Digital connectivity’s democratising impact on the production, circulation and consumption of culture has been greatly exaggerated.
Digital hyperconnectivity — the condition in which nearly everyone and everything is connected to everyone and everything else, everywhere and all the time — has colonized the self, recast social interactions, reorganized the public sphere, revolutionized economic life and converted the whole of human culture into an unending stream of digital content served to us by personalized algorithms.
But while disenchantment with the political and economic ramifications of hyperconnectivity has been gathering force, with dreams of digital democracy and the sharing economy curdling into a nightmare of polarization and “platform capitalism,” enthusiasm about digital culture remains vibrant. Hyperconnectivity in the cultural realm promises abundance, decommodification and democratization. Everyone has at their fingertips an infinitely rich and varied universe of cultural products. New cultural forms and innovative practices have proliferated. Much digital culture is freely shared rather than bought and sold. And ever-expanding circles of people are actively involved in the production and circulation as well as the consumption of culture.
Digital abundance is a mixed blessing: exhilarating, yet flattening and homogenizing. Culture is converted into “content” that blurs together as it flows through the same conduits and across the same interfaces in an endless stream. As we struggle to keep abreast of the accelerating flow of content, drawn by the perpetual lure of the new, we come to know less and less about more and more.
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