The Pinnacle of Flatness

Maybe it’s just me, but everything is starting to look the same.

Not just look, but sound and feel the same as well.

Kind of weird lament from the guy who just warned against excessive individualism, but hear me out.

This thought struck me as I was driving with the family last weekend, and my wife and I got to talking about what kind of car we might buy next. Looking around the highway, seeing the vehicles on the road, and comparing them to what we already had, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, “What’s the difference?”

I know what you car-types are thinking now: There are huge differences in engines and transmissions and overall quality and so on. But I’m talking from a design and aesthetics perspective, because these things do matter.

Extrapolate this line of thinking to cities and towns the world over. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Toronto looks like London looks like Los Angeles looks like Berlin, and so on. Not identical, but close enough. Modern architecture is but one way in which ideas of design seem to be converting on something universal…and kind of beige.

And then there’s urban sprawl and the explosion of squat, concrete strip malls, fast-food joints and gas stations, and big box stores everywhere. It seems like that’s all some towns are.

And this, of course, goes for the arts as well. Movies all feel the same, screenwriting formulae aside. Music, books, television shows, education, pop culture…the list goes on.

Is this just where things always lead? Is there an “ultimate design” that we as human beings have finally reached? Or is it the natural consequence of a society that embraces Adam Smith’s “capitalism” while rejecting the “guided by moral principles” part of the equation?

In other words, is function driving this sameness, or is commerce? Or is something else?I have my suspicions that it’s deliberate because the sameness of the world, what some call “globalization,” is deliberate: “Let’s remove the things that differentiate us so we can be one big, happy family! And in order to make our global family happy, we have to make everything appeal to everyone! Otherwise, some people will be unhappy, and that’s mean! Think of the children!”

This is what critics of mass, consumption-driven society take issue with. Things don’t seem meant to last, or confer truth and beauty, or evoke feelings of reverence. They don’t seem to turn our focus higher, make us think about the good and what we could be.

Second, it seems like yet another method of control.

Everything seems to be converging on the idea that we are all identical in every single respect, including taste, and that we should get used to it because this is the way it has to be, forever.

Two questions I always think of:

  1. Who stands to gain from this?
  2. Are we better off for it?

One final thought: proponents of this flattening react with surprising vehemence againstchallenges against it.

Kind of makes you wonder why.

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