It is said of fish that they remain blissfully unaware of the water in which they swim. It may be said of human beings that we remain similarly (and for the most part blissfully) unaware of the richly-layered cultural matrix of symbols, meanings and foundational assertions within which we produce and renew ourselves, our worlds and our organisational and institutional realities.
Consider the ways in which on reflection it may be apparent that our attention spans and methods of social engagement and meaning-making are undergoing rapid, accelerating and irreversible transformation. We may choose to briefly pause and hold that concept for a moment, to rotate within our mind’s eye a constellation of personal, psychological and social relationships and dependencies, to consider the ways in which even within our own lifetimes the changing systems, structures and values of those meaning-making assertions of individual and collective identity have proven difficult to follow and uphold.
There exists a profound disconnection between a reflective personal awareness of the accelerating cultural, technological complexity within which we exist and the ongoing, lived experience of struggling to make sense of (and survive in) a world in which meanings and values undergo such rapid metamorphosis that maintaining personal significance and identity is a task and burden in itself. You certainly do not need to maintain any notional self-conscious awareness of the constantly warping and twisting symbolic and logical spaces within which we exist; it is probably a simpler affair to attempt to keep up with the change without being aware of it. The danger in blindly swimming along with a current in this way tends to be (like most matters taken “on faith” or with unquestioning trust in authority) that reality, life and personal happiness have a tendency to just get away from us. Where the world is changing at an accelerated rate we should not be so surprised to one day find that we no longer recognise ourselves and each other.
There are many senses in which we are losing track of ourselves. There also regularly fails to materialise any coherent trail of bread crumbs or audit-trail with which we might successfully decompress or unpack that personal or collective history and through which we might come to understand with deep insight who we are and how we came to get here. We find ourselves, like a Rubik’s Cube having undergone several simple rotations, unable to reverse those steps through which our path was laid down and arrive back where we started; having moved on in every moment from where we were, the references and meanings of that past self (both individual and collective) now no longer possess any sufficient meaning or value and leave us dangling freely in this present moment, without anchor or certainty.
The most sensible survival strategy in any such rapidly accelerating world is to abbreviate one’s self, one’s thoughts, one’s emotions down to a point where flexible adaptation and non-committal engagement allow for a smoother path through turbulent waters. A significant problem in this is that we do indeed find ourselves adapting in ways like this, of becoming less like deep reservoirs of experience and knowledge than like references and links to the abstract (external) locations of templated and stored experiences and knowledge. We find ourselves still desperately clutching at those fragile ego-selves upon which entire information and economic ecosystems existence and renewal depends while those egos are themselves rapidly devaluing in social, technological and economic worth.
Self-abbreviation, progressive information compression and the external storage and reference of value and meaning has always been a method of survival and creative adaptation in evolving cultural and social systems. It appears that at this point we are reaching some kind of critical juncture in which the accellerating systems within which we exist and through which we live and find personal meaning have been getting away from us, sliding out of sight and beyond any rational capacity for the individual to anchor or otherwise attach themselves to valid or fulfilling personal meaning and purpose or direction in life.