Understanding The Silent Majority

Short essay > Jack Bartrop > Amsterdam

Giving context to the social and cultural reality which inspired the creation of a new kind of online space.

Over the past 30 years, 3.36 billion humans have learnt to surf inside the same online public sphere. This Information Age has forced a shift from traditional mass media to mass-self communication. As a result, the world appears smaller, but we rarely see ourselves as any more influential.


One of the most widespread contemporary rituals is to produce walls, streams and feeds of self-doctored representations of our lives to accumulate the social capital of friends, followers and connections. We have become socially conditioned to document our contemporary lives to prove our existence ((content)), rather than explore what it means to us ((context)).


With ourselves at the centre, online hierarchies solidify, dissolve and reform around us to produce caricatured versions of the structures we often enter cyberspace to escape. Struggling to comprehend the difference between the virtual and real, we can easily find ourselves alone, uncontrollably swiping right, expecting technology to 3D-print a more promising reality. Experiencing life through a screen, the world appears increasingly fragmented by design. We are free from borders and simultaneously reminded of our distance from others.


Becoming the other

The Internet’s ever-evolving multi-media, data driven languages have enabled us to visualise, and tune into a collective consciousness. However, in the same breath, these digital dialects have allowed our individual identities to be increasingly conveyed as the sum of a career, income, self-image and consumerism.


Today, 46.4% of the world’s population are equipped with the technology to begin social relationships with virtually any other connected individual in cyberspace. It is predicted that 2-3 billion more people will have internet access by 2025. When we listen to this future globalized collective consciousness, will the volume just be louder, or will this cacophony of new voices change the way we perceive ourselves in relation to others?


The Silent Majority

The average 16-24 year old in the UK spends more than 27 hours a week on the Internet and their fingers scroll a distance of 5.03 miles per year. Whether this time is spent searching for something or someone, the 1% rule states that on every website, just 1 in 100 visitors will create what is being viewed, 10 will ‘interact’ (comment or edit) and the other 89% are defined as ‘lurkers’ (observing, but not actively participating). Despite the silent majority, as civilians and corporations compete for the same maximum number of eyeballs, many believe that we are fast approaching a state of “Content Shock”; the point in which digital content production eclipses our human capacity to consume it.


As our news feeds become floods, perhaps many of us will begin to feel even less compelled to share our ideas, talents or knowledge when our distinction of taste and identity begins to resemble a game of ‘Like’ Whac-a-mole.


The Information Age may not be infinite, but the dissemination of information is the primary catalyst for change. As the wealth of the world’s richest 1% now equals that of the 99%, we’re increasingly reminded that we can’t afford the world we buy into. As a result, we can easily become alienated; another member of the silent majority.


The antithesis of alienation is community. Forming and maintaining communities has been fundamental to human survival and evolution. In cyberspace, as groups of disparate individual creators, commenters and lurkers engage in public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feelings; webs of personal relationships are formed and virtual communities can be imagined. As our daily social interactions become decreasingly limited by geography, it is only imagined boundaries and barriers that prevent us from engaging with others. We are all self-conditioned to consume new ideas and new conversations, while simultaneously being apathetic about starting them.


In both real and virtual shared spaces, we can discover our own social needs and meet them by confronting our differences through conversation and collaboration. Like cell division, a community can begin to form. An online community’s meeting space may be virtual, but its members’ commitment to a social experience can be as real as the phones and laptops they use to engage.


Set against the volatile urban landscape of cyberspace, Safe House Co is an imagined community centre. It is a secret place of sanctuary for the silent majority. Conversation starters are welcomed to exhibit their stories, creations and knowledge without worry of prejudice. It is a territory defined by its inhabitants, with walls that will be continually constructed and deconstructed. Anonymously or explicitly, each visitor profits from an expanding economy of ideas developing from within. Together, we give deeper context to a contemporary understanding of ourselves and others.