Mass Individuation

Image from Demotix

Following from my report on the values talk last night, I thought about the concept of ‘mass individuation’.

People perceived their community and their country’s values as very different. They thought lowly of the country’s values and blamed the government, yet are happy in their community.

If they are happy in their communities, why don’t people see this as part of the country? If they are happy with where they live, what is the problem? Where is the line being drawn between their community and their country?

The question of responsibility arises. Many people leave it up to the government to serve the country. But what about us contributing to that? How can people be empowered to make a difference to society, without leaving it all up to the government?

Phil Clothier names the act of taking matters into our own hands as ‘mass individuation’. As individuals, we take action to improve society, and we do this en masse. That’s what the term means – I’m not sure if it’s really happening.

I wonder how this could be measured. Perhaps the key to making this happen is making people feel that they do have the power to change their environment, however small their environment is. I do believe that everyone has the power to change the world around them, and collectively our behaviour forms culture. I don’t think that everyone sees their behaviour as part of something bigger. I wonder if there is any research on this – I don’t have reference points for this apart from the talk last night, so if you have any, please comment on this post.

I’ve been thinking about how our collective behaviour forms culture for some time now. It’s beyond government control. It is up to the individual to decide how to behave. Governments can impose rules, and invest money, but they don’t have ultimate power over our actions.

I have been stopping to help anyone that I see looking at a map for the last year. Often I am in Covent Garden or Leicester Square doing this. Sometimes I even walk with the tourists part of the way if it’s along my way. Some of the ‘tourists’ are Londoners in an unfamiliar part of London to them. Not everyone wants help, but that’s not the point. People often don’t expect to be offered help in London. We have a reputation of being cold and self-centred and fast-paced. Not everyone believes in this reputation, but from discussions I’ve had with the tourists I’ve walked with, it seems that many people do believe in this.

Why do we have this reputation? Cold, self-centred, fast-paced: these are characteristics beyond government control. There is no law they could impose to change this. The change has to come from the individuals.

Because of that one interaction of me giving directions, I have contributed to changing tourists’ perceptions of London attitudes. It’s a tiny detail, but it’s part of all their other experiences of London. As an isolated experience, it’s forgettable. The importance of me doing that is contributing to the fabric of their experience of London culture. Hopefully it’s slightly brighter than it would have been otherwise.

The detail is important. We all have the power to change the details, to affect other people’s lives in a small way. A cheerful cashier at the sandwich shop can really improve people’s days. The person that holds the bus for you as you run up, or the person that shouts after you if you leave your gloves behind, or the person that tells you they love your hat… all strangers, but they can make you glow for a few seconds.

Is there a way to empower people so that they believe they have the power to change their environment for the better? And if they feel that they do have the power, will they act on it? Will they try to make things better?

Or like the August riots, will they use the power to destroy?

Maybe people are not interested in looking outward and affecting their environment because they are more interested in looking inward. Is this necessarily a negative thing?

That’s enough questions for now. I’d love to hear other people’s ideas on this – if you know if there is any research on mass individuation, if you have any of the answers, if you have any other related questions, and especially if there’s a gap in my ideas or you disagree with something I’ve said, maybe I’ve used bad terminology… call me on it!

1 Comment

Filed under My current work

One response to “Mass Individuation

  1. This and the previous post are nicely related. At what point (and how) do we move from self-orientated motives to other-orientated ones? In other words, for mass individuation to occur, how can we collectively reach the middle “transformation” point on the Barrett Values Scale? I have a sense it could be when one emerges from a perception of being separate to one of connectedness with the world. Just a thought.

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