In the process of transforming city residents into digital residents, the biggest problem we face is not a problem of possibility, but a problem of path dependence and nihilistic attitudes.
Currently, the activities of digital nomads are more about awakening the memories that urban residents already have, making everyone revalue public life and community culture, and re-focusing on publicness, inheritability, and sustainability. This is actually a human-centered value scale. If city residents can embrace this value scale and embrace leisure, there is hope for the transformation into digital residents, gradually breaking free from the cycle of internal competition, restoring public life, promoting social structural transformation, and improving the sustainability of civilization development.
In the article “Habitat and Hope: From Lying Flat to Illuminating the World with Digital Nomads,” the author argues that the most urgent problem of modern civilization is the gradual dissolution of public life. Modern people immersed in the “earn-money-consume” cycle are being carried away by the trend of the development of the industrial technological system, making it increasingly difficult to respond to various challenges posed by modern civilization, such as rigid social structure, academic industrialization, financial bubbles, nihilism, wars, aging population, climate change, energy crisis, and reduced biodiversity. These problems have led modern civilization to be in an unsustainable trend of accelerated development. Of course, it is precisely these challenges that have opened up opportunities for dialogue.
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01. Digital Nomads and Public Life
As a social experiment, the actions of digital nomads are awakening people’s memories and possibilities of public life.
Firstly, digital nomads demonstrate the possibility of leisure time. When leisure time comes, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about making money and consuming; it can also be about gathering together without a specific purpose, simply doing what one wants to do in the environment they inhabit, or purely focusing on social activities themselves and recording these activities, allowing the time spent together to become a memory in life, just like what the DNA founding team does.
Secondly, digital nomads also demonstrate a way of living and learning together. For example, in the Bread Tree Garden, everyone satisfies their basic material needs through the Free Food Camp, and activities such as book clubs are carried out in the Spiritual Growth Camp. Participants pay attention to dialogue therapy, care for and heal each other during the dialogue process, promote the growth of each other’s spiritual lives, or describe their own ideal ways of life.
Furthermore, digital nomads demonstrate a way of discussing public affairs. For example, in Zuzalu, the new environment weakens identity differences, making the emergence of order possible. People of different identities can communicate openly, without pre-set positions, freely debate, associate, oppose, and construct, inspiring each other and sincerely discussing the challenges faced by civilization.
For most cities, there are many migratory elements in the lifestyle of digital nomads, because many activities of digital nomads actually only reveal the possibilities that urban residents originally have.
For example, when we talk about the story of SocialCow KC with our friends, we often feel that when a person realizes that death is the only certain thing, starts to choose to embrace uncertainty, and is willing to actively throw topics of interest to the other person, their personality becomes more cheerful, and they gradually share memories with people around them, making life more and more interesting.
Another example is when we talk about Cher’s story with our friends, we have a sense of imagination: drawing and writing poetry by the French window, writing on pieces of scrap paper, cutting plastic bags into different shapes, creating a sense of constraint with ropes… Similar actions can be migrated, and we can also use some simple items around us to create an exhibition through inspiration and creativity, showcasing the poetics of space.
There is indeed such possibility in urban life, but we often forget about these possibilities in the fast-paced life, or find it difficult to escape the intense competitive atmosphere, difficult to resolve the conflicts that arise every day, and find it difficult to settle down and enjoy life with friends; or burdened with too much baggage, dare not relax their spirits, habitually focus on the immediate goals, and find it more difficult to perceive other possibilities of the whole city based on a grasp of the overall situation. This is normal, because history has a huge inertia, and urban residents do not need to expect to break free from the huge inertia of history in a day or two.
However, at the same time, we should also be conscious and reflective of the inertia of history. It is undeniable that the rapid and unsustainable development of modern cities is a fact. Although every urban resident is currently immersed in this trend, although our abilities are weak and small, and although we temporarily do not have the ability to immediately extricate ourselves from this trend, the future is still created by the choices of each of us. We should all realize that driving the social transformation of structures is a cause that requires everyone’s participation.
