Next Transformations: A Response To Transformations By Grant McCracken

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I finally got through Transformations, which has left me with lots of blogging ideas and a lens to look at world around me. The book is highly recommended, Grant McCracken is able to achieve the balance between theory and practice, pulling high and low brow examples of how we are a culture of transformation (in terms of, for example, social standing, identity, and gender roles.) Transformation is organized into four types, which are roughly chronological, traditional, status, modern, and postmodern. The last one describing how we are porous, where transformation flow in and out of ourselves. For this to occur, we have taken over the authorship over our identity, traditions, and rituals.

What comes after Postmodern transformations?

I think the next evolution we are currently witness to is the rise of Networked transformation. The Networked transformation takes the multitude of the Postmodern transformation and moves beyond it, using the speed and comprehensiveness of the internet.

Where as McCraken describes the Postmodern transformation self as porous, the Networked transformed self is fragmented and refracting, like shards of a broken mirror. The porous self denotes a soaking inward. In a networked society, culture is both pushed and pulled toward the individual, seemingly at the speed of the internet. The process is more catch and release. Actually, a more apt description is reflected and projected. The typical New Yorker who adopts the fashion trend of camouflage absorbs little, if any, of militaristic meaning of the object. Rather, it is reflecting outward an adherence to a clothing trend, influenced by designers and people on the street or in the media. Further, what is consumed and assumed and then used to formulate our multiple identities spin outward, via the network.

Roles, identifying to a discovered culture in consumed and projected back out, through ego-casting vehicles of Facebook and Twitter, as well as, more directed and one-to-one types of communication. Our digital selves are becoming our actual selves. The shift has real consequences as we become more digital, and people such as Nicholas Carr start questioning these changes. At some point, we will no longer we able to distinguish between our digital self and actual self. Cues or ideas of new identities will be taken from friends, or celebrities whom are treated and spoken about as if they are intimate friends, enabled in some way by the internet.

The web has removed (the confines of) place and distance from our lives. The speed of the network also has increased our ability to consume and assume new identities. The new limiting factor is not waiting for the next great thing or movement, but rather, it is our attention span and the human capacity to want that change. (What happens when the transformation is forced upon us, is another question.)

Authenticity, which McCracken points out was so crucial in the desire for upward social climbing in Modern transformation, has been left behind by many. Such authenticity can be learned and shared via the network, rendering the scarcity aspect of authenticity to be meaningless. The decoding which was once difficult to learn is now accessible through a simple internet search. The internet allows for the access to learn and enforce an authentic identity by anyone with an internet connection. Sites dissect and lay out the minutia of any topic. Movie sites, such as the pioneering Ain’t It Cool News site published industry news, rumors, and gossip that was once only privy to Hollywood insiders. It now, of course, has competition running in the hundreds if not thousands, depending upon how you count. Access to authentic insights allows for the virtual vicarious living. (Although, the network transformation does have a real effect, as seen by the movie fans shaping the re-shooting and release of the film Snakes On A Plane. The line between insider and outsider is blurring, and artifact of the networked transformation.)

However, for many people, the effort of using the network to achieve an authentic transformation is too much work, especially when the identity consumed/assumed is so disposable. Who has time to fact check these days? The Networked transformation allows two unknowns to manipulate New York socialite scene by running Socialite Rank, a status ranking blog. Now, identities can be created and accepted as credibile, only to cast off with the same whim as it was adorn, before any inaccuracy is discovered. Granted, Socialite Rank was a special case. For most, the assumption of identity because my friends are doing it and I want to keep up my social currency, is enough.

A lot of the tension in the world can be viewed and understand through McCracken’s ideas of transformation. These changes occur at difference rate across family, companies, and countries.  Change can be threatening, especially when those changes affect truths who hold to be fundamental to our construction of the way things work.

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6 Responses to Next Transformations: A Response To Transformations By Grant McCracken

  1. Pingback: Wordpress Marketing Blog Roundup « smartbrandblog

  2. Frank says:

    Does McCracken’s book delve into some other commentators on the “pomo” self, like Christopher Lasch in culture of narcissism or Robert Bellah in Habits of the Heart? I find the mere description of such a self oddly disconnected from the type of normative vision of an ideal self that would seem to underlie it. In other words, what is the baseline version of self from which the pomo self departs?

    Anyway, I agree with his description of selves stuck on surfaces, a development I critiqued here:

    And the following lines from the playwright Richard Foreman were in Carr’s article on Google:

    “I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality—a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self—evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.” “

  3. Pingback: Being Grant McCracken « eyecube

  4. Ray says:

    Frank: I’m not sure if he specifically references Lasch or Bellah. The Foreman quote is interesting, especially of his use of the word “cathedral.” The use may be coincidental, to Eric Raymond’s famous article, “the Cathedral and the Bazaar,” which describes the differences between the commercial and open source software development.

    As a culture, we’re definitely moving from the formal aspects of the cathedral into a much more chaotic and uncertain bazaar. However, the self organizing nature of the bazaar can be a confusing and intimidating space for many..

  5. peter says:

    great thoughts on the book – i like the idea of the networked self, and the language of reflection and fragmentation. i’m a newcomer to a lot of this language, so bear with me . . . . you use the camo gear as an example of an entirely superficial interaction and valuation of the object – which feels a bit of an unfair assessment of the wearers experience.

    what i found illuminating in grant’s book is the overwhelming amount of evidence provided for the legitimacy of these transformations – despite the fact that they’re evidenced superficially – isn’t the broader argument that these are powerfully inner transformations? they may operate from the outside in, but surely there is an authenticity of the experience?

    i’m curious how, in your description (and in the previous comment), where the porousness goes?

  6. Ray says:

    Thanks for the comment. Maybe I was a little quick with the camo reference. I see a lot of camouflage on the streets of New York. When worn as cut-off with flip flops and designer t-shirts, I get the sense of that the shorts are more of an ironic fashion statement, (albeit a comfortable one) over a statement of belief about the military or the current war in Iraq, per se.

    That said, I do agree that there are definitely inner transformations, that are quite powerful, even if they are not believed or perceived for external observers. However, I still believe that some are disposable, which are casually absorbed only to be thrown away as quickly as it was adopted.

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