We are becoming more liquid as humans.
Intuition tells us that fluidity is a natural consequence of living digitally. We are less fixed by time or in space. The places we inhabit are as often as “unreal” as they are physical. We flow between them without effort.
But” being liquid” reaches far beyond virtuality. It is more profound and inescapable. It informs what we value in modern life. It defines our challenge, our aspirations, our expectations.
Dive in with me for a just moment.
Zygmunt Bauman, renowed contemporary sociologist, began articulating his theory of “liquid modernity” in the late 1990’s. His work details the impacts of a global society moving from a “solid” state to a “liquid” one. In this liquid modernity the economically powerful have the freedom to disengage from operating locality, limiting politics, and people at will. In the wake a culture is rising in which our guiding structures – roles, identity, organizations, and even our geography – are melting away into something that is always changing and never quite solid.
In this environment the freedom to change identity, move at will, and to transform oneself is an end in itself. It becomes the most prized characteristic of our existence.
“We are witnessing the revenge of nomadism over the principle of territoriality and settlement. In the fluid stage of modernity, the settled majority is ruled by the nomadic and exterritorial elite. Keeping the roads free for nomadic traffic and phasing out the remaining check-points has now become the meta-purpose of politics.
“The change from solid to liquid modernity is driven by the needs of the powerful, which means the economically powerful, whose ends are best met by an inversion of what once served them.
“Instead of settlement, location, national economies and political entities, which made the city its symbol against all forms of transitoriness, offering the order and discipline necessary for production and consumption; the liquid phase of modernity aims to erode frontiers and boundaries. The disintegration of social network, the falling apart of effective agencies of collective action is often noted with a good deal of anxiety and bewailed as the unanticipated ‘side effect’ of the new lightness and fluidity of the increasingly mobile, slippery, shifty, evasive and fugitive power. But social disintegration is as much a condition as it is the outcome of the new technique of power, using disengagement and the art of escape as its major tools.
Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity, 2000
Uncertainty and change is the way of life. Becoming “liquid” is both a consequence and a pursuit society forces upon us.
The ability to flow, change, move, become another is our capacity to survive and thrive.
If you step back to look, you see this palpable reality playing out in the aftermath of the economic earthquake of 2008.
Much of the zeitgeist around the concept of liquidity is about changes in our structures: organizations, leadership, power, socialized media, learning.
But we rarely take the step of translating this reality into who we are trying to connect with – those who are living within the environment of liquidity. People are deeply experiencing that with all their delicious liquid freedoms they are also left to their own devices to navigate the shifting sands of economic lands, personal demands and societal values that previously defined them.
Networks provide us a kind of solid we use to connect us to others and to reflect back on ourselves. Yet they are also a vehicle for the very liquidity we have no choice but to embrace. The personas we project unto digital spaces are more often unreal than reality – not because we are untruthful, but because we are liquid: ever changing, ever leaving, ever searching.
Networks also allow us to also disengage, morph, slip away, remain invulnerable. So what we find projected by others on the windows of our social spaces often makes us feel more alone in our person, our pursuits, our challenges, and our learning in spite of all our sharing. So many examples, so little “me.”
The liquid being has both a survival need to flow, but the human desire to find something that connects. To connect while flowing has become the modern person’s pursuit.
Our job is to find connection with modern people. That requires being liquid, deeply understanding the liquid experience, interpreting liquid behaviors, speaking to the demands of being liquid, providing solutions to liquid living.
photo credits:Deb Morris, DebM Photography. Please check out her stunning micro-photograpy.