02, Pyramid Illusion
We often have an illusion that our social structure is a pyramid structure, dividing classes through hard indicators such as education and capital. For example, when looking for a job and submitting resumes, education often becomes an efficient filter. If the education is not up to standard, there is no need to continue. The same applies to civil servants, so in recent years, we can see the craze of nationwide postgraduate exams and civil service exams.
This illusion seems to be in line with reality, but it also has certain historical sedimentation. There are two reasons: first, in the feudal dynasty, power was transmitted unidirectionally from top to bottom, and the social power structure was more static, indeed presenting a pyramid-like pattern; second, currently, there is indeed a wealth gap in society, and if we simply examine the dimension of capital, the distribution of capital in society does indeed approximate a pyramid shape.
This illusion does not belong to any individual, but is rooted in the hearts of most people and has become a collective illusion, or ideology. The so-called ideology, according to Adorno’s definition, is “necessary social illusion” or “necessary erroneous social consciousness”. It should be noted that ideology is not just a general erroneous social consciousness, but widely regarded as correct, but actually erroneous social consciousness. At the same time, although ideology is erroneous, it is also necessary, unless there is a better alternative.
On the one hand, the pyramid-shaped social structure, as an illusion, does exist in reality. That is to say, most people believe that our current social structure is pyramid-shaped and understand their own position in this way. On the other hand, this is indeed an illusion, and this illusion can have disastrous historical consequences, so we emphasize that it is erroneous.
First of all, the pyramid-shaped social structure is rooted in the ancient technological environment. In that era, there was no internet, no concept of democracy, communication between people was inconvenient, the operation of power was purely top-down, and the power structure tended to be static, and social classes tended to solidify. In modern society, we have the internet, which greatly improves the speed of information communication, the education level of each individual has been improved, every family, every company, every government institution is a small pyramid, the size of each pyramid is different, and each influential person is an important node, connecting the inside and outside of the pyramid. In this sense, the reason why it is called an illusion is that our social structure is not a pyramid, but a group of pyramids, which are composed of pyramids of different sizes.
Secondly, this illusion has brought extremely disastrous historical consequences. On the one hand, everyone fantasizes about an extremely powerful pyramid tip, where everything is decided by the pyramid tip, and all responsibilities are borne by the pyramid tip. On the other hand, the ability and influence of the pyramid tip are limited, and the consequences of many problems are difficult to directly relate to the pyramid tip, both logically and in terms of practical impact. As a result, we eventually discover that many of the problems we currently face are unclaimed debts, with no one to take responsibility and no solutions to be found. At the same time, the operation of the entire society has formed a huge inertia, which will overwhelm any attempt to make positive changes. The reason is that there is no pyramid tip that can turn the tide, and compared with the historical inertia formed by the entire group of pyramids, each individual small pyramid is fragile.
In this sense, the pyramid-shaped structure as an ideology has destructive consequences. If people lack sufficient awareness of this ideology, still hope for a “superhero” to appear, and still crave for a permanent solution to problems, then everyone is superficially innocent but actually a sinner obstructing the transformation of the social structure.
If historical inertia itself is good, then it doesn’t matter, everyone can be content with the status quo. The problem is that modern society is a form of industrial civilization, dominated by efficiency logic, in a constant state of production that has reached a state close to its limits and cannot stop. This dissipates people’s public life: everyone is tormented by internal competition and knows that this model is unsustainable, but cannot see a way out of the predicament.
For each small pyramid, it is also difficult to survive in this historical trend. The reason is that if the small pyramid does not follow the logic of efficiency and tries to emphasize emotions, it simply cannot survive. And once it follows the logic of efficiency and begins to pursue capital accumulation, competition arises between different small pyramids, which to some extent can stimulate the vitality of the small pyramids but also brings unnecessary losses. In addition, there is fierce competition within the small pyramid, resulting in internal conflicts. The most fatal problem is that digital capital has no upper limit but there is the Matthew effect. Therefore, if the foundation is not stable, the survival environment of the small pyramid will become extremely harsh.
The reason why we are facing such a terrible situation is that everyone has not faced the technological environment and embraced the possibilities it offers, and is stuck in past ideologies unable to extricate themselves. Undoubtedly, the transformation of social structure is an inevitable trend, and this transformation requires not top-down instructions or bottom-up feedback, but active dialogue between many nodes, active thinking and action by each individual, and negotiation and cooperation between people. The premise of the transformation of social structure is the transformation of ideology, the liberation of thought.
