Random Thoughts

We each make references that interlocutors don’t pick up on. It could be a line from a film, a phrase from a novel, to a character in a video game, a certain album, a television series, etc. In an infinitely expanding universe of references where knowledge is, for all purposes, universal (at least for anyone with an internet connection, which is most of us) and instant (for anyone with a smartphone, which is a majority of us in the first world, and universal before long), the culture of referentiality is possibly the most relevant signifier of social location. By “social location,” I mean nothing physical, but rather the indicator of which set of fractally-expanding cultural subsets with which you identify. 

Earlier it was simpler. You could be a “jock,” a “nerd,” or just “normal” — whatever that has ever signified. Now — and accelerating more so (it will only get faster) — cultural identity in interpersonal relations depends increasingly more on instant recall of and familiarity with cultural references. If someone is unaware of what I’m referring to when I mention “4th and 26,” “The Drive,” “butt fumble,” I don’t take them quite as seriously as an American football fan. Likewise, “Big Jim” I expect to trigger an instant appreciation of (in my humble opinion the greatest album ever made Blood on the Tracks). The same principles apply to politics, business, theatre, visual art, urban studies, cuisine, and on and on. Identifying friends, lovers, foes and just people one isn’t interested in by cultural references isn’t a new thing, but as “culture” — defined as broadly as possible — fractalizes increasingly, what does it mean?  What will it mean? 

The latter question is likely more important as we enter The Age of Universal Knowledge. It’s almost dizzying how much information is available and yet how little can be consumed and assimilated in the brain bank already. I’d probably need about 100 years just to catch up on my own libraries of books, music, film, art, cuisine, sports — and even then I’d probably only know a tenth of what I set out to know. And of course that’s a biological and social impossibility. To finally get around to whatever point I have (and this post is entitled “Random Thoughts” because these are things I think about and haven’t arrived to specific conclusion), I would imagine that our current era — say 1990- — represents the inevitable death of universality as it affects human beings. We may no longer view gender, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, nationality as strict dividing lines among individuals. Ironic that we can achieve universality in those all-too elusive areas throughout human history only to self-segregate on cultural grounds. I think this will continue to have immense ramifications going forward, as the so-called “millenials” like myself take the reins and as technology continues its advance. 

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~ by Benji on 5 February 2013.

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