Tech + Culture: Individuality

Individuality is not a new concept. How we are perceived by others has always been important. Our reputations have always mattered to us.

2 months ago   •   5 min read

By Luma Eldin
Photo by Max Harlynking / Unsplash

Individuality

Much of what emerged from our 2021 conversations at the intersection of Tech & Culture, highlighted the influential role of societal constructs on how we develop technologies as well as how we engage with them. The construct of individuality played a specific role in challenging, influencing, and contextualizing our perspectives, leaving us wondering how could we align our tech futures with our increasingly prioritized sense of self.

On February 8 we kicked off our 2022 series by coming together to explore the relationship of tech. Below is a summary of what we debated.

Individuality (Today)

Individuality is not a new concept. How we are perceived by others has always been important. Our reputations have always mattered to us. Since the begining of time, people have been creating narratives to discover and share who they are. They just were never registered and recorded the way they are today. More and more, the demand and pressure or the requirement to be part of the public narrative is harder to ignore. It’s a double edge sword where you are only relevant if you participate, and even if you prefer not to, you need to make a consuming effort to opt out. While the comparison of peers is human nature, it’s no longer manageable when you are being parred with almost everybody else.

The greater irony is that while we often think of tech of empowering us to explore truer versions of who we could be, it is also funneling us into homogenous reflections of each other, redefining our experiences of culture and community.  

Artist: CRUDEOIL 2.0

Tech-Enabled Individuality

Tech companies (especially the big 5) are being held accountable for propelling a tech-enabled experience of individuality. Within the tech ecosystem, tools, platforms, and systems, cultivate the privilege of having a strong sense of self, whether intentionally or not. You should not only be able to–you are encouraged to–and expected to–express your 'self' at all times. This is a contradictory view to how communities and societies have structured themselves overtime. The act of 'trumpeting' yourself into the world and waiting for an echo is a current cultural practice that is facilitated by tech. Historically, there was no such thing as being remembered for anything unless you ruled the community as a king or queen. Today of course it's quite the opposite, where everything is recorded, registered, and on your permanent record. In addition, how you select the things in your life that you want to broadcast and narrate to create your own histories is a lot of work. We are pushed to optimize our perception of self by crafting an online persona.

Artist: CRUDEOIL 2.0

Of course, there are other implications to having everything recorded. Between measurement tools and tracking devices, we are constantly being invited to optimize into better versions of ourselves. Primarily challenging ourselves against ourselves and then challenging ourselves against our peers, to improve, transform and grow. This can be equally exhausting, driving many to crave a future of doing nothing (and completely reject of individuality), and wondering how to achieve such a desired future.

Artist: CRUDEOIL 2.0

Tech Development

It’s not all tech of course, capitalism has always encouraged us to feel important, with educational systems that emphasize expertise and achievements as required of success. With such values it's no wonder that tech development has gotten caught up in such consequential entanglements of individuality. Ultimately the priority of any tech company is to turn profit to shareholders. They optimize for very mundane outputs, to get more clicks, and generate more returns.

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“Before we search on google, now google searches us”

Still less intentional companies are influencing behaviors shifting how individuality is valued and formulated in different cultures. Being exposed to so many people through different networks and through different pools that resemble you so closely, calls into question what individuality is for a lot of people. In America, individuality is very important. In other cultures it is seen as something not as important, or negative, or strange, or something that is antithetical to the idea of community.

A Culture of Individuality

While cultures around the world value individuality differently, globalization has streamlined siloed behaviors focused on achievement and enforced by recognition. This has become a globalized culture of its own enabled by technologies that facilitate homogeneous consumption and a funnelled skew of competitiveness. Ultimately, culture provides us with a set of tools for how to behave. Social technologies are cultural tools, even if they don’t perceive themselves that way. They determine how we engage with each other, even if it's through an exaggerated expression of individuality.

Artist: CRUDEOIL 2.0

If you want to value culture you need to cultivate the rituals of expressing it. Without ways to express it or enact it or perform it with or in front of multiple people, such rituals are just abstract principles. Something that is cultural is something that is impactful. Expressing your self-hood is only going to accelerate. Perhaps individuality is in fact the new culture.

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Is it just the new normal that makes us uncomfortable?

This perspective begs the question: What values should drive individuality in the future? If what we need more of are open source technologies that focus on healthier expressions of individuality, what are healthy rituals that technologies can focus on? What does this mean for the future of culture?

The Future of Individuality

The impact of technology on facilitating individuality has both positive and negative outcomes. It’s both beautiful to have these spaces that allow us to explore different expressions of ourself and perhaps step into more authentic versions of ourselves and find community–it is also being manipulated and potentially detrimental to human wellbeing. Is that duality just a part of techno-evolution?

Part of the challenge is that we are focused on past techniques of looking at the world and not towards the future. A new capacity of leaders for the next century is imperative. This will affect how we experience ourselves and our communites. We need to predict the future to predict the future, and to predict how the future will affect us.

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We look into the future backwards by looking in a rearview mirror.

Most of all, we need to be deliberate about our sense of individuality.

Artist: CRUDEOIL 2.0

Future Series:

Dimensionality
April 4, 2022 5pm CET

How does technology challenge our accepted reality? What other dimensions can we access with technology? What does it mean about our experience of death?

Do you have topics you want to discuss in future sessions? Share your ideas on Slack.

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