This is the worst of times, but also the best of times. Undoubtedly, the transformation of social structure is possible because the scale of each small pyramid is limited, and it is easier for a small ship to change course. With more and more small pyramids completing the structural transformation, social order will improve, and everyone’s life will improve. At the same time, in the process of the transformation of social structure, each individual can exert their own influence, influence the people around them, influence the small pyramid they inhabit, and then influence more small pyramids.
03, The basic logic of the transformation of social structure
Whether it is a pyramid structure or a pyramid group structure, they first exist as concepts in the intended lives of individuals. If more people believe in them, they become ideologies. In other words, the key to the transformation of social structure is not the transformation of material form, but the transformation of ideology, the transformation of concepts, and the liberation of thought. With more and more people’s thoughts being liberated, public life can gradually be revived, the relationship between different small pyramids can transform from competition to cooperation, and many major problems can be gradually resolved through negotiation. The whole society has hope of developing in a positive direction and breaking free from the immense historical inertia brought about by industrial civilization.
Currently, it appears that our society is still dominated by a pyramid structure in terms of ideology. In this ideological context, the social operating model has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is stability, while the disadvantage is excessive stability, or rather, rigidity. Influenced by the ideology of the pyramid structure, new positions are always difficult to find a place within the existing value scale. They face resistance from various aspects during their development. As Douglas said, “Everything invented before I was born is taken for granted; everything invented between the ages of 15 and 35 is going to change the world; everything invented after I turned 35 is against human nature.”
New positions are difficult to be created, and society finds it difficult to respond to the increasingly diverse employment demands. For example, a university student who has studied cutting-edge majors may not be able to find a suitable job and could end up squeezing into old positions. What they have learned becomes a qualification rather than being able to fulfill its intended meaning. Similarly, due to the limited number of old positions, if the number of job seekers exceeds the number of positions available, and ideal positions are scarce, then employment becomes challenging, and internal competition becomes inevitable.
It can be noticed that in today’s society, productivity has already been able to meet the daily needs of human beings. Most positions are no longer directly involved in practical production but are solely used to maintain the hierarchical order. This means that the result of internal competition does not create a better living environment for everyone, but instead makes life more exhausting and increases the pressure on the lower levels of society. The dire situation at the bottom of society also worries and scares the middle class, who, in order to prevent themselves from falling down the social ladder, work even harder to compete internally, making internal competition more intense. The whole society is caught in a vicious cycle.
Fortunately, more and more people are becoming aware of this vicious cycle and realizing that the way forward for society lies in allowing the lower levels to live with dignity, enriching the lives of the lower levels, and giving them leisure time. Or, more importantly, it means that the “lower levels” are no longer at the bottom of the pyramid structure but are an integral part of a diverse and rich society.
This means that we need to realize that our social structure actually takes the form of a pyramid cluster, and there are interconnected nodes between different pyramids. In this sense, our entire society is more likely to develop into a kaleidoscope: each small pyramid is like a mirror, reflecting the existence of other small pyramids and highlighting their existence. There are organic connections between numerous small pyramids, engaging in positive dialogue and cooperation with each other, ultimately allowing everyone to achieve self-realization and present a spirit of “360 trades, with each trade producing an excellent performer.” In a kaleidoscope-like society, everyone can demonstrate their excellence on the grand stage of society with their unique skills.
In this sense, a kaleidoscope society is actually a social ideal that should conform to the trend of technology.
This ideological transformation is obviously not achieved overnight, but it is not impossible either, because technology has the power to bridge the gap in material living standards. For example, there is not much difference in functionality between a smartphone that costs tens of thousands of yuan used by a wealthy person and a smartphone that costs around a thousand yuan used by a delivery driver. However, in the pyramid structure, the delivery driver is coerced by the system, striving to improve efficiency, and is unable to have leisure time. At the same time, due to the excessively high efficiency of delivery drivers coerced by the system, the saturation of the delivery industry decreases, and there are many people who cannot find jobs but want to become delivery drivers.
