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The Internet, a Tool for Art?


Individualism and Individualization


"Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that stresses 'the moral worth of the individual'. Individualists promote the exercise of one's goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance while opposing most external interference upon one's own interests, whether by society, family or any other group or institution."


There is no value more important in our society than individuality. We underline it by uploading the latest self-made music video on our personal Youtube channel and link it to our Facebook profile, an individual space which is controlled only by ourselves. Of course, somehow, we are all unique musicians, directors, photographers. Everyone is someone special, everyone an artist.

In the beginning of the industrial age, with the rise of massproduction, the socio-economical theories of Fordism and Taylorism (scientific management) were devised. One of Henry Ford's strategies to improve production performance in his factories was the separation of workers: Since mostly immigrants worked on the assembly line, he made sure that only people with different languages were standing next to each other. In this way the employees didn't evolve friendships and were less able to form groups (or labor unions). As described in Foucault's interpretation of the panopticon, the separated individual is weak and therefore easy to control. Another idea, coined by Frederick Winslow Taylor, was the use of a stopwatch in order to monitor the workers individual performances, and bonus payments for those who work faster than average. Besides increasing the entire rate of production it also stoked competition and enviousness. The wages in Ford's factories were quite high though, with the earnings of 3 months a worker would have been able to buy one of the cars he had produced. Furthermore healthcare systems and social insurances were implemented to take care of the industry's most important resource - the human.




(image: sweatshops 1920 and 2006)



Because of the omnipresence of the assembly line, the uniform products and the automation of actions, it is clear that nobody wanted to feel like a cog in a machinery himself. This desire for being someone special, a unique identity, seems to become satisfied at least in people's imagination - by following the exposed glamourous lives of the stars and protagonists the movie industry created. In their book "The Culture Industry" Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno consider this cult of the individual an illusion, because of the standardization by means of production and also the figure's identification with general (bourgeois) ideologies.


"The principle of individuality was always full of contradiction. Individuation has never really been achieved. Self-preservation in the shape of class has kept everyone at the stage of a mere species being. Every bourgeois characteristic, in spite of its deviation and indeed because of it, expressed the same thing: the harshness of the competitive society. The individual who supported society bore its disfiguring mark; seemingly free, he was actually the product of its economic and social apparatus. Power based itself on the prevailing conditions of power when it sought the approval of persons affected by it. As it progressed, bourgeois society did also develop the individual."

(Horkheimer/Adorno, "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception", 1944)


Due to the rise of new built cities around the factories, people live closer together, but at the same time the labored individualization separates them more and more. Referring to mass media and urbanism Guy Debord describes the "spectacle", a concept of reality which replaces reality itself, as a technique for separation:

"While eliminating geographical distance, this society produces a new internal distance in the form of spectacular separation."

(Guy Debord, "The Society of Spectacle", 1967)



(Margaret Thatcher, "Free society Speech", 1975, youtube)


The drop in payrolls in the 70s marked the beginning of the end of Fordism, which was superseded by Postfordism (also called "Toyotism") in western industrial nations. Postfordism is the management strategy in cognitive capitalism, which means the cultural exploitation in developed nations, while industrial exploitation drifts to emerging and developing countries. Its characteristics are flexible organization of labor, teamwork and freelance jobs. Further hierarchies are flattened and by continuing education the qualification of all employees is improved. Advanced trainings are often but not always paid by the employer, but the employee has to join them to stay competitive. The allowance of self-dependent homework seems to be a gain of personal freedom. But in times of high unemployment rates and less lay-off protection it clearly is the claim of an employees entire life stretching the boundaries between work time and leisure. The abolition of governmental social insurances and healthcare causes an individualization of risk and people have to take care of coverage on their own. Privatization of the physical space as well as the media leads to a de-centered surveillance and individuals controlling each other. A general individualization is mirrored by the offer of smaller production lines and customizable commodities. And all the seemingly free individualists buy them.




(image: Design your own Chucks, Converse official website, 2011)


Did you already sign up and log in? Do you really think, you are more yourself, different from the masses, because you wear such custom sneakers? We buy individually masked, uniform products, and at the same time new iPhones with their self-designed red flowered cases underline our unique personalities and makes us feel "special". We still are cogs in a machinery - individual cogs.


(Video found on Youtube)




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