Monocultural Hybridization

In the article “Can Monoculture Survive the Algorithm?,” published in Vox, author Kyle Chayka outlines two opposing concerns in the mass culture of entertainment. On one hand, digital streaming has resulted in a reduction of society’s ability to connect and relate through entertainment. The author states “The fear is that we exist in a fragmented realm of impenetrable niches and subcultures enabled by streaming media” (Chayka). The other concern is that social media and algorithmic recommendations in streaming are causing culture to become more similar than different. He further explains “We are worried that our digital niches cause a degree of homogenization, which the word monoculture is also used to describe” (Chayka). It is my opinion that these two seemingly irreconcilable concerns are interrelated and happening concurrently. I argue that mass media is both a homogenizing and fragmenting force on culture through a process of hybridization.

In chapter 3 of You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley, culture is described as “. . . both the technology by which humans have come to dominate nature and the belief systems, ideologies, and symbolic representations that constitute human existence” (Conley). As we are witnessing in the age of the internet, the technological impact on culture happens on a global scale. The rapid dissemination of media is only enhanced through the advent of streaming services, which optimize viewing time through the use of algorithmic recommendations. In contrast to linear television, the modern popularity of digital streaming has fragmented media consumption into various dichotomous categories, such as social vs. intimate and niche vs. mass, with much overlap. This indicates not a reduction but an evolution in monoculture. As Kyle Chayka states, “These are all forms of monoculture that don’t rely on an enforced, top-down sameness, but create sameness from the bottom up” (Chayka). Rather than monoculture being purely determined by the gatekeepers of traditional broadcast media, algorithmic homogenization is a rising influence.

In an academic journal from the University of Pennsylvania, the effects of globalization on culture through different forms of media were explored. The researcher outlined a more nuanced perspective on cultural imperialism, which is the idea that audiences across the globe are disproportionately affected by media from Western countries. This alternative perspective is cultural hybridity or hybridization, which “. . . does not give prominence to globalization as a homogenizing force, nor does it believe in localization as a resistive process opposed to globalization” (Kraidy). The process of hybridization involves mediation between different cultures, which in the example of media streaming, gives birth to the various subcultures of entertainment we have today. The study concludes “Consequently, the globalization of culture through the media is not a process of complete homogenization, but rather one where cohesion and fragmentation coexist” (Kraidy). Thus, I believe this process reconciles both concerns outlined in author Kyle Chayka’s article. The hybridization of monoculture has occurred through both the fragmentation of media consumption and the homogenizing forces of algorithmic recommendations.

Works Cited:

Chayka, Kyle. Can Monoculture Survive the Algorithm? 17 Dec. 2019, http://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/12/17/21024439/monoculture-algorithm-netflix-spotify. 

“Chapter 11: Health and Society.” You May Ask Yourself: an Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley, W.W. Norton, 2019.

Kraidy, Marwan M. “Globalization of Culture Through the Media.” ScholarlyCommons, 2002, repository.upenn.edu/asc_papers/325/?utm_source=repository.upenn.edu%2Fasc_papers%2F325. 

The Ineffectiveness of Online Advocacy

In the article “The Problem With Social-Media Protests,” published in The Atlantic, author Antonia Malchick argues that online social movements are likely to experience faster burnout and result in less actual policy change than in-person activism. Before the internet increased the speed at which information travels, it’s claimed, advocacy in general was slower growing, but benefited from the extra time spent deepening social interactions and strengthening the underlying interconnections of the movement. Malchick states “By contrast, mass protests such as Occupy Wall Street formed rapidly but then, lacking that underlying resilience created over time, often lost focus, direction, and, most important, their potential to effect change” (paragraph 3). I believe that the author’s claims are especially relevant in current times, and I further argue that social media activism is inherently less effective than in-person advocacy due to its reduced ability to sway an elected official’s vote, and the threat of social manipulation by foreign actors.

In chapter 18 of You May Ask Yourself by Dalton Conley, the overall effectiveness of online social movements is brought into question. Testimony from sociologist Doug McAdam reveals that despite the easily disseminated nature of information, online-based movements may not utilize preexisting interpersonal relationships to create effective behavioral change. He states “successful movements, movements that take off very quickly, emerge within established communities, and essentially the members of that community are threatened with the loss of member benefits for failure to go along. It’s not clear that the electronic communities have the same capacity to monitor people’s compliance with the new line of action” (Conley). This potentially reduced compliance ultimately results in a lack of accountability within online movements. Empty clicks and inconsequential Tweets take the place of tangible commitment in followers, greatly reducing the likelihood of an elected official treating the cause seriously. As stated further in chapter 18, “politicians and policy makers can easily ignore online social movements. They know that e-mail is cheap and easy, and therefore they value it less” (Conley). In general, lack of legislative potential is a profound reason why internet activism cannot replace physical protests and in-person advocacy.