If we focus on the circumstances of human beings and reflect on society based on the living conditions of individuals, we will find that if we care about social welfare rather than surplus value, and care about the prosperity of civilization rather than individual efficiency, then we may find a new way out.
Leisure is essential for residents’ public life. If we can break free from the logic of prioritizing efficiency, many college students who have learned cutting-edge professions can also have leisure time after work. They can find some gathering places in the city, imitating digital nomads, and organize various salons and gatherings to attract people from all walks of life in the city to participate in dialogues. In this way, college students’ expertise will not be in vain, and public life in the city will also be restored. If the geographical distribution of these gathering places in the city is reasonable and people from each community can easily participate in the gatherings, it can not only revive public life but also reduce transportation and the consumption of fossil energy.
Gathering places don’t necessarily have to be offline. In the actions of digital nomads, we can see that offline activities can be combined with online activities through video conferencing software, or purely online activities are also feasible.
In fact, the issues we are currently concerned about, such as buying houses and old-age care, are not the most urgent problems. The reason is that if we prioritize these issues and continue to act according to the logic of efficiency without changing the social structure, it will be difficult to create new positions, and everyone will still be in a state of competition, making it difficult for both buying houses and old-age care. In fact, the energy we use for competition can be used to care for the elderly and children, care for loved ones and friends around us, and even create a new life.
On the contrary, when public life is revived, people can negotiate new value scales through dialogue, and the economic order will gradually return to normal. At the same time, since our production capacity is already surplus, once the economic order returns to normal and can promote the reasonable allocation of social resources, the diversity of social positions will gradually increase, allowing more people to find employment and meet more people’s needs. In this way, everyone’s life will lead to self-consistency, without a doubt. Of course, it takes the efforts of each and every one of us to create such a positive trend.
It can be observed that if we can see the possibilities that we have forgotten on digital nomads, we regain hope. If we can have dialogues around hope, make hope more and more concrete, gradually establish more consensus, gradually adjust our lifestyles, accept new ways of life, it is possible to gradually promote the transformation of social structure, transform society into a kaleidoscope structure as an ideal social form, gradually dissolve the many disadvantages brought by social stratification, revive public life, and improve the sustainability of civilization development at the same time.
In fact, human society is always in the flow of time, and there are always various flaws, which allow the human heart to be at peace, which is actually a trend towards improvement. For example, in the 1970s and 1980s, people’s material living standards were not as good as they are now, but people’s spiritual outlook was different. Everyone could see hope and actively discuss ideas and do things. Of course, looking back is not impossible, but it is meaningless: in our era, the technological environment has become more complex, and the degree of globalization is increasing. The structure of any problem has become more complex. This also requires us to pay more attention to ideas and let more and more people join the dialogue about ideas.
04. Leisure and Dialogue: The Highest Form of Urban Life
Technological pioneer Mumford believes that dialogue is one of the highest forms of urban life, and the city is like a huge theater. The reason why urban life is interesting is that different people can play different roles and engage in dialogue. In the process of dialogue, everyone’s personality is fully developed. Without dialogue, the city is no longer a city, but becomes isolated islands, and the city loses its soul, and city residents lose public life.
In this sense, if we value dialogue and value public life, then we can discover that the reason why digital nomads can inspire us is because they actively embrace the possibilities provided by the technological environment, and these possibilities are possessed by both rural and urban residents. That is to say, the key to the transformation of social structure lies in our understanding of the technological environment, so that we can realize the limitations of the past value scale, actively engage in dialogue, start from the possibilities provided by the technological environment, negotiate cultural, political, and economic orders, and gradually explore new value scales.
Currently, for urban residents, the technological environment in which we live actually has many obvious advantages, such as: 1. Abundant production capacity and diverse products, which can meet various material needs and make leisure possible; 2. Rich information and fast information dissemination speed. The Internet can continuously provide us with various services in knowledge, socializing, entertainment, and other dimensions, enabling us to have various forms of dialogue through various software; 3. Convenient transportation, whether it is tourism or visiting relatives and friends, is very convenient…
However, influenced by the ideology of the pyramid structure, the solidification of social classes caused by internal competition makes us lack leisure time, and therefore it is difficult for us to embrace the many possibilities offered by the technological environment. For example, when we are trapped in the cycle of “earning money – consuming”, when we have spent a lot of time learning new professional knowledge but cannot find suitable jobs, when we feel anxious about housing, employment, and retirement issues, we miss out on leisure time and the rich possibilities offered by the technological environment.
