NEXT Highlights

Timandra Harkness: Our Personalised Century

November 05, 2021
If the last century was the Mass Century – mass production, mass marketing, mass media and the rise of mass politics – this one is the Personalised Century.

We buy products that express who we are, we see adverts targeted to our individual tastes and habits. Each of us has our own individual media channel for news and entertainment, edited by our own choices, our network of friends and contacts – and of course the algorithms that predict what we want to see next. Even politics is shifting its focus, from mass movements for universal rights to individual issues of respect for our diverse identities.

Technology has made this personalised world possible, but it is not the sole driving force. We are more free than our grandparents from the limits of economic scarcity and social expectation, but we are also more isolated. We turn to technology to connect us, to reflect ourselves back from the lonely darkness of the screen, to reassure us that we are recognised.

But this automated recognition never quite satisfies our human needs for purpose, for intimacy, and for social solidarity. Covid-19 accelerated our slide into atomisation, millions of individuals digitally connected but socially isolated.

How can we retain the freedom and self-determination promised by the Personalised Century, but rebuild the community and solidarity we lost when we escaped from mass society?

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