One of the most prolific social and etymological phenomena of the last decade has been the rise of the ‘my-word’. Companies like MySpace, MyYahoo, MyHotel, and yes, even MySushi (down the block from my office) all catered to the consumer who was looking for a unique, customised experience.
The demands of a maturing capitalist economy have prodded more sophisticated marketers to tailor their messaging to an ‘audience of one’, instead of to the larger homogeneous demographic segments which consumer research used to try to capture.
This demand has conveniently been met by the proliferation of internet-based research tools and management systems which can collect and sort huge amounts of information. For instance, people can now personalize their Nikes, or they browse books on Amazon which correspond to the past purchases they’ve made.
A lot of these trends are for the better. Who doesn’t like to have to their every need or whim satisfied after all? Everyone from development advocates to luxury fashion houses push for our rights to access andenjoy a greater set of freedoms.
But at what stage do the privileges of the individual begin to be outweighed by the responsibilites we share as a group? Where does the ‘my-right’ of a smoker become less important than the ‘our-right’ of those wanting to drink in a smoke-free bar? The ‘my-right’ of a person wanting to gorge on unhealthy food without exercise rather than the ‘our-right’ to not have to pay higher taxes into the public healthcare system? The ‘my-right’ of someone listening to music on the bus compared to the ‘our-right’ of not having to listen to bad hip hop music on our morning commutes?
It seems that every community has a different threshold for where this equilibrium is drawn. When I was in China, I was dumbfounded at how insignificantly society as a whole valued individual’s wishes. In England, on the other hand, I am equally amazed at how assertively people demand their individual benefits and personal space at the expense of what I would consider a friendly, more open culture.
There is a whole class of goods which cannot and should not be regulated by the ‘my-era’ population. And will this generation of people be able to pull away from their own interests long enough to think about the common good (or, even better, of the interests of those not yet born)?
Take a look at these night satellite images of Europe and the USA from space and then imagine that the global population is expected to from 6 billion to 9 billion by the year 2050.
It isn’t easy to bridge the gap between the competing forces of a self-indulgent culture focused on the individual and the restrictive collective action we need to oversee. Personally, I think government needs to make sure industries are effectively monitoring themselves or else be empowered to put more strict regulations in place.
The recent dismissal of a criminal charges being brought against six Greenpeace activists who defamed a coal-fired power plant in the UK shows one instance where the tide may be changing. According to an article in the Guardian, Greenpeace argued that the collective damage being done to property around the world (i.e. the environment as a whole) as a result of the individual power station provided them a ‘lawful excuse’ for what they did.
Ironically, I think it will still take the directed action of certain individuals to drive this new wave of collective action forward at first. Also, the questions remains whether this will be seen as a ‘my-era’ or whether it is actually a ‘my-generation’.