by J. Brown
I grew up in the eighties. My folks moved from NY to Los Angeles and settled into the comfort of a big house, two-car garage, and three kids. We were never in want for money. My dad made millions as the vice president of a huge construction firm. I was raised to believe that there was no limit to what I could attain. The milieu of my childhood is best exemplified by a t-shirt that hung in my dad’s closet, and would sometimes be bandied around for laughs, it read: “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
In the nineties, I moved from LA to NY for college and rejected the era of my upbringing as representing a glorification of the superficial. I was one of the x-generation slackers who grew up alongside the corporatization of America, whose only defense against the takeover of everyday life was feigned apathy. On some level, I felt despair over something I could not explain but, being young and without a sense of consequence, I still believed that I was entitled to more.
Then Kurt Cobain killed himself.
I was never really all that into Nirvana before Kurt’s death, but the news struck a deep chord in me that echoed through the void of my unexamined discontent. I felt deeply cynical and wounded by the story of an x-gen kid like me who makes it big writing songs that speak to the angst of my generation but then decides to kill himself in the face of co-option by the machine that we were all hoping to topple. Not to mention, my dad was left bankrupt after my mom’s death from leukemia, so I graduated from school in debt and without any financial support.
Fortunately, back then, there was a thriving counterculture in NYC. Yoga provided me new resources to heal and learn about myself, and a lifestyle that did not exist in my parents’ generation. I embraced a profession that was concerned with human well-being and not beholden to any corporations. The economy had yet to reach peak bubble and a huge wave of yoga industry was just swelling off afar, waiting to emerge and engulf. I don’t think any of us really saw the writing on the wall.
Then the internet happened.
Just as the true economic potential for yoga started appearing across the research and development desks of large-scale fitness companies, the internet exploded. This gave independent players a more level playing field. In fact, those with early computer savvy had a jump on everyone else, including big corporations. Even just a little bit of html literacy gave anyone an equal chance to place at the top of a search. The internet felt wide open and limitless, like a window into everything.
Social media appeared and made the digital landscape seem less infinite and more local. Facebook reconnected us with our old high school friends, and elicited a new sort of excitement around having fifteen minutes of digital fame. Blogs and comment threads spurred interactions and engagement between people who would never have had the opportunity otherwise. The world wide web made everything seem possible again.
But somewhere along the way, the rug got pulled out from underneath us.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when corporations managed to seize control over the internet, but they most certainly have. Even when I’m not being manipulated into buying things I don’t want or need, the data I create with my online activity is being profited from. Facebook just feels dirty now. My posts have become ad campaigns that I have to pay to promote so my friends will see them. Connecting online so easily devolves into ways of profiting off of each other more than providing any sort of value exchange.
Online financialization has brought forth new kinds of stealth digital monopolies. Most of the time, we are not even aware of how much the scales are tilted. The portals have a lock on the game. Honest content creators are routinely coerced by the myth of exposure into giving up ownership. What we see in our timelines is dictated by algorithms not designed in our best interests. The internet has largely become a distortion chamber. No wonder it’s so difficult to figure out what is actually happening.
With the real world left behind, it’s ours to inhabit.
As much as I value the internet as a resource, and will continue to take advantage of the avenues it affords, I’ve decided it’s an inadequate platform to stake too much of my life on. Now that big business has moved online, and the repercussions of virtual realities are roosting in horrible ways, I’m looking for the spaces abandoned by corporations, where I can feel less encumbered by the misgivings of our digital age.
I envision a more organic stasis, where the value of my business is not pinned to growth and my life pursuits can better reflect the balance that I foster in my practice. But in order for this to be possible, I will need to be bold enough to explore more mutual aid endeavors and local peer-to-peer commerce. Breaking from established narratives requires my efforts to originate outside of the broken operating systems that govern them, and be manifest in the real world.
This post was inspired by a podcast I recorded with Douglas Rushkoff. For a far more nuanced consideration, I invite you to give it a listen:
J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer, podcaster and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and across the yoga blogosphere. Visit his website at jbrownyoga.com