Context Collapse: Defragging the Human Soul
How social media crushed our souls, destroyed the commons, and what to do about it.
BrianGold.Blog is a newsletter on social economics, cultural capital, and creative power.
I recently got married, but I hate weddings. I hate weddings because of mixed company. You can’t do anything in mixed company. The suit becomes a straight jacket. That’s why you only have two options. Get inebriated or become the most sanitized version yourself. When you’re with acquaintances, friends, co-workers, family, extended family, and family friends, no one can be their full selves. This is called context collusion. Where different social circles are purposefully combined. It’s also why weddings only happen once. Never to be repeated again. So you go all out like Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas. Unless you get remarried of course. But you get the idea. It’s rare to bring all of your social circles in one place. Imagine if you had to go into work with everyone you know. That would be mentally exhausting. But we do this everyday online. This is called context collapse.
Context Collapse: /ˈkäntekst/ /kəˈlaps/
Instead of having in-person interactions, which occur within a specific context (person, time, place), on the internet everyone experiences “an infinite number of contexts collapsing on one another.
The Age of Anxiety
Anxiety: anx·i·e·ty /aNGˈzīədē/
A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically when thinking about the past or the future. A state of being that is unable to be fully present.
The age of anxiety was born on 2006 when Facebook introduced the newsfeed. With one update everyone was sucked into the portal. Connected to everyone and everything all once. All the time.
We consume a 174 newspapers a day. 34 gigabytes of data. Every. Day.
As Eugene Weionce wrote:
“By merging all updates from all the accounts you followed into single continuous surface and having that serve as the default screen, Facebook News Feed the efficiency of distributed of new posts and pitted all such posts against each other in what was effectively a single giant attention arena, complete with live updating scoreboards on each post. It was as if the panopticon inverted itself overnight, as if a giant spotlight turned on and suddenly all of us performing on Facebook for approval realized we were all in the same auditorium, on one large connected infinite stage, singing karaoke to the same audience at the same time.”
MTV. Michael Jackson. Steven Spielberg. Bono. Cartoon Network. Madonna. Oprah Winfrey. Chernobyl. Cindy Crawford. Naomi Campbell. Gordon Gekko. The Berlin Wall. The end of our regular scheduled programming. Our society atomized in a snap and a flash.
Defragging the Human Soul
To reorganize separated fragments of related data on (a computer disk) into a contiguous arrangement.
We all know the rest of the story. We know how all of these platforms work. Users & Attention. We know how they make money. Monetization. Arbitrage. Scale. We know how they make us feel. A Commodity. Hollow. What they did to our society. Disconnect. Most of all, we know what it has done to our minds. Fragment. For over 16 years and counting, we’ve all been part of the largest social experiment ever conducted. History is being fully recorded in an extreme
Nothing can be further from the spirit of the new technology than “a place for everything and everything in its place"
— Marshal McLuhan
We now share a world-wide web of neurological disorders. A combination of ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Depression, and Burnout Syndrome. An inability to focus and a sense of self that is saturated with itself in a listless world.
Consumerized trends of wellness, self-care, and mental health packaged in neutral tones and yoga classes are in direct response to this epidemic. It’s only now that the patients in the mental asylum have started to stare back into the control room.
Forgotten Pillars: Building Back Context with Time & Place
In the wake of the lay-offs, the stock market crashes, and the latest crypto rug pulls, it’s important to zoom out, step back, and take a breadth. It’s a good time to reset and remember. Back when we were watching the same TV shows, it was easier to coordinate because we had shared values. Now we have to make compromises for strangers. Coordinate with people we don’t have shared values with. Trust and credibility, physical space and communal connection, a sense of time, beauty, virtues, traditions and rituals are in short supply. Not blue checkmarks on Twitter.
We need to revaluate our relationship between our physical space and social space. ‘Context Collapse’ is a through line that links many of the trends, events, and movements in the last few decades. I hope you see that now.
Digital media is blessing. I’m a clear benefactor, and believer of its propagation. But it also flattens our collective social experience. It homogenizes everything and everyone. Reclaim your minds. And then, let’s reclaim the physical world. Together. I’ll see you there.
Eugene Wei is an incredible writer. He’s written the best essay on TikTok I’ve read so far.
The diagrams are designed by Vladan Joler.