On Social Environment Sizes and the Commodification of Experience

Much like how children growing up on the crossroads of two cultures, understanding and carrying large parts of either one, yet not particularly feeling completely assimilated into either; or how polyglots that have learnt their foreign languages at an early enough age – probably no later than their mid-to-late teens – find aspects of foreign culture more in line with their personality than some of their native culture, I’ve had the opportunity to “grow up” in parallel in two very distinct environments.

Namely, having been born into a small town, and having to move out to the big city to pursue education and work, I’ve felt at times both alien to one, yet closer to the other – and vice-versa. This position has let me look at both social settings both as an outsider, member thereof, and with a perceptive pair of eyes. Without breaking out the a priori conceptions of what a social model looks like by experiencing several, it’d be like trying to work out how higher-dimensional space looks like by playing with it.

The unique structure of each environment necessarily induces the behaviours of its subjects: it’s an exercise in adaptivity. However, there seems to be a deeper truth and meaning to how the mind works, and these social environments are only constraints put on top of what looks like an optimisation problem.

The individual lives of each person both in city and rural town vary only slightly, when controlled for the particular environmentally induced choices. The issues people face are largely the same; or should they stem from local strifes such as economic factors, the experienced tragedies largely manifest in the same way.

However, we rarely make decisions uninfluenced by others. In fact, a lot of our decision-making is done at a subconscious, heuristical layer; either through learned shortcuts that can save us the conscious effort of thinking through a problem, or a more nuanced crosstalk of the rational with the irrational. Being social creatures, we’re very much instictually wired to act in accordance with prevailing social norms, which themselves arise when we let ourselves be influenced by peers.

It’s how propaganda works; our consent is manufactured by constantly comparing our stances to those around us and correcting them. Note that by manipulating our perception of others’ opinions, one can effectively construct an entirely new reality to the subject: our experience of the world is always passed through this social lens.

This is what cybernetic swarms are; polls where each agent can see the result of the poll and readjust his answer. Swarms are the natural way we make decisions, In fact, for most things where we use polls, perhaps using swarms would be better and more accurate; like in the classic example of guessing the weight of a cow. One of many examples of collective intelligence far overreaching individual intelligence. and why being the first in line to tell everyone your answer to a question is always a tough task – we’re given too many unknowns to be able to reasonably expect any group response.

So, to speak about the social differences between a city and small town is to speak of the differences in swarm decisions and their effect on dealing with personal issues. In particular, it is (trying to) solving a partial differential equation across time and many social and material dimensions, which relates personal satisfaction, hierarchical standing, social appeasement, moral code, etc.

In this sense, either lifestyle is a particular system, picked out of a normal distribution of effective systems for that environment, which does it best to optimise a certain metric.

The Rural Town #

In a community whose size is measured in the thousands, and which is geographically situated in an area small enough to where a bicycle far exceeds your commuting needs, life itself is much more local.

For one, the choice of generational cohorts is very fixed and finite. This means you are given company, and, lest you have no company at all, you are to do your best to enjoy that company. Moreover, this is a game that only works if everyone plays along; and not playing along means complete chaos and anarchy.

So, want to or not, you will mingle with a diverse range of characters. This means that you will inevitably be in touch with the same group of people day after day; and that you’ll have to settle your differences and work out a way to live harmoniously as you will need each other for something or other.

And oftenly this results in tensions rising until somebody starts a fight, after which, much like after war, a tensive reset happens; and the two quarreled sides often become good friends, too – both sides have shown their motives, strategies, and skills, and since there’s no more tension between them, they start respecting the other person more and more.

Secondly, you carry the weight of belonging to your family: you have siblings, parents, uncles, cousins, which all presumably live in the same town; family members that other people know and interact with, and through which they know of you. Your actions don’t represent only you, but carry the collective weight of your genetic line, too.

Thirdly, you yourself have a reputation as well: people know you, they remember what you do, and even if they weren’t privy to it, word spreads quick, and you can be sure people know. You are scrutinised constantly by all people constantly, both for what you do, and what your family members do.