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Posts Tagged ‘Clay Shirky’

Homogeneity, the Web, and liking stuff

In Coming to terms with the Web, Uncategorized on October 16, 2010 at 7:40 am

Looking back over my posts, I realised I hadn’t delivered on my promise to discuss the Web and homogeneity. It’s lucky, then, that over the break I discovered Stuff White People Like. For the uninitiated… oh, just go to the site and read it. Then report back here and tell me how many of the items on the list describe you. I’m at about 12, but I won’t say which ones – until you do. (Incidentally, as the author pointed out in a recent ABC interview, the site could well be called ‘Stuff the Middle Class Like’, or even ‘Stuff  Wealthy People Like’, but then would it be as funny?)

Anyway, what’s the point here? Well, other than finding out just how absurdly unoriginal I am in at least 12 ways, I discovered that David Sedaris is on the list. Rather than throw out the two Sedaris books I’d just bought (visit the Book Grocer for some bargains), over the weekend I read Naked, and made a start on Sedaris’ Christmas story collection, Holidays on Ice.  And what did I find but the icon of bland, homogenous whiteness himself picking on homogeneity. One Christmas Sedaris worked as a Macy’s Christmas elf, and was often designated the Santa Elf. When adults have their chance with Santa, he observes, they all

…ask for a Gold Card or a BMW and they rock with laughter, thinking they are the first person brazen enough to request such pleasures.

Santa says, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Couples over the age of fifty all say, “I don’t want to sit on your lap, Santa, I’m afraid I might break it!”

How do you break a lap? How did so many people get the idea to say the exact same thing?

All of us take pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I’m afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.

It looks those that even those who observe homogeneity  shouldn’t think themselves too unique.  But does this pervasive sameness matter?

Well yes, it could do. My partner and I were listening to a radio program about the fall of communism in East Germany the other day, and were pondering whether fascism could rise again in a country such as Germany, or even in Australia. He opined that he thought our improved access to information – and thus enlightenment? – would tend to militate against that. I pointed to the homogeneity of thought that’s evident in any society, giving as an example the anti-foreign feeling that seems to be sweeping our country (or that you’d think is doing so, given the way our politicians are behaving). Greater access to ‘information’ may well reinforce that (see this blog post by Clay Shirky about power laws).

Homogeneity seems to be timeless, and sometimes it’s dangerous, but perhaps our shared culture isn’t always a source of shame? I’m thinking about popular culture. Reading the Jenkins article on cultural jammers and poachers, it occurred to me that there is a potentially illuminating lesson here: instead of railing against the homogenous consumerism and corporatisation that has suckered itself onto popular culture, as the jammers do, we can make like a poacher and subvert this blandness from within, thus assauging our guilt about liking the same things everyone else does. After all, we all have the same delightfully post-modern take on it. Oh dear…

Now excuse me, I’m off to my favourite breakfast place with my Moleskine diary (please note that I am upwardly mobile: at some stage I’ll start shelling out tens of dollars for Moleskine notebooks, too), after which I think I’ll pick up a coffee.

 

 

Image by Zedlik [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL] on Wikimedia Commons