To what extent are our personalities and lifestyles original and authentic in the age of corporatocracy, in which the new media ecosystem constitutes the very back-bone of it? The term ‘new media’ initially emerged to capture a sense that quite rapidly from the late 1980s on the media and world of communications began to look rather different and this difference was not restricted to one part or element of that world, although the actual pace of change has been different from medium to medium. This was the case from printing, photography, through television, to telecommunications (Lister, 2008). Therefore, does our effortless access to a virtually infinite array of lifestyle ‘options’ grant and inspire us with the opportunity to embody greater personal authenticity, or to the contrary, gradually transforms every single one of us into another ordinary stereotypical persona that can be categorically classified? Which changes do new media enact on a consumerist (and not merely capitalist) society’s cultural properties? These are among the many overarching questions that I will attempt to answer in my first article for Essydo Magazine.
Due to our neurological ability to process and apprehend the rich visual world around us, we are visually, psychologically and physiologically exposed to tangible objects with meanings, that we are either personally attaching to those objects or that were provided with meaning by others. However, it seems that within a consumerism-oriented society, tacitly dominated by corporatocracy, the externally guided inclination is to adopt and promote an artificially constructed culture, which channels the individual preference towards a meaning that is externally provided in the shape of a commodity or service, presented to us by a profit-oriented business model. Ultimately, this implicit promotion and legitimation of laziness that hinders our infinite potential to stimulate creative inspiration and knowledge – which also prevents us from personally attaching a meaning to objects or phenomena – simply ascends to become the term ‘consumer appetite’ and proceeds to financially savour the aforementioned business models through the utilisation of various means (mainly new media). Am I going too fast? Let us break the issue down in some sub-topics that will ultimately offer us a holistic picture of our desperate search for personal and societal identity, largely guided by new media.
The Invisible Reality of Corporatocracy
Today, the globalised world order has led to the override of human intelligence and judgement by the necessity to think and act in real time. Historically, where once every political discourse was oriented around the logic of state sovereignty, legitimacy and legal rights, with the separation of powers at the focus (Foucault), state power now melts away, as global corporations are enforcing a race to assume the ‘king’s mantle’ which the very forces of globalisation effectively remove. Today, the fact that the wealth of some of the most valuable companies exceed the gross domestic product (hereinafter GDP) of many countries is no longer unheard of. This reality vests those corporations with the powers to dictate their own agenda in terms of the direction of economic development in the light of their own financial interests. Should their demands be denied, all they have to do is to threaten to withdraw their investments from that territory. In 2016, during a period in which Brexit was a raging debate that was closely observed in international affairs, the Japanese ambassador to the United Kingdom (hereinafter UK) simply warned that many Japanese companies in the UK were considering pulling out their investments if their “requests were not met” in the Brexit deal. In close relation to this, the issue of ‘community demand’ has completely transformed as well, since development funding is now being dominated by considerations of investment profitability than by the needs and demands of the community. As a natural consequence, the cultural foundations of the state and its sociological aspects (sense of belonging and allegiance) are being eroded by the invisible reality of corporatocracy. Although this reality is paradoxically quite evident to all of us, its invisible facet stems from the smooth functioning of the producer-consumer relationship which is implicitly upheld in all pillars of a functioning government, and therefore inured in all aspects of societal relations.
Baudrillard’s work on the ‘consumer society’ (1970) in this regard describes a society, which gradually leans towards the reification, commodification and radical alienation of social life. Leaving this on one side, how did these developments actually unfold, penetrated into our lives and became our daily praxis? But more importantly, where do our personalities stand during all this change and how are they continuously being affected by this transformation?
How authentic are we really in the light of new media?
I would like to begin this part by paraphrasing the well-known economist, Karl Marx: “People make culture, but not necessarily by their own choosing”. True but notwithstanding, I believe that today it has become nearly impossible to be truly immune from living a lifestyle and constructing a personal identity that is completely inspired and realised by one’s own appetites, passions, interests and specialisations in life: including but not limited to our common ‘languages’ of art, of love, of gesture and the like. In this regard, the dividing line of quality between the influences depends on the degree of your interest in embodying the current trends within society, as well as on the degree of you (critically) questioning their roots and purpose. Naturally, you might (and should) ask why this actually is the case, whilst it might not be true for your own life. Therefore, I would like to support my argument by scrutinising the prominent tool which corporatocracies make use of in both sustaining and legitimising their operations: new media which emerged from the 1980s’ Information Revolution.
The emergence of new media as some sort of epoch-making phenomenon was, and still is, regarded as part of a much larger landscape of technoculture. For example, within an age of trans-mediality we are continuously observing a light-speed migration of content and intellectual property across media forms along a shift from ‘audiences’ to ‘users’ and from ‘consumers’ to ‘producers’. Just ask yourself whether today the term ‘mass audience’ means the same as it did during the latter half of the twentieth century. In this regard, new media has perpetually interfered with the traditional patterns of the spatiotemporal system, therefore, generating new dynamics and types of spaces.
In effect, our everyday realms and temporalities come back and forth between the communicational polyrhythms of diverse digital media. This is the reason why our everyday lives are a central theme to the work of media studies; it is the very site at which the popular meanings and uses of new media are played out. Therefore, ultimately, even if you are not interested, affiliated or believe that you are not exposed to any form of “popular culture”, your interactions with your environment and social surroundings do, in fact, influence your thoughts and behaviour in such a way, since they are actively involved in such a relationship with popular forms of consumption. Moreover, social interactions with our closest social environment are also among the main drivers behind our lean towards the one that is popular, due to the widely accepted and generally unquestioned “guarantee” of fulfilment and personal satisfaction. We feel relieved and become free of the implicit overwhelming pressure of not owning the one product that is looked down upon even by our closest relatives. Long story short, our magnificent, brilliant and exceptional ability to explore, unleash and maximise the limits of our creativity, inevitably and eventually languishes vis-à-vis the distant rattle of the cash register.
Is there a way out? (Should there even be one?)
So, we observe that, in order for us to develop and build a lifestyle tailored in alignment with our desires, passions, backgrounds and the meaning we attach to this life, we have to develop some form of intellectual methodology cemented in the virtue of patience to end up with an authentic and significantly pure personal ‘taste’.
Indeed, some degree of inspiration is essential in our pursuit of personal authenticity and the maintenance of our lives. However, the issue for many of us is to spot and sustain an equilibrium on the degree of the inspiration to be sought and acquired. But within the age of corporatocracies, we simply are not allowed to be (and remain) immune from the bombardment of both knowledge and consumables on a daily basis, which is wired into our lives with the instruments of new media. Although our contemporary unlimited and untethered access to information and stylistic, artistic and intellectual inspiration enables us to practically improve our living standards, I argue that there is a fine line between the aforementioned visionary freedom and the probability to become gradually enslaved to pre-identified consumption patterns, which simultaneously convince us in being genuine and emancipated. Ultimately, the problem, thus, becomes to find a way to explain how these cultural commodities are becoming both part of the economic base of society, but also functioning symbolically as inspirational and exceptional cultural artefacts. Whether we will attempt and achieve to truly emancipate ourselves in this regard, and then dare to collectively share our thoughts and experiences among one another is up to us all.