Conformity

Balance Wheel

Somewhere between the need to belong and the constraints of conformity lies that Utopian state. I am beginning to realise that this is applicable across all modes of social interaction, whether they be real or virtual.

It begins with people finding a common interest or ‘wavelength’ and sharing great vibes. School/college cliques, blogs and microblogs, workplaces, interest groups and so on.  Startups are fun places to work in the initial years because rules are made on the go, blogs and microblogs in their early days were sparsely populated and everyone was discovering their own voice and community norms.

I have always wondered what breaks the utopian state – time or an increase in the group size. These days I am beginning to be convinced that it is the latter. As each new member is added to the initial set, the needle begins to slowly shift from the erstwhile average. The addition of new members also changes the dynamics of the group and slowly the earlier common sense of belonging changes even as a new one is created. Some adapt, others refuse to conform and break away.

But what I have also realised recently is that there is a middle path – refusing to conform but refusing to go away either. It is a tightrope walk, and best done without baggage. And that’s the walk I am trying to learn, across my worlds.

until next time, walking schtick

A social club of one

Sometime back, I read a post on @daddysan’s blog on choices and how we “defend freedom of choice but we criticize those who exercise it because those choices may not be concurrent with ours.”  To be noted that the thrust of the argument is not on ‘labeling’ products/services per se, but labeling the people who consume it, more so in cases when it’s a personal choice and doesn’t endanger or even affect others in a significant way.

I found this post interesting because I have always been intrigued by choices and their significance, not just from the perspective of whether they are choices at all, but also from that of the judgmental robes we like to wear. The last time I had written about the latter was in the context of expertise. But a comment on this post gave me quite a new direction for thought. More on that in a bit.

In the context of the post itself, though I understand that labeling (and battles around them) has probably been around from the time the species became 2 in number, I think the publishing power that the internet created has taken it to a whole new level. So while “people who smoke/drink versus those who don’t”, “people who apply coconut oil on their hair versus those who don’t” and so on have had battles fought with much fervour, the internet’s ability to aggregate opinion has escalated many issues to war levels, like the examples daddysan has used.

And so I wonder if it has something to do with the ‘Like’ necessity that has increased its hold over our lives recently. Social endorsement, even from total strangers. When I am a consumer of X, and you chose to buy Y instead of X, it is as though you have not ‘Liked/Retweeted’ my awesome intelligence in choosing X. Peer reaction was probably a major factor in my choice, whether I acknowledge it or not, and in saying that I have gone wrong, you have invoked my ego and brought up the subject of whether I chose X purely for its tangible or even intangible benefits or whether I chose it to conform to some section’s decree. Now, you probably didn’t mean to do any of this, and also are under some sort of peer review process yourself, but that’s irrelevant and it’s now war. Just like many of the Likes/shares/retweets are from people I don’t even really know, the war just brings in all sorts of strangers and camps.

For the record, I have exactly one Apple product, which was gifted to me, and if it has any iron parts, it should be rusted by now. I read Chetan Bhagat and when I get a chance, take potshots at him. Just can’t resist. :D I think Ponytail sucks, and again, don’t lose a chance to crack a line at his expense, but I have held back much since the time he made a movie with the awesome Funny Deol. Joke sako to Joke low is the policy.

But, enough. The comment that made me think was made by Jo Chopra McGowan, and it was about how individual choices add up, affect others, and could probably end up in impacting popular culture/lifestyles etc. I’d never thought of it that way. But yes, most of us/our actions influence at least one other person, and so the chain goes. More often than not, our reasons for doing so remain un-shared, and somehow one personal choice could create a conformity wave. Obviously the easy way to stop it is to make conscious choices and that brings us to the vicinity of square one. :)

until next time, unheard mentality!

Bridge over troubled water

In ‘Tin Fish‘, there is a wonderful speech given by the school captain, which goes (edited a bit)

…..I am not what I’d have liked to be. The school is aiming to prepare me for others. I want to be for myself. But it is growing increasingly difficult for me to prepare myself for myself as my expectations grow greater. A reformed, open-hearted school can help me. Till then, I shall stand on the beaches, look towards the sea and wait for a solution to be washed ashore.

The novel is set in a boarding school in Rajasthan, deals with peer and parental pressure, and has the chaotic politics of the 70s as the backdrop. As a late 70s born, I could identify with the book because though the cultural icons had changed (rock bands/actresses etc) societal changes seemed to have moved at a much slower pace. The value and belief systems as well as the prejudices – caste, religion, income are a part of the 80s too.

I could also identify with the above excerpt on two counts. ‘Preparing me for others’ ..the pressure to conform – on the kind of education one should have, the kind of career one chose, the kind of person one could get married to, one’s conduct with family, boss, and one’s behaviour in society in general, all had their own sets of conformity. ‘Prepare myself for myself’..when I wrote this post sometime back, I had mentioned the conformity that the blog imposes on the blogger, it is something that happens in real life too – we create an image of ourselves, consciously or more likely, sub consciously, and try to stick to it. In either case, more often than not, objectivity will be lost.

Sometime back, I also came across this wonderful piece in the New York magazine, titled ‘Say Everything’. It talks about how as the young population gets increasingly used to the net, there are many among them, for whom, sharing their ‘stuff’ online is the natural way to be, and for whom, privacy has an entirely different definition. In fact they consider the extreme caution of the earlier net generation to be narcissistic and are prepared for the implications that the shared stuff might have on their lives decades later. The author sees this as the biggest generation gap in a long time, perhaps since the hippie generation. She even wonders whether in this era of surveillance cameras and tracked card transactions, their belief that privacy is an illusion might be the sane approach. The article outlines a series of changes that are happening with this generation –  “they think of themselves as having an audience, they have archived their adolescence, their skin is thicker than ours”

Now, one could say that they are conforming to an online audience (like my blog example), but as the author points out, over a period of time, will this generation, which has been growing up with the net, move towards such degrees of comfort that they are totally un-self conscious? And perhaps, to quote the extreme example used by the author, a Paris Hilton level where what could have been the worst humiliation possible, was used as a stepping stone for fame? A generation so transparent that any ‘forced’ conformity would be easily detected and would be undesired. And moving on, to use the words I had seen in a totally different context (link), would transparency be (or subsume) objectivity?

At this stage, we are of course, smack in the middle of these changes, but unlike the above generation, technology (more specifically, the web) entered our lives relatively much later. We perhaps have the baggage of not just peers/parents/society but also the ones we have created for ourselves earlier on in our lives. We might struggle to adjust, but yet we are perhaps the bridge generation, across the cultural changes wrought by the www or even liberalisation (in India). Did every generation have to play similar roles? :)

until next time, stage fright

The Non non conformists

There was a time conformity was common. When the non conformists became the majority, they changed the rules. Belonging suddenly became cool, and new herds were formed. But if you really look at it, not much has really changed. We’ve only traded conformism for a sense of belonging. The options are many, the choices few.

until next time, heard the post begin here :)