In this context, if we can see the logic of social transformation, value leisure over efficiency, and promote the synergy among individuals, enterprises, and society, gradually moving towards a kaleidoscope structure, and embracing new value scales, we can enable even the lower strata of society to live with dignity. In doing so, we not only have hope of gradually eliminating the various negative consequences brought about by the solidification of social classes, but also may find a new way out for modern industrial civilization.
This new way out is rooted in our understanding of information technology, that is to say, let us explore new value scales around information technology. The obvious truth is that compared to industrial technology, information technology is more conducive to sustainable development. For example, when I have a conversation with a friend through the Internet, it consumes a small amount of energy, time, and electricity. But if I were to travel by plane or high-speed train to see this friend, it would consume a larger amount of energy, time, and fossil fuels.
According to traditional concepts, this characteristic of the Internet would make the conversation seem “cheap”, to the extent that conversations online may not feel “weighty” enough, and many people still have the inertia of thinking that “important matters need face-to-face meetings”. However, if we can feel the weight of the conversation itself, and respect the activity of conversation itself, then online conversations can also be formal. In fact, for many scholars, the weight of conversation through email is already greater than that of face-to-face communication, and it can better explain things. For loved ones, many emotions that are difficult to convey through email can also be transmitted through voice in some cases, and years of separation can make reunions even more beautiful. For teachers, conference software can to some extent replace the classroom, and if the final assessment can also be conducted online, online teaching may not necessarily be inferior to offline teaching.
Of course, this does not mean that the physical presence is no longer necessary for conversations. For the activity of conversation, the physical presence that forms the field is still unique, and the interweaving of physical breathing, rhythm, spirituality, and modes is difficult to achieve through the Internet. In a sense, it is precisely because the physical presence is absent in online conversations that we pay more attention to the uniqueness of physical presence.
In other words, valuing online dialogue does not mean disregarding in-person dialogue. On the contrary, when we value online dialogue, we are actually valuing dialogue itself, which in turn increases our understanding of the uniqueness of in-person dialogue.
05. The value scale of social structure transformation
In theory, in modern society, whether rural or urban residents, we are all potential digital residents, or to some extent, already digital residents. This is because we are spending more and more time using electronic products such as mobile phones and computers, becoming increasingly dependent on information technology, and starting to establish relationships with people around us through information technology.
However, the key issue lies not in whether we use electronic products or the amount of time spent on immersive information technology, but in the value scale we use to measure the meaning of life. If we still adhere to the logic of efficiency, then electronic products are merely tools to improve communication efficiency. For example, things that originally required face-to-face meetings can be quickly discussed using chat software. If we care about public life and value every conversation, then information technology becomes a medium that promotes the occurrence of dialogue and improves its quality. The so-called digital residents are actually residents who make good use of information technology, who establish the basic logic of life on dialogue and information technology.
If we have an understanding and expectation of various forms of public life, after satisfying basic survival needs, we will break out of the cycle of “earning money-consumption” and pay more attention to interpersonal relationships, regarding public life itself as an ideal to be recognized. People in the same gathering place can get to know each other and become familiar by greeting each other, organize some public activities, revitalize community culture, just like in the past rural life, where everyone was very familiar with each other. The difference from past rural life is that in the Internet era, these processes of public activities can be recorded and shared on the Internet platform, serving as a public dialogue space and a public memory space.
Since our focus is on the public life of digital residents, in the process of social structure transformation, we can take the community as the basic unit of attention. In this regard, the 706 City Plan has actually provided us with reference. As early as 2019, 706 realized that with the innovation of the technological environment, the working methods, social methods, and living methods of young people in the next 5-10 years will undergo transformation, and they founded three projects: 706 Shared Living Room, 706 Living Lab, and 706 Youth Space. It can be seen that whether it is the shared living room, living lab, or youth space, the theme revolves around public life, and the key technology is the Internet. The unique aspect is that 706 sees organizing offline activities as an opportunity for dialogue, providing a large amount of background information in WeChat groups to stimulate communication and sharing among group members during the process of organizing offline activities.
