpas, and old coworkers who have moved around the country to keep track of each other in an easy way. How many people took the time to sit down write an old fashioned letter to an old friend, but will blog about have seen Avatar. Perhaps the problem you’re getting at is when youth today use electronic social media as a replacement for the neighborhood friend.

    Also, as sort of a offshoot thought sparked by your post, I feel that people construct shared experiences these days through pop culture and other memes.

    • endlessslug Says:

      I didn’t say anything about a lack of ethics among folks, in fact what I said was that people will and are developing new methods of ethics through an imagined social construct.

      Remember, I am all for development, new ideas, new technologies, but what I tend to see is a consistently larger pool of younger humans who are becoming more and more involved in imagined communities – which without sufficient direct contact I believe is potentially -and already is – a social problem*. One such problem could be ethics instruction. There does seem to be a disjunct in ethics systems among people – part of that is the US pluralism, but I’ve lived overseas in real plural societies which do not have these ethical disjuncts. By disjunt I mean that one persons system of ethics is quite different than the person next door and often these systems conflict rather nastily. Instead of being interested in someone else’s system and learnig, Americans seem to avoid, distrust, or economically and politically sanction – even in small community circles. There are many correlatives for such a disjunct and I, in this post, am referring only to the portable social networking media and how it relates to the art world – a world of constucted of the science of aesthetic and meaning. Thus, social networking devices and the lack of social contact lead directly to a complete disaster in the arts and by extension pop culture media by pissing out movies and TV which are highly personalized with no sense of shared understanding.

      Part of me wants kids to not have cellphones, access to Facebook, or organized religion until they’re 24. Read a book, talk to a person, then we might see some nice art.

      As an anthropologist, I try to use observed data for my blog posts and rarely use myself. So try taking what I said in my post and go to the mall and see if you see what I see. It might just be a regional or local phenomena except again, remember that everything I post on this blog is geared toward the art world and not necessarily larger social concerns except in places where those larger concerns juxtapose with fine art.

      Good response though, I like feedback especially in those posts where I have to clarify myself. I often get ranty and casual too easily.


      * An example of imagined disassociation would include the recent high school gang rape which occurred just before the holiday during a school dance. A girl was raped by as many as 12 (?) people while 20+ more people stood around, Twittered about it and took Facebook movies and photos – most of the victim, not the aggressors. No one called for help until 2 hours later. I don’t have a citation on hand but hopefully readers had heard of this. And of course, one of my interests is: What sort of fine art would these people enjoy?

  2. inaliableright Says:

    I never mentioned ethics, I was only trying to say that social media like tends to connect people, not isolate them. However, I agree that small groups of people are socially constructing their own ethics. Though I am not sure what you mean by imagined constructs or communities. Do you mean how social constructionism relies on communal perception…where in effect perception becomes reality, and that there is no knowable ideal truth or moral constant? In effect, if everyone says a piece of paper is black, though the paper is white as flour, then the paper becomes black through belief alone.

    I believe the source of the pluralism you mention is a weakening of the American ideal as a whole. By this I mean very broadly, “work hard, save or reinvest your money, show a dedicated patriotism to your country, and respect the common culture.” This was the model for this country from its founding until the 1960s. And all though I am tempted to point to modern liberalism as the sole source of this weakening, I’m sure there are varied causes. Indeed, 19th Century and early 20th century progressives (early liberals) were intent on “Americanizing” the massive influx of Southern European immigrants with the values I listed above. It’s one of the reasons for the creation of the public school system as we know it. But somewhere along the line, a new liberalism model has become dominant since the 1960s, and there has been a gradual erosion of the common culture. Although we all tend to share the same TV shows, sports, and movies, the narrative changed from an American “ideal type” to one that accepts all forms and lifestyles as equally valid. I’m not sure I necessarily disagree with this, but it is certainly evident in 21st century America, despite some saber rattling on the subject from opposed political organizations. Moreover, your overseas experiences only reinforces how multiculturalism has fractured an American ideal. Small, homogeneous societies, even if ethnically diverse as South East Asia can be, will all have similar ethics. I assume that there is a dominant culture, and citizens are expected to respect it. But holy cow, America is 300 million strong, filled with folks of all different backgrounds, and very regionalized for a large country. Throw in the liberal principle of multiculturalism in the mix, and you have a fractured society that tends to see all ethical viewpoints as equally valid. If, as you say, ethics schooling is a problem, I say it’s impossible to teach ethics when there are few, if any accepted moral constants.

    Finally, as a comment to your aside, I submit to you the case of Kitty Genovese, who was a New York City woman raped and murdered in an apartment complex in the Sixties, while others looked on or choose to ignore cries for help. Did they use cell phone cameras, no, but it was a famous case at the time, used to illustrate urban apathy. I’m sure there are dozens of further famous examples, and the only one that comes to mind is that fellow that was brutally beaten in a Dominos while others looked on, and all of it caught on CCTV. The rape case you cite shows human herd behavior, and while horrible to contemplate, is typical. It’s why you train women who are assaulted to run and yell “fire” as opposed to “help” or “rape.” Everyone will come out to see a good fire, but a rape, well, that’s “not my problem.” The art that those kids like is as varied as the tastes of everyone else, because (sadly) they behaved like normal people do.

    There’s more I’d like to write about your ideas about personalized art lacking shared meaning…but my capacity to focus has left me….

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