Culture in Mind: Toward a Sociology of Culture and Cognition

By Karen A. Cerulo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8

Individualism…Pro Tem

RECONSIDERING U.S. SOCIAL RELATIONS

Karen A. Cerulo

Financial analysts are quite busy these days forecasting the economic terrain of the new millenium. Advice on “best buys” and market hot spots abound. Economic pundits are everywhere. But within this tidal wave of financial prescriptions, one investment strategy outweighs the rest. Simply stated: invest in the individual!

Contemporary analysts contend that the market is deconstructing and “the idea of ‘the mass’ is about to meet its end.” 1 Consumers are being urged to prepare themselves for a different economic experience. Within the next five years, so the analysts say, everything from your blue jeans to your morning coffee blend to your child’s Barbie doll will be customized—tailor-made to your personal specifications. Your PC will be custom-built; your daily planner will be personalized with your important dates and events. Each day, you will access the news via specialized online newscasts, transmissions restricted to the features, stock quotes, and sports scores of particular interest to you. When you shop, Internet vendors will greet you with individualized shopping suggestions, ideas fashioned to your unique preferences and tastes. In the new millennium, customization represents the order of the day, and according to the experts, today’s consumer “can rightfully expect to be served as an audience of one.” 2

An audience of one…it is a self-centered society that market analysts describe. Yet the dawn of such a world comes as no surprise to many. Since the 1970s, a bevy of intellectuals have warned of a growing individualism 3 in America. In 1976, author Tom Wolfe anointed the “me generation”—a cohort of “zealous individualists” devoted only to the project of themselves. 4 Three years later Christopher Lasch proclaimed that a “culture of narcissism,” had “carried the logic of individualism to

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