Discover more from Future Watch: an anthropological pov
003 Culture Solution: fluidity as an adaptation
The power of fluidity
She was lying.
She was lying for a living.
I did an interview with a young woman who had just come from an office party.
Quite unselfconsciously, she told me that when it came time to chat with her boss, she just made sh!t up.
“I just become the person he needs me to be.”
For her that meant being a boomer. Despite the fact that she was Gen Y.
“He really can’t understand me unless I talk like a boomer. So I just turn into one. It’s weird.”
‘Is this a deliberate strategy?’ I asked her.
“You know, I don’t really think about. I just do it. I bet most of the people in my office under 30 are it doing it a lot of the time.”
You can call this lying. I just did.
But it’s probably better to call it fluidity.
Fluidity = the ability to present a new version of the self as the occasion demands.
This gift for instantaneous transformation is an endowment of the species. We come with fluidity hardwired in.
But I think we’re augmenting this natural ability. We are getting more fluid.
There is something in our culture that encourages us.
Sometimes it’s fluidity for fun. Sometimes it’s a survival mechanism. Like when you are talking to your boss at an office party. You are lying, strike that, fluid for living.
We live a diverse society. We can no longer assume the other gets what we mean.
If we have some clue about who this other is, well, we can try to be more like them, or at least less like us.
And sometimes we prize fluidity because it’s just fun to do. I have a friend who used to poach the identities of people in chat rooms. She would wait til they left and then stride back into the room with a new identity in place. Fun. Harmless. Probably.
Our culture is a nursery of fluidity. We can see it being cultivated all over the place. Improv would be the obvious example. There was a time when everyone was taking classes. Corporations were teaching it. Not sure where it stands now (comments welcome) but this “craze” had to be driven by something. And it left a mark.
Fluidity really works in the organization. Some moments people act as if the organization is hierarchical, command and control, and top down. In other moments everyone seems to prefer the idea that the org is flat, decentralized, a veritable DAO! We shift back and forth effortlessly. Those who can’t, can’t stay.
Clearly, fluidity has a down side. Practice enough fluidity and we can lose track of who we are. We can be too fluid. We can lose track of the “real you.”
But the upside is extraordinary. We can be many people to many people. We can adapt to changing situations. We can survive sudden disruptions at work. We can do better than managing complexity. Fluidity helps us to surf it for fun and profit.
In posts 001 and 002, we looked at things in our culture that just look broken.
Post 001: the inability to deliver young men to adulthood
Post 002: the decline of “vibe shifts” and our ability to build a new consensus
But here is a quality encouraged and augmented by culture. It equips us with new powers. It provides us with new solutions. There’s hope.