Image source: 706 Youth Space
It can be found that the resources used by 706 are actually the existing resources in the city, but the logic of resource utilization has been transformed, providing a dynamic form of public life. The revival of public life and the transformation of social structure are actually two aspects of the same thing. In this sense, the model of 706 can also be imitated by many small pyramids in the city. For many small pyramids that occupy advantageous positions, this process of imitation will not be too difficult, and they are expected to become the main force driving the transformation of social structure.
Similarly, we can negotiate the value scale around the digitization process of the community. The community here does not necessarily refer to the geographical community, but can also be the metaverse community. For example, when we take face-to-face chats, dancing, discussions on self-governing solutions, standing postures, and practicing martial arts as the main elements of public life, the community we are discussing is mainly the geographical community. For geographical communities, the role of information technology is mainly to enhance, record, store, and disseminate everyone’s public life; when we take online chats, online gaming, short videos, and online community governance as the main elements of public life, the community we are talking about is more of a metaverse community. For the metaverse community, information technology is not only a platform for public life, but also a medium for recording, storing, and disseminating public life. In fact, geographical communities and metaverse communities are sometimes the same, and sometimes metaverse communities can cross geographical barriers, allowing more people to establish relationships and have conversations.
In fact, when information technology becomes the background of our lives, the influence of geographical conditions on the meaning of our lives is relatively reduced. In this way, we reduce our dependence on the material environment and are more likely to reflect on the material environment where our physical bodies are located, thereby embracing new value scales and gradually breaking free from the value scale of industrial civilization.
It should be noted that the value scale of industrial civilization is efficiency-oriented, so quantification is necessary, and quantitative indicators are well-deserved hard indicators. For those of us who still live in industrial civilization, this is something that needs to be conscious. That is to say, if we still construct value scales around hard indicators, we will never be able to break away from the logic of industrial civilization, and it is also impossible to transform society into a kaleidoscope structure. In this sense, we must attach importance to soft indicators, that is, qualitative indicators, or qualitative descriptions of activities.
Based on an understanding of information technology, we may consider publicness (forming a common field beyond material and geographical barriers through the Internet), inheritability (being preserved through the Internet), and sustainability (reducing fossil energy consumption) as soft indicators for the transformation of social structure.
For example, publicness can be initially understood through factors such as viewing numbers, interaction situations, and interaction quality, and it also depends on the residents of the community’s expectations for public life. Some community residents may expect a high number of followers, while others may expect high quality interactions, and some community residents may simply expect to have a brother community where everyone can remotely follow and grow together. Inheritability is similar and depends on the community residents’ understanding of inheritance issues. For example, some communities attach great importance to numbering and classification, and compile digital content, just like writing a book, so that it is convenient for future generations to read and easier to inherit the memories of their predecessors.
It can be seen that both of these attributes belong to soft evaluation scales, which are difficult to measure quantitatively and require community residents to reach a consensus through negotiation. In the negotiation process, the naming of digital indicators in different communities can obviously be personalized. For example, in the metaverse game community, everyone can use their spare time to construct a level order such as bronze, silver, gold, and diamond to measure the development level of the community. Discussions can also extend beyond the public, inheritable, and sustainable characteristics I mentioned. Similarly, the cultivation community that relies more on geographical conditions can use a level order such as refining qi, building foundation, golden pill, primordial infant, and transforming deity to measure the development level of the community. In this process, the specific connotations of each term do not rely on external definitions but are confirmed through internal community negotiations. Of course, whether this connotation is good or bad is evaluated by people from external communities. If a community’s definition of its own level order is unreliable, it is difficult to gain recognition and attention from others.
