Increasing individuality

Yesterday, I finished reading The Support Economy: Why Corporations are Failing Individuals and the Next Episode of Captialism: which I had discovered in the bibliography to Dave Pollard's Finding the Sweet Spot. The authors make an argument for the obsolescence of managerial capitalism. Shoshanna Zuboff and James Maxmin see a pattern of increasing individualism that can initially be served with mass customization, many small enterprises in separate niches and the proliferation of media outlets. Yet they expect our living unique lives with our own outlooks will eventually make factories, corporations and the global economy obsolete. We won't want to work there, shop there or identify with that belief system. They expect the emergence of enterprises that provide individual attention, personal services and one-of-a-kind products. These authors joins the predictions of other books like Free Agent Nation, The Rise of the Creative Class, and The Long Tail.

As I reflected on their arguments this morning, I saw a pattern of increasing individualism in all the many changes we're experiencing. Here's a brief summary of the phases I realized:
  • Phase One: Prior to World War II, Carl Jung developed the concept of "individuation" as he dealt with the midlife crises of countless patients. He saw people early in their lives joining organizations without their own identities, having no meaning in their lives, and merely doing time as wage slaves. Sometime after their 35th birthdays, they would experience of crisis with a strong sense of something missing, needing to change their lives and being filled with potentiality within that needed to be made conscious. They became unique as they interpreted their dreams, kept private journals or explored their hidden potentials with new projects. Individuality was experienced as a personal challenge in this phase.
  • Phase Two: After World War II, the Boomer Generation came along. Individuality was made into a "thing" that created the search to find oneself and the fascination with alternative spiritualities, mythologies, folk music and ethnicities. This brought on the New Age movement as well as a revival of homemade and handicraft items. Individuality was framed as the destiny of everyone to fufilll.
  • Phase Three: While John Naisbitt finished writing Megatrends and the Tofflers had written Future Shock, societal changes were occurring. There was a explosion in the number of magazines, radio stations, and cable TV channels offered. There were many more recordings, concerts, films and books being distributed. Products were sold with many more features, options, upgrades and package deals. Individuality could expressed by shopping for, buying and using these consumer items. The marketplace supported the departure from conformity and boredom.
  • Phase Four: Nowadays, individuality appears to be a given for members of Gen Y. There's no hesitation in tagging content unconventionally, creating unique profile pages, and uploading their own creative content to the web. Their assimilation of so much technological connectivity has increased the dangers of being anonymous, unexceptional, boring or plain. They have compensated by creating more outlets to express their uniqueness than the consumers of the previous generation. Some even regard their meat puppet as one more avatar to disguise themselves in while traversing this realm. Individuality is everywhere.
With individuality so prevalent, it's no wonder the amount of free, digital content generated every day is staggering. Individuals' lack of fit into cubicles and conformity is not surprising. The phenomenal grass roots initiatives and groundswell of involvement in communities makes lots of sense.

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