Wait, Who Am I Again?
BY CORY ALLEN
The American culture machine blasts out “newness” every moment of the day. That is the great American superpower: we make things famous. For better or worse. While this flurry of the new is good entertainment and a distraction from impending existential doom, it comes with side effects.
For one, the newness machine renders anything that isn’t new obsolete. This is no joke. The video card in my iMac failed and the genius at the Apple store told me that my five-year-old computer was vintage. I expected my iMac would not be up to current tech standards, but vintage draws a “you are worthless” kind of line in the sand.
It sucks when it happens to machines, but it’s tragic when it happens to people. Almost every culture around the globe celebrates the wisdom of their elders. Except for America. We pack our old folks away in “retirement communities” because they have become vintage and we are more interested in listening to Spotify playlists than their old stories.
One doesn’t have to look at extremes to see how the cultural machine can take bites of our soul. It's reinforced in us at a young age that we must always be on the “new” side of the cultural timeline. This ingrained compulsion to not become vintage keeps people from feeling comfortable with who they are. So people continue seeking and take another step further away from their instincts.
When you aren’t new, you’re old. And we were sold the belief that old is obsolete from the moment the new country of America was founded. The Declaration of Independence was the result of the first great American influencer marketing campaign. The Founding Fathers convinced parts of society that British rule was whack and that it was time for a new country to drop.
Looking to grab a few extra cultural coolness points is often harmless. Yet, it comes with a threat of identity imitation. People can self-identify with what is served to them so much that they forget who they actually are. It’s like running on a treadmill towards the desire of relevance and only burning off the authentic self. Even worse is that most things sold to us as new bits of culture are products pushed and marketed by corporations under the guise of natural social phenomena.
Hold your culture horses before you think I’m against the creative culture machine. I’m not. Knowing a reasonable amount about what’s happening in culture-land is good and even healthy.
Culture is hilarious, exciting, and a great way to stay connected with other people. Culture is part of the glue that binds us together as a society. What I want to stress is that the cultural hurricane is no place to go searching for an identity. It’s as lost as everyone else. The temperamental nature of culture exposes its own uncertainty.
We get blasted in the face thousands of times a day by marketing campaigns, memes, or some guy’s promoted video on Facebook telling you, “he is a brand” and that you can have a Lambo like his if you sign up for his useless Lifestyle Design course. In times as dense as these, we would be wise to be aware of our cultural ecosystem.
It’s hard to keep a clear head in the digital age. I mean, our social media feeds are called feeds. The streams of data we look at are defined as endless food sources for the mind. The companies that own those feeds have algorithms that are so precise we can’t help but belly up to the trough and earn them billions (!) of advertising dollars.
While it can be hard to resist the pull of glowing rectangular screens, it is becoming more important to do so to retain personal sovereignty. I recently spent about three months writing a book. During that time, I reduced my connection to social media, email, music, and podcasts about 90%. I also upped the length of my daily meditation by ten minutes.
Changes in my consciousness were crisp and came fast. My ability to think critically, focus, and be creative all noticeably increased. Those qualities continued to sharpen as I stuck to my limited online access. My productivity skyrocketed. But the extra clarity of mind wasn’t even the best part of this behavioral shift.
By not adding dabs of online noise to my head all day I was able to hear myself--who I am--with more clarity. All my mental faculties felt crisper, but my point of view and ability to think about what I thought became stronger. I figured out a little more of who I was. And that was the true irrevocable gift.
Most of us spend all day wrapped up in what’s blasting out of the newness machine. We end up adding so much junk to our minds that, by the end of the day, there isn't any space for us in our own heads. What we actually think and who we truly are gets covered with a blanket of memes, politics, fashion, and entertainment. I bet the “you” under that blanket of culture is tired of taking stuffy breaths and would love some fresh air.
Check this next idea before you defiantly close this article and go sit on the toilet with your iPhone. You don’t have to shut down the digital shop altogether. This is a matter of simple time management. Set guidelines for yourself. Use the internet when it matters and in small chunks. Look at social media and personal email once or twice a day, for 5-10 minutes at a time. These are basic examples, but you can try setting rules that work with your life.
Even reducing the noise in your day by 25% will make massive changes to the brightness of your mind. It’s a wonderful feeling which serves every aspect of your life. But the best feeling of all is hearing your own voice with more clarity.
When you can actually hear yourself, a voice will tell you that there is no, and never was, a reason to self-identify through the minds of others.