Question: Is the Internet homogenizing culture?
Bill Wasik: The problem is that the internet and the internet conversation, it just can’t be ignored. I mean, it is the sort of the most vital, it is the vital locus for cultural conversation today, I mean, here I am talking to you for, you know, bigthink.com and to get out of the homogeneity, to get out of this kind of barrage of sort of tiny little disposable cultural bits that is our lot right now essentially requires you stepping away from this internet scrum, the giant cocktail party which is the internet and saying “That doesn’t matter.”
But, that’s very, very difficult to do because, you know, the attention right now is all coming from the internet and I don’t think, it’s wise or, I wouldn’t advocate anybody just turning off their computer and say, you know, “I’m going to go completely Ludite and head for the hills not only because I think that that’s, you know, not necessary but I also think that it’s not really desirable. I don’t, I think that what’s going on online is too vital to completely turn it off, to completely say well this, you know, doesn’t affect me and I’m not going to take part in it but I do think that people need to step back from it a little bit, set aside time in their life away from, from the internet away from the sort of constantly always-on way that people tend to follow culture today, that people tend to consume culture today.
I think people need to carve out spaces in their lives for, for contemplation and for working on bigger projects. That to me is the solution and that I think is the solution to what you’re asking about too which is, how do you sort of step back from the homogeneity which of course is homogeneity that’s born out of constant novelty and I think that you don’t want to step away from it entirely but neither can you allow yourself to just stay completely marinated in it.
Question: What drives herd mentality?
Bill Wasik: Well, I think we are social animals and part of the reason why we like culture is precisely that we like to talk to other people about it—that we like to be sharing something with other people. I mean you could say that culture is the sort of social space between people and that we would be not very effective humans at all if we weren’t inherently interested in the things that other people are interested in. To me, a lot of these stuff about the herd mentality and the bandwagon effect, you know, we a lot of times code that as being conformity an being entirely negative and we see it, we think about the Nazis or something but of course it’s just the basic stuff of what it means to be human and, you know, to me a lot of these kind of internet culture what makes it so fascinating is that the tools that the internet allow us to see what other people are seeing, to track what other people are viewing, we have all these data that allows us to see what’s popular and what isn’t and so we have all these tools that let us see where the herd is going and so it makes that much easier to follow it.
Recorded on: June 3, 2009