Relatively speaking, sustainability is a possible quantifiable indicator, but the positioning of this indicator should also be soft. Taking transportation as an example, if everyone is limited to a certain number of trips per week, it will stifle the possibilities of diverse lifestyles. Reducing transportation should rely on attraction rather than coercion. If offline gatherings in the community and online interactions in the metaverse community become habitual ways of life for everyone, then everyone will naturally reduce their dependence on transportation.
In summary, for the digitalization process of communities, soft indicators are more important. If hard indicators dominate, the development of the community may deviate from its purpose (to improve the happiness of public life and enhance the public and inheritable nature of activities) and move towards a measurable direction. The development prospects of the community may be locked by various quantitative technologies and once again dominated by the efficiency logic of industrial civilization. If we talk about sustainability, the Maasai people’s way of life in the East African savannah is the most sustainable. They have lived for millions of years, but such a life is almost endlessly repetitive and can hardly be called living. Only when soft indicators dominate, only when the public life of the community becomes a desirable public life, can our discussions about sustainability be meaningful.
In fact, in terms of the existing conditions of modern cities, the vast majority of urban residents can gradually become digital residents. What is important is the transition process itself. If we transition based on hard indicators, the public awareness of urban residents will still not awaken, and they will still be unable to respond to the challenges faced by modern civilization. If we aim to revive public life and guide it through stories and ideas, allowing communities to spontaneously form internal soft indicators, there is hope to develop communities with unique characteristics and naturally foster the diversity of community culture.
Undoubtedly, this matter cannot be accomplished overnight, it is by no means a task that can be achieved in a short period of time. After all, everyone lives in history, lives within the existing value scale, and a change in lifestyle cannot happen overnight. The key issue is not to immediately achieve the ideal, but to let the ideal exist as an ideal, to allow everyone to communicate and discuss ideals, to enrich ideals about public life, and to gradually approach the ideal state of life.
Regardless, what we want to create is actually a positive trend. If more and more urban residents become digital residents, reduce the consumption of fossil energy, and begin to pursue excellence through speech and action, pay attention to recording and inheritance, then the quality of modern public life will gradually improve, everyone’s anxiety will be alleviated, and the sustainability of modern cities will be greatly enhanced. In this way, our ability to respond to the challenges of civilization will become stronger and stronger, and our living space in the world will become more and more extensive.
06. Immediate Hope and Distant Ideals
In the process of urban residents transitioning into digital residents, the biggest problem we face is not the issue of possibility, but rather path dependence and nihilism.
Path dependence refers to the fact that people are accustomed to competing on the existing track, because they are used to the scale provided by this track and are unwilling to accept new things and the new scale brought about by them. This is a universal phenomenon among human beings. Nihilism is also known as the Keynesian saying “In the long run, we are all dead,” or the common saying among modern people “After I die, let it flood.” Although we can say that in the long run, the life of digital residents in a digital ecological city is more desirable and sustainable, in the short term, this means social structural transformation, which means that urban residents need to explore and adapt to new ways of life, which is painful and requires adjustment. Path dependence and nihilism undoubtedly provide significant resistance during the adjustment process, and this is something that we need to face and resolve seriously.
The key issue lies in “immediate hope”. What we need to do is to reveal the hope that can be seen in front of us and connect this hope with a distant ideal.
The immediate hope may not necessarily be connected to a distant ideal, but may also be connected to human instincts and desires. For example, fitness is a typical “immediate hope” – anyone can achieve immediate and visible results through weightlifting, such as developing muscles. Perhaps martial artists are more cautious in the fitness process because this localized training method poses a great threat to the overall strength, and excessive emphasis on muscles may lead to neglect of fascia, tendons, bones, organs, and marrow. Perhaps traditional Chinese medicine would say that fitness often focuses on physical health, directing qi to the limbs, which leads to the neglect of nurturing internal organs. However, these cautious perspectives are often completely overwhelmed by the immediate and visible effects brought about by fitness, and detailed discussions and arguments are relegated to marginal discourse. At the same time, with the continuous expansion of mainstream consumerism discourse, muscles are associated with sex appeal, and fitness is linked to sex, motivating young people to engage in fitness even more. By exercising and improving physical fitness, attracting sexual partners, and making their sex lives more enjoyable, this is also a selfless expression. With the convergence of consumerism and pronatalism discourse, compared to the seemingly distant question of whether civilization can continue, in daily life, what most people are more concerned about is when they can start dating, when they can start having sex. This is understandable. In fact, most people’s desire to buy houses, cars, cosmetics, and skincare products is also trapped in a similar logic.
