The “me” generations have morphed into the “my own little world” society. What is happening across the globe are retrenchments politically, the rise of dictators and tyrants (the ultimate “my own world” perspective), splits of unions big and small (nations and work forces), everything the individual wants becoming accessible (from Tinder to on-line divorce), and, never least a general distancing from family and friends, relatives and siblings, as the individual surrounds him/herself with modern tools allowing only a singular personal perspective.
Television was a water cooler discussion until the advent of VCR and then DVR. If you missed a recent episode of the most popular show friends could clue you in on the morning after—they all would have watched it at the same shared moment in time. Electricity companies could tell when a popular show was coming on because dinner would be prepared just before. Sanitation companies could predict flow during commercials. Marshall McLuhan predicted uniformity of society/thought as these common events happened every day in synch. Does any of that exist anymore? Hardly, sure HBO knew that the water cooler the next day would be on Game of Thrones or a football result, but how many of us have heard, “Don’t tell me, I’ve recorded it...”
Newspapers and television reviewers articles often lead with “spoiler alert.” Before 2000, such a phrase was unnecessary since if you missed a TV show broadcast or movie opening, chances are you would miss communal appreciation until reruns or a VCR copy appeared at Blockbuster or the DVD came from Netflix at which point it was passé anyway. Once you had control of the DVR you could program recording of only those shows you wanted to see, narrowing your input and perspective to your taste, your set-in-stone opinions. Once the media moguls figured this out, it was inevitable they would take positions, sides if you will. They need eyeballs to sell advertising. Want to guarantee eyeballs? Make sure your viewers are what they label as “loyal” when what they actually mean is self-censored mono-cultured.
Of course, the channel surfer is the antithesis of that mono-culture. Maybe channel surfing is not a bad metaphor for being open-minded. And yet, then along came the next nail in the coffin: the smart phone... more next week.
Across the globe we all can witness the rise of dictators and tyrants (the ultimate “my own world” perspective), splits of unions big and small (nations and work forces), everything the individual wants becoming instantly accessible (from Tinder to on-line divorce), and, never least a general distancing from family and friends, relatives and siblings, as the individual surrounds him/herself with modern tools allowing only a singular personal perspective.
And then along came the next nail in the coffin: the smart phone. Many people today do not remember the phone ringing on a hall table and everyone in the family wondering who the call is for. Once answered, the house cry went out, “It’s for you... it’s your boyfriend...” A family sharing communication, even if only partially. Now, with smart phones, your calls are to you alone, it’s your own little world, your chat, your WhatsApp, your Instagram, your SMS, your Facetime. Conversations in families goes like the school question of old, “How was school today?” “Fine.” Today it’s “Who was that?” “Somebody” or “Just nothing.” Nobody shares anything in that smart phone world. It unique to the user and unique in every sense of not sharing.
Yes, Google allows sharing of location and photos. Yes, Facebook promotes having “friends” across your acquaintances if you allow it, but your Facebook page is yours, yours to control, yours to censor and make monotheistic with you as God. Look at how people get upset if anything changes at Facebook... “That’s my page and Facebook has no right to change...” Why feel so strongly? Because it’s your little world, where you are able to shut out any other cultural intrusion.
Amazon creates a profile for you to try and match to your tastes, desires. They’ll tell you if you liked this, you’ll like that. As a business profit venture, it fits right into the “my own little world” model we’ve all adopted. Fox and CNN are accused of pandering to fixed opinions – selling advertising to a steady audience number hooked on continuity of “my own little world.”
What can break all this? I can cite a perfect example. On a train from Frankfurt to Bruxelles in 2011, I sat with an American family, father, wife and daughter. They were from Atlanta and were staunch Republicans. He was a FedEx pilot forced to relocate to Frankfurt the year before. “I hated the thought of it.” His wife responded with, “I cried the first week.” I asked how they were doing now. He said, “We love it. We had no idea how a social democracy worked. Everybody is so friendly...” The wife responded, “I shop every day at the open air markets and meet all sorts of people, our daughter has made so many friends and even though money doesn’t go as far, we always seem to have extra because so many services are shared, like parks, doctors, transportation...” He continued, “We’re fighting the company to stay here. All my life I hated the idea of socialism. But this is not what we thought. It’s really a shared culture and support system. We didn’t have that in Atlanta, we hope to stay here.” I asked if he was following the pre-election campaigning in 2011 “Honestly? I’d probably vote Republican, but being over here has taught me to listen to all sides more. Maybe it’s time... Obama is doing alright.” I pointed out that in America it was hard to make an open-minded choice given the polarization of the news. His wife answered, “Yes, we see that now. We have friends who say such terrible things about Obama, such lies. From over here... well I wish my family could see what I see, know what we know now. Back home, they are all so filled with hatred.”
My friend and partner (on shows we created called WildThings), Bertram van Munster created, with his wife Elise Doganieri, a show called Amazing Race. Why? Precisely because they could show all of America a little different perspective of what the world and people from around the world really are. Now, if only this generation could put down the mono-culture little world of their smart phones and similarly open their eyes... If they don’t, the cultural and political chasm can only get worse. A continuing what’s-yours-is-yours and mine-is-mine world can only cause a greater divide.