11:04am

Sat June 23, 2012
13.7: Cosmos And Culture

Hipsters Under Control: The End Of Subculture?

Originally published on Mon June 25, 2012 9:02 am

Almost everyone wants to belong to the "in-crowd", even if that in-crowd defines itself as being outside the dominant culture. Subcultures expressed through music, art or political dissent have long played an important role in human history.

"Not for much longer", says the always provocative Venkatesh Rao (he goes by Venkat). In a recent post entitled "Peak Attention and the Colonization of Subcultures" Venkat follows the erosion of subcultures into mere market niches.

The Big Data collectors (Facebook, Amazon, Google, etc.) are so good at spotting the development of subcultures that soon, Venkat says, they will be creating and controlling them for their own (or their clients) market exploitation. He continues:

"As a revealing sign, it is noteworthy that subcultures have already been subverted so completely that they voluntarily self-document their doings online on privately-owned platforms. Every party or group lunch is now likely to be photographed, video-taped and archived online as part of collective memory. Group-life streams and grand narratives are out there, for the reading."

"If you're not paying, you're the product. Indeed."

Venkat is a fascinating thinker and while sometimes his posts can be heavy with the language of a graduate seminar in cultural studies, they are always worth the effort. His work can be deeply creative. In this case, I think he correctly understands how the union of Big Data and computationally driven, advanced statistical analysis might undermine a process of human culture that has managed to survive from the birth of cities (6,000 or so years) until today.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.