Ever since the end of the 18th century the question of what constitutes an individual has been asked persistently. The 21st century is no different, except for the methods by which we express our individuality. The fact that I live in a society means that everything I do affects, and is affected by, what others do. Indeed, I am a social being in more than just my interaction with other individuals. I am, to an extent, what others think and feel me to be. If I ask myself the question “Who am I” my answers (Scottish, an Internet entrepreneur, middle class (now), a cyclist etc) betray the fact that to possess these attributes entails being recognised as belonging to a certain group or class by other people in my society, and that this recognition is part of the meaning of most of the terms that denote some of my most personal and permanent characteristics.
It is not just that my material life (e.g. earning a living) depends upon interaction with other people, or that I am what I am as a result of social forces, but that some (perhaps all?) of my ideas about myself, in particular my sense of my own moral and social identity, are intelligible only in terms of the social network in which I am an element.
Now take that social network and make it global, make it virtual and make it 24/7…
The lack of freedom amounts, as often as not, to a lack of proper recognition. Ask the hoodies in the inner cities of the UK what makes them act as they do and many of the answers are directly, or indirectly, related to boredom as a byproduct of not being given anything or anywhere to express themselves. What most of us seek in terms of ‘Freedom’ is not security from being arrested, tyrannical governments, deprivation or the right to do anything I want to do, regardless of it’s impact on others. Rather, we seek simply to avoid being ignored, patronised or being taken for granted. We want freedom to be recognised as an individual, a distinct being rather than a formless part of an amalgam.
And what is true of the individual is true of groups too, from religious sects to entire nation states… to the creators of group pages on Facebook. The desire to be recognised as an individual (or group of like-minded fans of The Hills) with a will of its own