Over the past 15 years, there has been a noticeable change in many aspects of our lives. It has to do with the sophistication of work, sport, products and aesthetics.
It’s hard to describe exactly what culture and counterculture really mean today. In an era more deeply organized by big tech than by our own elected governments, the new culture to counter or imitate is not singular or top-down.
It’s like a root system, not binary, and includes everyone who lives within the digital ecosystem. It’s easier to bring some of these changes through a few examples.
Let’s start with professional sports. Here we can see some of the details of today's culture.
The game has shifted to 3-point shooters and players who drive to the basket for close shots. How did this happen? Almost every team now has an NBA analytics department. Data is collected using cameras that record every movement of both the ball and players.
Essentially, data showed that the reward of taking a three-point shot outweighed the risk. On average, teams that take more three-point shots ultimately score more points over the course of a game.
Teams also analyze large data sets on defenders for other teams. They determine where they had the most and least amount of success against various offensive attacks, such as long range shots, midrange jumpers and driving the lane to the basket. Teams then take that information to isolate a player who is good in one area against a defender who isn’t. The flipside is true, as well. Teams attempt to get their defenders on a specific player, particularly in critical situations, if that defender has a statistically better chance of preventing a score.
The total volume of shots out of the box continues to decline year over year in all major football leagues. Compared to 10 years ago, the conversion rate [goals scored] has doubled. The percentage of all shots from inside the box continues to increase. This is all due to football teams using data analytics to change the way they play. Short passes, high pressing, and lots of ball possession. This is all due to football teams using data analytics to change the way they play.
Today's game doesn't look like the game of 20 or 30 years ago. It may never return to that style. Barcelona, which has won everything in recent years, is a perfect example of this philosophy. Other teams have followed.
︎ AESTHETICS IN SPORTS
The data analytics along with technology has changed sports. But there is another element other than style of play or strategy. There is aesthetics in sports. Technology has improved, better selection of body types, genetics and mindset.
Sport jerseys follow trends as other products do and the fit is one of the things that has changed most visibly over the years. Each sporting era has its own style, its peculiarities and is a symbol of a defined aesthetic standard. The way to wear the jerseys very often depends on the trends that the players with the greatest aesthetic impact have in a given historical moment and consequently the brands that produce and launch sport uniforms on the market adapt to the stylistic demand of the market. From the 1980s to today, many stylistic eras can be identified which, especially in Western world where the shirt is considered a mystical object, have marked the aesthetic change. Modernity turned athletes into Roman gladiators or fake messiahs?
︎ GRAPHIC DESIGN
The current graphic design aesthetic is minimalistic and flat, which first started to gain popularity in the 2010s. This style is easily recognised for its monochromatic or limited approach to colour use, minimal shading, bold line work, strict adherence to grids, crisp photographic images, abstract and dreamy illustrations with a preference for sans serif typefaces. Corporate imaginary uses people illustrations with huge bodies, tiny heads and they seem all quite young. Diversity is very forced. Bright, cheerful colors just screaming “We are all in the same boat”. But it all ends up somehow just weird and disorientating.
︎ INTERIOR DESIGN
It’s easy to see how social media shapes our interactions on the internet. Yet technology is also shaping our physical environment, influencing the places we go and how we behave in areas of our lives. It’s the realm of coffee shops, restaurants, startup offices, and co-working spaces that share the same hallmarks everywhere you go: a profusion of symbols of comfort and quality, at least to a certain connoisseurial mindset. Open spaces with minimalist furniture, reclaimed wood, industrial lighting. Free coffee and fast internet.
The homogeneity of these spaces means that traveling between them is frictionless. If we can be equally at home everywhere, doesn’t that mean we are also at home nowhere? The next question is, do we mind?
We are constantly talking about different phone models and brands to buy like there’s a big difference. The fact is most smartphones have the same design now. These “mass-minimal” improvements in each phone are indistinguishable from the average person. All they do is add another cool camera to the back.
They created some AI called GPT-3 that you can code to write articles. It managed to get the top of hacker news without anyone realizing it wasn’t a real person writing it. The AI has managed to copy mid to late 2000s internet writing aesthetic pretty well. This style is a mix of academic-corporate speak which most internet writing has clustered into.
People is taking vitamins trying to improve their health and nutrients. Optimization is a component of refinement culture. The body is a complex system and systems cannot easily optimize. In human relationships we cannot optimize without becoming greedy, selfish, and dishonest. The mistake is thinking that "everything else" doesn't exist and that the individual, not the collective, is the real unit.
In commerce we prefer relations to transactions. There is a need to move beyond the traditional funnel model tracking a linear path from awareness to consideration to purchase. Today, consumers are more often than not in awareness, consideration, and purchase mode simultaneously.
︎ SURGERY AND COSMETICS
Women who are aging are getting the same type of surgery. We’re seeing appearances converge into a few icons of beauty.
DIGITAL WORKER STEREOTYPE
Since this is the age of progress (or involution?), being a remote worker or digital nomad is the topic that creates the most change. People all over the world are raving about it. Internet has created the picture of this mythological figure very young and possibly good looking that often works on the beach, in swimming pools or at the lake, unconcerned about the heat, the sun and the sand on his laptop. And if there is a hammock to lie in, even better. They move around a lot, they don't have friends or want a family, but in return they earn a lot of money while they sleep. The aesthetics of social media may not represent reality but it certainly influence its perception.
One of the ideas of contemporary society is that it tricks us into thinking we are celebrated because of our difference, when in fact what we're seeing is homogenization and mainstreaming of difference.
Aesthetic homogeneity is a product that users are coming to demand, and tech investors are catching on.
So what does today’s counterculture look like?
I think it’s not particularly interested in being seen. But it does demonstrate a hunger for freedom—freedom from the attention economy, from atomization, and the extractive logic of mainstream communication. In the data era, true counterculture is difficult to see, and even harder to find—but that doesn’t mean it’s not here.