On the Internet, what comes after post-Modernism?

The Internet recently celebrated its 40th anniversary -- although to many of us in the social media world it feels like the Internet was just born yesterday. In many ways, the growth and evolution of the Internet over the past decade has been the perfect capstone to the post-modern age. The Internet had the ability to challenge the very fundamental pillars of society, upend entire industries, and make cultural production (via social media) available to just about everyone. For the past five years, search has been the dominant paradigm - the search for knowledge, the search for connections, and the search for meaning. The very intellectual underpinnings of post-modernity -- skepticism, relativism, anonymity, even absurdity -- were transformed into the dominant ethos of the Internet. If there was one word to describe the Internet ethos, it was Snark -- and snark is nothing less than the epitome of post-modernist thought. And if there was one image to summarize the post-modernist Internet, it was The New Yorker's famous cartoon of a dog tapping away on a keyboard and the caption "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." In the post-Modernist age, even the sense of "self" had been transformed by the Internet -- you were whoever you said you were on the Internet. In short, post-modernism was the Internet, and the Internet was post-modernism. So... the inevitable question becomes -- What comes next after post-Modernism? And, by extension, what comes next for the Internet?

My colleague Ruben Sun suggests that the Internet is evolving to a type of alter-modernism:

"Modernism gives way to Post-Modernism which gives way to Alter-Modernism...

:: Modernism - Observation gives way to analysis

:: Post-modernism - Analysis gives way to meta-analysis.

:: Alter-modernism - Meta-analysis gives way to collective trans-critical imagination.


This last one is still a rather new way to look at thought, though one

does not need to look too much further from the DJ mashup culture or

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill to see this in action. (QT re-imagines

and re-mixes highly evolved cultural cues, mother, lover, warrior and

explores/explodes this cross-culturally)."

And, last summer, Fred Wilson suggested that the Internet was being transformed by pseudo-modernism:

"What comes after the "modernist" era (which in my mind includes both

modernism and post-modernism)? (Philosopher Alan) Kirby suggests a new ethos is emerging

that he calls pseudo-modernism. I don't like that word. But his

observations ring true to me. [...] Kirby is right. We've moved into a new phase of society. One that

emphasizes participation in culture and society and and technology and

politics. If it weren't such a mouthful, I'd suggest we call it

participatism..."

No matter how you look at it, it just feels like the Internet is approaching a new, post-postmodern age. And that has a huge impact on the types of startups that people launch, the types of recent graduates that flock to innovation hubs like Silicon Valley, and the types of websites that become part of the cultural mainstream.

In my mind, the following are examples of post-modernism: Gawker (irony, snark, cultural nihilism), Google (searching for the unknowable but "feeling lucky" that you might find it in the end), Facebook (deconstructing the meaning of "friend" to near meaninglessness), social media (obliterating the distinction between the producers and consumers of culture), the Long Tail (taking the cultural elite and replacing it with a form of cultural relativism), and Twitter (reducing communication to its bare essence of 140 characters, broadcast to everyone and no one at the same time). It's safe to say that the most popular and most important trends of the past five years have all been, in their essence, post-modernist.

In their place, will come a new form of post-postmodernism. Call it trans-modernism or whatever you like. It will be a reaction against the post-modernist age. It will be more rationalist (data and raw information transformed into meaning, rather than meaninglessness), more participatory, more hopeful (search engines like Wolfram-Alpha pre-supposing that answers can be known rather than searched for), and more hierarchical (people rejecting a cultural niche of one for a cultural mass of many) -- but what else???


[image: Post-Modern Simpsons]

Vaping changes blood vessels after one use, even without nicotine

E-cigarettes may be safer than traditional cigarettes, but they come with their own risks.


John Keeble
/GETTY
Surprising Science
  • A new study used an MRI machine to examine how vaping e-cigarettes affects users' cardiovascular systems immediately after inhalation.
  • The results showed that vaping causes impaired circulation, stiffer arteries and less oxygen in their blood.
  • The new study adds to a growing body of research showing that e-cigarettes – while likely safer than traditional cigarettes – are far from harmless.
Keep reading Show less

First solar roadway in France turned out to be a 'total disaster'

French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.

Image source: Charly Triballeau / AFP / Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • The French government initially invested in a rural solar roadway in 2016.
  • French newspapers report that the trial hasn't lived up to expectations.
  • Solar panel "paved" roadways are proving to be inefficient and too expensive.
Keep reading Show less

America’s education system is centuries old. Can we build something better?

The Lumina Foundation lays out steps for increasing access to quality post-secondary education credentials.

Sponsored by Lumina Foundation
  • America's post-high school education landscape was not created with the modern student in mind. Today, clear and flexible pathways are necessary to help individuals access education that can help them lead a better life.
  • Elizabeth Garlow explains the Lumina Foundation's strategy to create a post-secondary education system that works for all students. This includes credential recognition, affordability, a more competency-based system, and quality assurance.
  • Systemic historic factors have contributed to inequality in the education system. Lumina aims to close those gaps in educational attainment.
  • In 2019, Lumina Foundation and Big Think teamed up to create the Lumina Prize, a search to find the most innovative and scalable ideas in post-secondary education. You can see the winners of the Lumina Prize here – congratulations to PeerForward and Greater Commons!