In fact, establishing a relationship or even a bond between consumer goods and sex can indeed provide strong consumption power for consumer society in the short term. Similarly, consumer-driven production, driven by instinctual consumption power, ultimately leads to the rapid development of the level of social consumer goods. Of course, the rapid development trend of the level of consumer goods, as a microcosm of the accelerating development trend of modern civilization, is also unsustainable. After all, both mineral resources and fossil energy are limited.
As we mentioned earlier, the so-called transformation of social structure fundamentally lies in the transformation of ideology, that is, recognizing the development trend of pyramid-like group structures and transforming the social structure into a kaleidoscope-like structure. This means that everyone’s material life can be easily satisfied, and we should start to care about higher purposes, such as the happiness of public life, the inheritance of human civilization memory, and the sustainability of civilization development, etc., “distant ideals”.
These higher purposes actually involve both immediate hopes and distant ideals. The key to the problem is that we can regard these hopes as practical hopes, speak out about these hopes in public life, and gradually surpass people’s desire for “earning money and consuming”. For example, a modern person who has two million already has the economic reserves to plan an ideal life, but someone with two million will not automatically become an idealist. Because of path dependence, someone with two million is more likely to live in the original track and take someone with ten million as a role model and try to surpass them. After all, it is too complicated to break free from the adapted “work-life” environment and plan one’s life on a larger world stage. It not only requires continuous learning of new knowledge but also the courage to face various uncertainties.
In addition to personal habits, path dependence also includes the ties with the people around us. When someone with two million wants to practice an ideal life, it also means that they need to find a relationship between this ideal life and the people around them. Otherwise, they will completely cut off from their original circle. With this kind of thinking, it is not easy to see the immediate hope, and it is even more difficult to explore the ideal life through practice.
However, in fact, if we truly see the immediate hope, the path of practice may not be as difficult as we imagine, and the distant ideal is not unreachable. This is because, in reality, the uncertainty we face is also limited, and sometimes distance can actually bring us closer to the people around us. The reason is that when we realize that we have always existed as a node within small pyramids, existing between many small pyramids, we can discover that the transformation of our way of existence will affect the changes of the whole world. Of course, this also means responsibility. Before bravely pursuing our own ideals, we need to repeatedly question our inner selves and repeatedly confirm our path because life cannot be restarted. Before demonstrating excellence in the public domain, each of us must go through a series of soul-searching journeys. On this soul-searching journey, the people around us may play various roles and set tests for us. We should cherish these precious tests and cherish friends who are willing to set tests for us.
In this sense, by writing articles to record their own actions, digital nomads have formed small pyramids in the online world. Or, we can say that each digital nomad is like a small lighthouse, illuminating the path for others: the activities of digital nomads not only awaken urban residents’ memories of public life, but also through their own practices, show urban residents a more diverse “present hope”, revealing the relationship between this happy public life and the inheritance of human civilization memory and the sustainability of civilization development.
This means that the key issue of ideological transformation lies in: what do we establish a relationship with and hope for.
In the past, consumer society established a relationship between sex and present hope, providing a huge driving force for social development, which has led to the current situation where overproduction and accelerated development are difficult to stop and maintain. Now, we need to consciously establish a connection between distant ideals and present hope, thereby gradually changing the direction of development of the entire modern civilization.
Superficially, this cause is like Nüwa repairing the sky, Kuafu chasing the sun, and Jingwei filling the sea. However, every time we speak the truth, there is a joy of responding to the challenges of the times. Every time we do something true, there is a joy of accomplishing something real. Moreover, if we can make good use of technology and actively embrace the possibilities provided by modern technology, then this task may not be as difficult as we imagine.
Perhaps when we find a suitable fulcrum, the entire chain of existence will begin to flip, just like Copernicus working around the eccentric uniform motion point of Ptolemy, ultimately bringing about a transformation in the human world view.