You know how your fingers get wrinkly if they’re in water for too long? They get soft and malleable. Our lives are steeping in a consumer-mediated experience and we’re getting a little pruney.
Our bathtubs continue to fill up but it’s not just a washing of the brain that is happening culturally, it’s a complete immersion. We are reaching a saturation point. How often do you hear someone respond by saying “busy” when you ask “how are you?” People are drowning in their own lives -drowning in a culture washing over them. Amid the commotion of our busy lives we are so distracted that we don’t notice we are being washed, let alone washed away. What starts out as a wash can become a wave.
Like in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, as our more basic needs are met we focus on moving our energies up to more inessential areas. In other words, we move our perception of “needs” up the hierarchy. Suddenly, with all our basic needs being met, we feel we the need to satisfy our desires. As our desires are being met, we feel the need to define ourselves.
I’ve noticed how within social media (especially online dating) many people dominate their profiles with their likes and preferences. In other words, people have found that the best way to describe and present themselves as a desirable person is through listing the things they like -the movies, books, music, food and other things they like and choose to consume.
Consumer culture has become so influential that we have come to embody it; we believe we are what we consume: I am the bands I like. I am the style I wear. I am the tattoos I have. I am the books I read. I am the places I go. I am the money I spend (or earn). I am the job title I hold. Basically, I am what I choose.
Not only are we enamored and enthralled with the opportunity to choose our own, individual identity through our unique preferences but we are addicted to consuming those preferences and desires. The whole experience of defining ourselves through such self-gratifying means is dizzying. Like any power, this newfound self-defining of individual identity can be intoxicating.
Identity is no longer the tradition of which I am a part. Identity is no longer the family which I came from. Identity is no longer where I came from. We might even try to argue that identity is no longer the people which I surround myself. Identity is no longer tethered to anything; it is free to go where it pleases.
The ironic thing is that, when untethered, identity is very easily swept away.
We are reacting to the idea of a tethered-identity by throwing caution to the wind and wanting to be swept away. We want to be swept far away to a private place; to be protected from the discomfort and inconveniences that being tethered to others inherently bring. And so we let ourselves be swept away to islands…
Cover photo by Jeremy Bishop
Wave photo by Austin Schmid