Thursday, 23 May 2013

(Not) Keeping Up With The Jones'

I came to a realisation about myself a few days ago.

I've stopped caring about what people think, for the most part, and have become increasingly ambivalent about the must have, must see things the world tells me are important. I know what matters to me and that's enough.  I feel no need to traipse after the latest gadget, especially if the thing I have works; I've not bothered with the Wii U for instance, the Wii (and Gamecube for that matter) still work so why would I need a new console? Whilst I'd like to travel, and see more of the world, again I don't feel the need to compete. I'll travel for myself, not because everyone else is.

Perhaps more oddly this feeling also embraces culture, I find I'm not bothered by 'water cooler' moments; whole series of apparently gripping television has passed me by like ships in the night. This does mean some of my conversations with friends have become strained. In many ways the old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon about the power of media is correct, television has become the opium of the people... one reason traditional media is so full of internet scare stories is that there's a real fear that the 'net could render newspapers and TV obsolete.

Despite my general antipathy to it, there's a strong instinct within humanity to keep up with others, be it through possessions, experiences, culture or what have you. Even subculture isn't immune, as unfortunately the system (capitalism in this instance, if you're playing multiple choice on the controlling 'system' of the day - there are so many to choose from after all) takes cultural deviations and turns them into brief trends. Normally by the time mainstream media catches hold of something its days of innovation and rebellion are over; lest we forget the Sex Pistols were just a cleverly marketed boy band. Some subcultures are so 'stuff' orientated that  it's impossible to participate without buying new gear and keeping up with your peers (New Rocks and Dr Martens spring to mind). We're a social species; it's hardwired into our DNA that we need a place to fit and our society, which is still largely troupe based, forces us towards conformity. So it's no surprise that we feel this pressure to be the same, but different. On one level it's beneficial; it lets us identify tribes and trends, but we're always caught in a flux between two extremes, happy with neither of them. Fear seems to govern our response to both elements, fear of loss of identity on one hand and fear of losing community on the other.

At one extreme we're left with the stark reality that all of us have things we don't want other people to know, which naturally damages communities; its a cliche that the 'quiet ones' are the people who have the most dangerous secrets. At the other we have anarchy of a sort, as people struggle to find social connections. Humanity walks the line between the two extremes with ever increasing problems as technology becomes more intrusive and our respect for authority lessens. Who now can imagine the awe that politicians may have been held in in the past, or the respect accorded to people simply because they were on the television? In the UK the royal family has survived surprisingly well in this regard; something I would attribute in part to the air of mystique they have consciously cultivated about themselves. Prince Philip aside there are few outbursts that would lead them to have problems with the press. Even people who don't really care for them, or find the concept of a hereditary monarchy ludicrous (guilty as charged) can't fault the current family's survival technique, even if it does mostly boil down to smile, nod and keep your opinions to yourself.

I'm not sure if the way I feel is common, I suspect not. Honestly, I'm not sure I care. Life's too short to stuff a mushroom or spend your time being constrained by other people's opinions: at the end of the day we're all freaks, geeks, sinners and saints just struggling to get through from one day to the next. Anything that even sniffs of security is a lie. As long as you don't break the law, then what you do shouldn't matter surely? To quote Dr Seuss, "those that mind don't matter, those that matter, don't mind", and whilst that's a little ballpark, assuming everyone sings from more or less the same song sheet, there's a truth to it. In reality we all carry our little secrets, and all condemn those who are different to us. I'm afraid that's just human nature.

Calvin and Hobbes copyright Bill Watterson