Let’s face it: We’ve lost a lot. Somewhere between the advent of the clock that would produce modern time and one that would dare to remind us of our collective deadline, we lost all sorts of things. Common touchstones and cultural pacemakers; fidelity in our interactions; connection with the world around us; and our individual and collective roots. Throw in any remaining sense of control for good measure. When you reflect on it, we’ve seen all of it slip away at an intensifying pace, without much notice of the ‘when’ or ‘how’ of it all.
Culture has never felt more ephemeral: It feels like we’ve lost our ability to cultivate longevity when it comes to just about anything. Our relationships with things have become increasingly disposable, at the larger expense of any remaining heirloom mentality. Our relationships with people have frayed, too, with friendship and community dynamics shifting towards fewer and fewer ties at varying strengths. We’ve realized the fragility of places and spaces, both constructed and natural — from losing local businesses and gentrifying local culture to witnessing landscapes fade and change with time. When everything feels fleeting, can we really be blamed for feeling untethered?
“Chaos and complexity are not characteristics of our new reality; they are features of our perceptions and understanding”
by DALL·E x RADAR
“I think that in many ways, the dashed expectations of every generation play a part in the feeling of misalignment many are feeling.”
– Elton (35, Toronto)
In Edward O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth, he strikes at the core of our ultimate misalignment: “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions and godlike technology. It is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”
But it’s more easily grasped when you take things down several existential notches and look at a few of the many paradoxes we encounter every day.
Think of BeReal asking us to BeAuthentic, before we hurry to strike a pose. Or awaiting that moment when you’ll finally settle in, only to realize that life only asks more questions. Like believing in sustainability, while throwing our money at fast fashion. Or craving unifying moments, while delighting in personal gratification. Even our body clocks are misaligned, trying to mirror the alarms and calendars that rule our days despite our natural inclinations. These little moments of misalignment start to pile up, until you wonder where things are even meant to converge. (And that’s just at the individual level.)
Scale back up, and you see similar gaps in our macro systems: as Jamshid Gharajedaghi has said, “Chaos and complexity are not characteristics of our new reality; they are features of our perceptions and understanding. We see the world as increasingly more complex and chaotic because we use inadequate concepts to explain it.” Just think about the word ‘System’: We fancy ourselves systems thinkers and systems designers in our increasingly interconnected contexts, but Google the word and you won’t see any pictures of living things, nor illustrations of anything in relationship; “Just squares and triangles, arrows and circles — all sharp with educated and earnest attempts to code-crack life,” as Nora Bateson writes.
Intentions and actions, efforts and realities — they’re just not lining up. As a friend of the community, Sarah (33, Singapore), puts it, “Our human nature and human desires are misaligned with the capitalist aims and demands of modern society.” And that kind of dissonance does damage.
“They're just not lining up”
by DALL·E x RADAR
“HIGH PRICE OF MATERIALISM” by DALL·E x RADAR
The new iPhone just dropped. If you simply must have it (despite having a phone that works just fine), you’re not alone. Our consumerist culture is driven by cycles of hype and planned obsolescence, incentivizing participation in the shiny and new, while reinforcing our shallow relationships with the things in our lives. This largely superficial relationship with material culture makes it easier to dispose of what doesn’t suit us, leaving us unable to form or maintain deeper bonds (unless, of course, we’ve named a thing; maybe that’s the missing key?).
In The High Price of Materialism, psychologist Tim Kasser highlights the problem: The more people organize their lives around extrinsic goals (such as product acquisition), the greater their reported unhappiness in relationships, the worse their moods, and the more varied their psychological problems. It’s a take-make-toss culture that’s doing a number on our own well-being, and of course, that of our planet’s. Our bias towards impermanence has facilitated the rapid loss of nature and biodiversity, reduced our chances of maintaining planetary normalcy, and exacerbated environmental fragility at every turn.
This isn’t an entirely consumerist story: We’ve applied the same throwaway mentality to our relationships with people and places. Globally the loss of adult friendship has been profound. And even without truly severed ties, our relationships have weakened — thanks to a confluence of factors from the decentering of work to the realities of modern urban planning. It’s an erosion of social cohesion that can be applied to our local neighborhoods, too: Sense of place is tied to a sense of pride and identity — and with declining neighborliness, the struggles of small business, and the forces of gentrification at play, local cohesion is eroding rapidly.
The wear is clearly showing. And unless we re-adjust our settings and prioritize longevity, it’s likely to start ripping altogether.
“This largely superficial relationship with material culture makes it easier to dispose of what doesn’t suit us they said ” by DALL·E x RADAR
“truth, unlike information, has a centripetal force that holds society together”
by DALL·E x RADAR
Truth is an anchor of meaning and orientation. It’s directional for the individual but it’s also a social glue of sorts. That is, unless we each hold our own truths. And not in the hippy-dippy self-help way; no, a bit darker. As Byung-Chul Han outlines for Noema, “Truth, unlike information, has a centripetal force that holds society together. Information, on the other hand, is centrifugal, with very destructive effects on social cohesion…the informatization of reality leads to its atomization — separated spheres of what is thought to be true.” Functionally, this means the end of common sense, as bespoke realities become our new norm.
In that context it’s no wonder that our chasms are widening — and we’re stopping to notice. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report for 2022, social cohesion erosion outpaced everything from livelihood crises and infectious diseases and debt crises. Obviously political differences and culture wars play a significant role here, but our life’s infrastructure isn’t doing much to help. As explained in Culturico, there’s a host of factors driving social atomization, including increasing specialization that leads to structural solitude, and competitive systems that yield isolated ambition.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has forced many global workers into a physically and aspirationally fractured state. It has scattered employees across cities and time-zones while creating division among those who maintain work as a center-of-gravity and those who’ve had time to re-evaluate.
As Monique (57, New Jersey) lamented, “I feel like my reality is so much different than others’ reality. It's been very discouraging, and I feel more isolated and alone in the world than I ever did before.” And at least in that aspect she isn’t alone.
"I feel like my reality is so much different than others’ reality. It's been very discouraging, and I feel more isolated and alone in the world than I ever did before”
by DALL·E x MONIQUE