A recent piece in Techcrunch – The Great Fragmentation – We Are All Weirdos Now by Jon Evans http://techcrunch.com/2014/07/12/the-great-fragmentation-we-are-all-weirdos-now/ got me thinking ( once again) about the impact of the web on society as a whole and cultural diversity, in particular
As a starting point for this bit of pondering, I sought out a cracking article in Campaign from 2012, by the very smart Charles Vallance ( @thebrandedgent) called ‘ The Web is stifling Radicalism at a time when it is needed most ’ http://www.campaignlive.co.uk/news/1115054/. This is what he said –
While the internet has had a revolutionary impact on autocratic regimes (because, for the first time, it has allowed a flow of information), in the free world it seems to have had an opposite, almost sedative, effect. The incessant sharing and airing of ideas over Twitter, Facebook and blogs tends to dilute or mitigate against unorthodox viewpoints. Meanwhile, our ability to censure any vaguely off-centre message has grown exponentially. You sometimes feel there’s a whole industry devoted to policing people’s language, that censureship has become the new censorship.
Why have we not had a major radical underground music movement, that has broken into the mainstream , for nearly 25 years? In the 60’s we had Psychedelia, in the late 70’s we had Punk and the late 80’s we had Acid House and Rave culture. What have we had since then? We have had music trends that have garnered some attention, but nothing like these.
The reason for this, as Vallance indicates, is that the web has provided an ease and speed of communication , which means that underground cultural phenomena, like those above, do not have the time or secrecy to gestate properly, before being thrust into the withering eye of the mainstream. Lacking the confidence and credibility at this key nascent point they shrink from sight , only to be replaced by the next passing fad. As a result we have been left with The X Factor , Britain’s Got Talent and an endless supply of homogenous boy and girl bands
Evans takes a different perspective – An infinity of subcultures outside the mainstream now blossoms on the Internet — vegans, body modifiers, CrossFitters, Wiccans, DIYers, Pinners, and support groups of all forms. Millions of people are finding their true peers in the cloud, a remedy for the isolation imposed by the anonymous apartment complex or the remote rural location … The latest wave of technology is not just connecting us intellectually and emotionally with remote peers: it is also making us ever more mobile, ever more able to meet our peers in person.
Evan’s point, is that that as the water cooler moments of big media have dissipated so people have used the web to make their connections , and these new connections are less mainstream , more niche and generally – more weird
But I’m not sure how properly weird things can get ( in the way that Punk was weird ) in a place where everyone can connect instantaneously with everyone else at the click of a button. If there is no ‘underground’ where underground movements can grow, building confidence and credibility , then we will be left with a myriad of weird , but underdeveloped, cultural congregations surrounding an increasingly big and boring mainstream.
Is the Web making us Weird? Well, it is allowing people with similar passions to connect more easily ; but the danger ( at least in the ‘free world’ ) is that these groups will not thrive and develop ,as they have in the past, into movements that can really change the shape of society.