Tuesday, November 15, 2011

21st Century Schizoid Man

21st Century Schizoid Man
One of the themes of technology and society as it has evolved recently, is the fact that it enables us to actualize our individuality. We now have to means to  be different and don’t have to follow the herd.  Thought I’d checklist some of these.
Recently I read an article about the use of facial recognition software for a variety of everyday things.  This includes digital billboards that can flash an ad depending on the profile of customer faces (shapes?) walking by and singles bars that flash current customer profiles to those choosing a venue. This is something happening commercially already in the US. Google and Facebook already have perfected this art of pushing material online that suits customer behavior and profile. Smart phones in an always-on internet mode are also doing this.
Psychographic profiling for potential employees is already the norm across the globe.  So some tests determine that your talents and inclinations intersect for a job.
The popular media is already working on tailoring programmes that suit viewers interests, I e, what they like. So its not unusual for  TV soaps, in India, to reinforce traditional roles in the home, women dressing up and cooking, the household help in a “kicked around” mode and the kids doing “cute” things or not featuring at all (seen not heard philosophy).
The K-12 schooling system works overtime to cut out all individuality in the pursuit of the grade. The ticket to happiness is cramming in the exponential growth in the world of science and arts into the same 12 years that kids did decades ago. The ticket to reducing grief are tests that establish whether you will be a potential Einstein or a Picasso to guide to applying for college education.  The fact that you are under-confident or under-exposed to some new area doesn’t enter this equation at all.
So between the above developments:
i)                    K-12 for school going age
ii)                   Aptitude tests based on the institutionalization process of K-12 for college
iii)                 Jobs that narrow down based on the above
iv)                 Social life that is reinforced electronically
The pressure to be politically correct is therefore on the up.  It isn’t done for Metallica to say that the organizers “screwed up” when a show was cancelled at the last minute in Delhi. They push out stuff like “safety of our fans is paramout”…..as if they have any control over who gets doped out at their concerts.  The West Indies team cannot say, “we aren’t too worried about Sachin Tendulkar, Viru and Dravid bother us more”. They’d get hammered in the media…and guess which country their endorsements come from? Home or here in India.
This is premised on the fact that you are affluent enough to go to school, college and get a well-paying job, enough to afford TV and the internet.  And go to Metallica concerts or cricket stadia.
In other words,  we have now speedily evolved into prisoners of the technology age.  It isn’t enough that your social peers are hammering you with conformist ideas, it’s now everywhere.

 So when and where do you get the chance to experience something new and different? Its called diversity I think. Even if you do, social pressure will brand you an outcast – if you’re just an average guy – or a “maverick” if you are Muhammad Ali, so good that it doesn’t matter if you don’t like him.  (Remember he went to jail for his anti-draft stand and standing up for his rights).
So what’s the way out of this?
Be poor to start with. It’s the only section that seems to fall outside the prison walls that are being constructed for the middle class. The advertisers won’t both you, TV can’t reach you, facial recognition will pitch you as a “needy” person and hopefully flash food shelter promotionals to you. Since you won’t be qualified for a job described above, you need to be an entrepreneur to make your way up the social ladder. By the time you make it big, it’ll be too late for anyone to change you or treat you as an outcast. Sounds like Ali?
Or be rich to start with.
21st Century Schizoid Man. We’re working so hard to be different…the same way.