As communication in our society is increasingly organized online, disinformation and manipulation become more probable threats. The capacity for subterfuge by foreign actors and those who profit from division is only enhanced by the less resilient nature of online social movements. In the journal article “Tackling Disinformation, Online Terrorism, and Cyber Risks into the 2020s,” published in The Cyber Defense Review, author Oz Sultan outlines the complex systems of disinformation and propaganda enabled by social media. He argues that false-narrative stories propagated through alternative media sites are being leveraged by countries such as Russia, as well as copycat campaigns, to influence, confuse, or demoralize social movements and the online population in general. Sultan claims “These anchor stories . . . work like a signal that gets transmitted through several repeaters. Disruption of these stories or weaponized content should actively involve the social media platforms that facilitate their dissemination. However, what we’ve seen in recent years is a reticence by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp to follow through” (page 46). This vulnerability of social movements to the influence of foreign propaganda is another chief reason why online activism is inherently less effective than in-person advocacy.

Digital technology has given rise to previously unfathomable amounts of interconnectivity and readily available information. It is an inevitability that social activists will seek to utilize the online medium to further their causes. However, there are concerns that arise with this newfound arena for advocacy that remain significant and still partly unknown. As Antonia Malchick concludes in her article, “The realities of face-to-face contact and in-person mass protests, the tools of centuries of struggle for full citizenship and rights, have become even more essential to grounding us as we navigate through a new era of humans’ relationship with technology” (paragraph 11). While the creation of tangible, in-the-flesh connections with each other is being tested by factors like COVID-19, its importance is only further highlighted. Overall, I agree with Malchick’s claims and argue that social media activism is inherently less effective than in-person advocacy due to its reduced ability to sway an elected official’s vote, and the threat of social manipulation by foreign actors.

Works Cited:

“Chapter 18: Collective Action, Social Movements, and Social Change.” You May Ask Yourself: an Introduction to Thinking like a Sociologist, by Dalton Conley, W.W. Norton, 2019.

Malchik, Antonia. “The Problem With Social-Media Protests.” The Atlantic, 6 May 2019, http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/05/in-person-protests-stronger-online-activism-a-walking-life/578905/. 

Sultan, Oz. “Tackling Disinformation, Online Terrorism, and Cyber Risks into the 2020s.” The Cyber Defense Review, vol. 4, no. 1, 2019, pp. 43–60. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26623066. Accessed 16 Nov. 2020.

2020

The title of this post. Enough said.

In actuality, there are not enough words in all the tongues of the ages to describe the complexity of our collective experience this past year. We’ve witnessed a pandemic of globally disruptive proportions, political polarization, a hastening of economic stratification, and an overall fragmentation of social cohesion. The seeds of doubt and confusion have long been sown in the dirt of our society, but this year they sprouted. I am no prophet, but I foresee a spiritual reckoning on the horizon.

I am not going to explain my understanding of the fundamental dynamics concerning recent events. A large aspect of these circumstances involves cyclical patterns of civilization and consciousness that exist far outside our sphere of personal control. There is a “wave function” to the progression of this discord that naturally rises and falls. And we are all along for the ride. But alas, I am not here to elaborate on the metaphysical nature of reality. I will save that for a later dissection. I am here now to give a simple update on my life.

I feel guilty for saying that Covid has been a blessing in some ways. While the social disruption this year has made it harder for many to carry on with their productive lifestyles, it has enabled me to resume my academic career and integrate spirituality more consistently. The availability of online classes and normalization of social distancing has been a godsend. Serial misanthropes unite! (But six feet apart, for heaven’s sake)

My hiatus from social media has also been rather therapeutic. The Facebooks, Instagrams, and Twitters of the world play a role in hastening our polarization and subsequent fragmentation. I have not been entirely cut off from the pulse of the world, however. The shift in the zeitgeist or collective mood is palpable to even the most isolated of hermits, such as myself. In fact, I find it necessary to stay clear of the opinionated chatter to see the bigger picture more clearly. There are too many narrow outlooks and unexamined sentiments being propagated. People feel the unwarranted need to defend themselves against thoughtless and oversimplified opinions condensed in 280 characters. It’s easy to get lost in the muck.

As the year finally comes to a close, I look back appreciatively on the many realizations I have been gifted by the universe. While immersed in syncretistic research on Hindu cosmology, solar cycles, and cliodynamics, I’ve rediscovered my appreciation for the smaller details of truth and wellness. Characteristics such as kindness, compassion, and detachment. My heart has ever been influenced by Buddhism and original Theosophical teachings, and I now find myself a regular practitioner. It’s the nature of depression and anxiety to be frustrated by the lack of ability to control your own emotions. But meditation helps you accept the rhythms of your feelings with grace and also, with time and persistence, to balance them.

I plan on posting a multitude of mini-essays written for class this past semester. The topics range widely, but they are all sociologically relevant. A few of the issues discussed are races I normally choose not to have a horse in, but nevertheless obliged with a loosely held opinion. I will probably share links on Twitter, despite my healthy distance from that place. I hope you find some of these topics interesting! There might also be an update on the podcast front soon. Ideas have been stirring, and plans are brewing. We shall see what that entails.

A reminder to everyone that there is never such a thing as too much love or compassion. Even a misanthrope can abide by that. The only way to reestablish unity is by first embodying a greater degree of agreeableness within your own heart. We are all just trying to do our best, and we are each still ignorant in our own way. Have mercy on all sentient beings, including those whose opinions are diametrically opposed to your own. Sit down, and drink some tea.