Techno-Tribal Culture and the Provisional Symbol

The modern paradigm represents a unique period in history where the ongoing introduction of major technological advances became part of the expected norm. The parade of innovations -- railroads, telegraph, telephones, automobiles, radio, television, air travel, space travel, the evolution in print media -- along with the ever-expanding reach of science and knowledge, gave credence to the Western ideal of progress and validated modernism as a cultural movement.

Those days are over. Society now faces a database of knowledge that is expanding exponentially. At the same time, game-changing technologies are introduced into society at an ever-increasing rate. The complexity and volume of mass culture have become overwhelming -- well beyond the grasp of the renaissance man. People are able to incorporate only a small part of the total into their lives.

A new type of culture emerged from the onrush of communication and information technologies. People have discovered a new way of being actively involved in society, and with it they have discovered a radical new way of processing experience. Everyone else is locked into an old world mindset that harkens back to colonialism and the eurocentric view of history.

The eurocentric historical perspective is still relevant but it no longer validates our belief systems as it once did. The new paradigm lacks the reassurance of the Western historical model. The accounts of history, however acclaimed their reviews, have lost credibility and are now accepted conditionally as dramatizations of the past. Historical chronologies remain intact, but conclusions have turned to fable in the flood of revisions and historical fictions. The historical narrative is perceived as inabsolute.

We no longer have the illusion of an homogeneous culture evolving by intelligent design through the passage of time. Where modern culture was characterized as being at the leading edge of a causal sequence of events, history in the neo-modern age is organic. The historical continuum grows and adapts to the contours of a changing world. Polycentric mass culture continually emerges from out of the flux. There is no linear progression. Progress still defines the path between barbarism and civility, but it has become a relative term. The subtle changes in our interpretation of history and progress reflect the beginning of a dimensional shift in our way of knowing the world.

The structural changes taking place as society adapts to new communication and information technologies are a reflection of human nature, not conscious intent. Propensity and circumstance have inspired new strategies for integrating the individual into society. Just as organizational possibilities implicit in technological advances at the beginning of the modern age would in some way define the modern paradigm, recent advances in technology are shaping the neo-modern paradigm.

Social hierarchies predominant in the late modern period are reduced to the status of ideological subcultures as they are swallowed by a seething mass culture that includes all cultural variants. At the same time, all cultural variants and internet-active subgroups flourish in the techno-social environment. Pop subcultures are not assimilated into mainstream majority culture as they once were. Instead, variously-organized internet-engaged subgroups take pride in their distinctions and maintain their own identities as autonomous entities within the continuum of subcultures.

For techno-tribal culture, the interpersonal dialogues of social media have taken the place of television news programming and radio talk shows as the basis for formulating public opinion. Social media overlays the propagandized dialogues of mass media with a web-based public conscience. The social networking timeline is the media stream of group consciousness in a decentralized modern culture.

In the transition from television-dependent to internet-engaged culture, the context of collective culture changes: where it once included everyone, it is now limited to the reach of the viral entry within a fragmented mass culture. Television still reaches the masses, but with contradicting messages broadcast to polarized audiences. Once the medium of homogenous late modern culture, it is now the instrument of cultural division.

The viral entry becomes a key feature in the cultural dynamic of the new paradigm. With symbols ranging from video posts to graffiti art to Burning Man bacchanals, the grassroots regeneration of cultural values has established an internet-engaged social order with its own way of processing experience. In a subtle ontological shift, instead of symbolic iconography that reflects universal content in the Western tradition, symbols take on meaning within the context of the group. The empathetic symbolism underlying so many of the video posts of social networking outlets reflects the underlying shift to techno-tribal group culture and demonstrates the changing role of the symbol.

Internet-engaged subgroups rekindle a sense of kinship lost in the breakdown of late modern society. People are actively seeking the bonding experiences of culture as they check the media feed for the latest point of common interest. The symbol’s ability to affect a response increases as people reach out for values lost at the end of the late modern period. Correspondingly, the power of the symbol fades as it loses relevance to the evolving culture of the group. Cultural symbolism has become provisional and localized. With internet memes in particular, people actively contribute to the meaning of provisional symbols.

Techno-tribal clans lack the reassurance of the disenfranchised Western worldview and must repeatedly define their place in the continuum of subcultures through public symbolic expressions (such as the viral entry). As a feature of the new paradigm, provisional symbols function as cultural mediators for a diverse array of overlapping subcultures in a constant state of becoming. Techno-tribal group culture continually evolves under an umbrella culture founded on democratic ideals and humanitarian values (of modernism).

Relevant art and reposted social networking entries carry the amplified content of provisional symbols. For actualizing personalities, these symbols are imbued with power for their role in the cultural paradigm shift. Techno-tribal clans pick through the disparate flood of events and alternatives looking for anything of value. The provisional symbol strengthens bonds as it evokes subjective value that substantiates the underlying ideology of the group. At the leading edge of the emerging paradigm, participants read in value that integrates them into subculture.

The methodology where provisional symbols momentarily substantiate the ideologies of internet-engaged subcultures holds true for all groups ranging from facebook friends to radical political organizations. Because ideological clans of techno-tribal culture evolve independently and have few experiences in common, the same symbol can inspire subjectively-realized value for integration into subcultures with opposing views; e.g., the hot button social issues of culture war. This attribute of the paradigmatic shift foments radical ideologies and works in opposition to the accelerated acculturation process. Such is the nature of techno-tribal culture in the wake of modernism.

Techno-tribal culture, inabsolute history and provisional symbolism, along with pop cultural pluralism, the accelerated acculturation process and the group dynamics of social media, are defining attributes of the neo-modern paradigm.