I’m waiting for the day when, if you tell someone ‘I’m from the internet’, instead of laughing they just ask ‘oh, what part?’ (Alt text to xkcd #256)
Anyone who’s spoken to me for an extended period time in the past few months has probably heard about my fascination with Eastern Standard Tribe, which gives the idea of “Tribes”:
Tribes are agendas. Aesthetics. Ethos. Traditions. Ways of getting things done. They’re competitive. They may not all be based on time-zones. There are knitting Tribes and vampire fan-fiction Tribes and Christian rock tribes, but they’ve always existed. Mostly, these tribes are little more than a sub-culture. It takes time-zones to amplify the cultural fissioning of fan-fiction or knitting into a full-blown conspiracy. Their interests are commercial, industrial, cultural, culinary. A Tribesman will patronize a fellow Tribesman’s restaurant, or give him a manufacturing contract, or hire his taxi. Not because of xenophobia, but because of homophilia: I know that my Tribesman’s taxi will conduct its way through traffic in a way that I’m comfortable with, whether I’m in San Francisco, Boston, London or Calcutta. I know that the food will be palatable in a Tribal restaurant, that a book by a Tribalist will be a good read, that a gross of widgets will be manufactured to the exacting standards of my Tribe.
We’re not yet in a world that distinguishes itself like the Tribes in EST do, but I think the social groups I run with are getting increasingly alienated from their peers in a way that encourages this kind of Tribalism. We aren’t divided by time zone but by frame of reference; most of us are indoctrinated enough in internet culture that Randall Munroe is a far more important figure than Britney Spears could ever hope to be. EST posits that “…anyone outside of the tribe is only mostly human,” and that’s very much akin to the philosophy I’m used to seeing; we’ll give individuals the benefit of the doubt but society as a whole we see as a sort of teeming mass of ignorance.
I’m not sure that Doctorow’s got it completely right in how he lays the Tribes out; the way he puts it, groups in certain areas end up forming Tribes with people outside of that time zone who reset their clocks to show affiliation to people in a different area who share the same aesthetic/philosophy that they do. I think that with the internet becoming so many people’s primary culture/affiliation it’s unlikely that we’re going to end up fragmenting ourselves in the real world way more than we ever have before. I’m predicting an explosion of global subcultures– it’s going to go way beyond the punk scene, the emo scene, the indie scene, etc when there are enough /b/tards in any given area to form social cliques in high schools/colleges.
I’m also trying to relate this to Vonnegut’s idea of a karass (from Cat’s Cradle). A karass is a group of people rotating around some particular object, doing God’s work, and the people who you find yourself inexplicably caught up with, whether you like them or not, are members of yours. A false karass (“grandfalloon”) is a group who thinks they are more important than a karass– Hoosiers, nations, sports teams, etc. I guess this would classify the tribes as grandfalloons, except the idea of the Tribes is much easier to apply to my life than that of a karass– there are only a couple people who I could identify as definite members of my karass, who I know in unlikely enough ways to think that we have been driven together by any sort of higher power, but almost all of the people I spend time with I was able to connect with in the first place because they are my Tribesmen; they share an outlook that I understand.