Postmodern concepts in contemporary life


“The theory of rejecting theories.” – Tony Cliff

From Wikipedia:

“postmodernismLink-out tends to refer to a cultural, intellectual, or artistic state lacking a clear central hierarchy or organizing principle and embodying extreme complexity, contradiction, ambiguity, diversity, and interconnectedness or interreferentiality.”

Here is my list of how postmodern concepts may be tied in with contemporary life:

  • In business and economics:
    • “The contemporary market–let’s call it the “postmodern market”–depends increasingly upon two strategies to increase sales and profits. First, areas of social life that traditionally fell outside the market — health care, education, prisons, religion, the arts, poverty, the environment, caring for the elderly and the dead–are now being brought into the market. Second, consumer identities are being fragmented, proliferated, recombined, and turned into salable goods.” [1]
  • Complexity (interconnectedness). Postmodern concepts acknowledge the interconnectedness of systems of meaning and interpretation. They acknowledge the “blurring” of boundaries between systems and concepts.
  • Chaos: Postmodern concepts recognize the presence of chance, ambiguity, unpredictability, and dynamic relationships.
  • Quantum Physics: The concept of light as a wave and as a particle may be an example of a non-dualistic relationship. These types of double-identity and multiple-identity relationships are frequently discussed in postmodern literature.
  • Physics: Einstein’s idea of matter, energy and space having a type of equivalence leads to the possible amorphous possibility of all “things”, all entities and processes. Once again this may be related to the multi-formation and multi-understandability of things.
  • Global culture: Postmodern concepts acknowledged the empowerment of non-western forms of cultural expression. Today the most advanced sciences are re-discovering their overlaps with non-western ideas. (Physics and Taoism, psychology and Buddhism for example).
  • Culture: Postmodern push towards the recognition of the value of popular culture and other cultural forms of value previously considered to be at the “bottom”. Today the web has energized bottom-up culture, language, aesthetics and intellectual expressions.
  • In economics we find traces of bottom-up trends as illustrated by “long-tail” markets, where products and value systems that were previously considered abject or marginalized now sit in front among other more widely recognized products. This is in part also a product of the web and its ability to provide “virtual shelf space” to products targetted towards micro-niche populations.
  • Business, e-commerce companies energized empowered the average citizen to become a business owner. Some, started businesses that sold…anything they could find that may be valuable (think auction web services).
  • In technology we are re-connecting our communication-marginalized bodies through products like the Wii and advanced forms of touch-screens are opening the doors for the re-introduction of the body back into gestural communication and interaction.
  • Business: Companies are re-discovering the limited value of “universal solutions” and are moving towards more contextualization that takes into consideration more factors revolving around culture and other human systems. Innovation methods such as “ethnography” are observational studies conducted to understand “unarticulated” customer needs. This is an example of the trend towards contextualization.
  • The web, avatars, multiple web personas and multi-identity in webspace. Social networks made up of “friends” (some of them we never meet). Online video games with virtual reality tendencies, chatbots and artificial intelligence.
  • Television and the “reality” shows, the hybridization of human relationships such as marriage and entertainment. Etc.
  • In general science the ideas of Mandelbrot (fractals), Margaret Mead and Bateson (second order cybernetics), computer science concepts of self-similar, recursive algorithms, and interrelated complexity mirror postmodern ideas such as interreferentiality and interconnectedness among others.
  • In evolutionary science diversity is seen as a significant pattern in evolutionary and adaptive development. This idea is borrowed and re-used across many disciplines such as in economics, social theory and business. As our countries and the world at large undergoes bigger waves of globalization the concept of diversity is becoming an undeniable fact. Cultural and physical hybridization and the sub-division of culture may be another fact.
  • In decision theory, psychology, physics, finance, insurance, engineering, economics, statistics, scientific measurements – all of these disciplines/fields acknowledge the ever-presence of uncertainty. (see also: uncertainty in physics)

Postmodernism has become somewhat invisible because it is now part of the way we live. It is weaved into the fabric of most of our systems of knowledge and interaction.

[1] Holt, Douglas B. Postmodern Markets. A Response to The New Politics of Consumption by Juliet Schor. The Boston Review.Link-out

The New Politics of Consumption by Juliet Schor. The Boston Review.Link-out

Strongly related posting in my user experience blog:

“Postmodern usability?”


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