In Conversation

How the internet changed culture — and what it means

“We’re in a period of bizarre monoculture, even though we were promised some sort of amazing long tail of diversity,” says W. David Marx, author of the new book Status and Culture.

W. David Marx
W. David Marx / Photo courtesy

What even is cool? In the new book Status and Culture, author W. David Marx tries to explain why we, as status-seeking individuals, do what we do, and how that — in aggregate — forms what we call culture.

It’s an ambitious attempt to codify something massive and complex, and is worth your attention.

Most interesting in the context of The New Consumer is how the ubiquity of the internet — and now having multiple generations of consumers raised online — continues to change how culture is created and spread. It’s faster and more democratic, but, Marx argues, has created a “period of bizarre monoculture.”

Marx walked me through some of his research and analysis in a recent call from Tokyo, where he’s a longtime resident. (You may recognize him as the author of one of my favorites: Ametora: How Japan Saved American Style.)

Our conversation follows, edited for clarity and length.

Frommer: How has the internet changed the flow of culture?

Marx: What I tried to do in the book is look at — more or less — what are the classical understandings of status, desire, and how hierarchies work and how culture happens as a result.

Understanding that, it’s really clear what the internet is doing. Ultimately, the internet makes a couple of really big changes to cultural flows.

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Dan Frommer

Hi, I’m Dan Frommer and this is The New Consumer, a publication about how and why people spend their time and money.

I’m a longtime tech and business journalist, and I’m excited to focus my attention on how technology continues to profoundly change how things are created, experienced, bought, and sold. The New Consumer is supported entirely by your membership — join now to receive my reporting, analysis, and commentary directly in your inbox, via my member-exclusive newsletter. Thanks in advance.

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