I love to read about technology stuff, being the nerdy/inquisitive person that I am. One of the ideas that has been occupying my thoughts recently has been the concept of the Technological Singularity, as described by titan of the computing world Bill Joy. The idea, simply put, is that technological progress will exponentially increase once technology is able to engineer its own improvements. It’s the place where academic speculation and science fiction terminators meet in the venn diagram of life, beyond the event horizon of human prediction. However, I’ve been thinking of the singularity concept as it applies to another topic: culture and media.
I’ve been interested in the explosion of media and entertainment in our culture. While it may not yet have reached exponential curvature, I believe we are well on our way to a “cultural singularity”. Here is my train of thought:
(1 As each day goes by, the barrier of entry for all types of expression is further diminished, making it easier for more people to create more things. Today, we have more writers, more musicians, and more opinionated people than ever before in the history of mankind.
(2 The existence of the internet gives everyone with access to a computer an international, instantaneous distribution network for whatever they create. No more do we need to rely on exclusionary, elitist media conglomerates to distribute our message and dictate social trends. The internet is faster and more powerful than any distribution network ever created before.
(3 Media tools will be invented that further blur the definition between audience and creator. Some of these already exist, the most interesting being the plethora of social media networks that have sprung into existence in the past several years. Social media makes everyone who participates a creator of content as well as an audience member.
All of these points are important to the argument, but the last one has the most interesting consequences. Imagine a world where there is no difference between the people who consume media and the people who create it? Everyone is participating in the act of creation, building their own constructions of expression while watching others create theirs in simultaneous parallel. It would usher in a new paradigm of cultural discourse, a move away from oligarchic control of expression to a thoroughly democratic one.
What evidence is there that such a thing is actually happening? I think the seeds of individualistic expression inside tools like Twitter and blogs are the beginning of a great change. It is getting easier and easier to express yourself, to turn your entire life into something that can be viewed, discussed and shared. With social media, the boundaries between creator and audience are non-existent. There are no barriers, only a sea of opinions and expressions, viewed and disseminated by all. Add to this the idea of frictionless sharing, popularized by Facebook’s open graph, and you see the direction that culture is going: the effort of expression will be removed and all aspects of your life will become a part of the cultural display. You don’t even need to try to create, you only need to live and the rest is taken care of for you.
With the transition to a populist cultural discourse, there are a many new questions and issues that arise. Humans only can pay attention to so much information. Will exponential streams of new ideas and expressions drown the exemplary ones in a sea of noise? Will we pay less and less attention to each individual thought, moving from one to the other without fully absorbing their meaning? Or, will this democratization of media be the source of a collective expression unlike anything seen before? We won’t know until we get there.
Be it a dystopian or utopian future, it is coming. There is no way to stop it, so it’s best to cease fighting and get with the program. We need as many people as possible to steer our strange future towards the light. As henry miller wrote: “the jungle is dark, but full of diamonds!” It’s up to us whether we drive, full bore, beyond the event horizon, or crash in an inferno of unrealized potential.
Welcome to the Cultural Singularity.
Mr. David Benson is a social media analyst and coffeephile. He currently lives in New York City and works as an analyst for Mashwork, a social media analytics company.