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Who is the modern man?
Or woman... But I thought it made for a simpler title. But I guess I'm wondering what it means to be modern in today's world and how today's modernity is different from previous ones. And if the term "modern" can transgress time and mean different things for different periods, is there any possibility for a single definition?

I'm not sure if there is a definition but I know the idea of the modern man has been explored through literature for at least centuries. T.S. Eliot and Joyce come to mind, but also Bram Stoker and Ibsen notably looked at the modern woman. I got thinking about the subject from the post about vampires.

In Dracula the modern man struggled with the cohesion of tradition/faith to the new power of science. The characters struggled with old demons in a new world and the future wasn't a beautiful dream of opportunities, it was a foreboding and dark place filled with monsters created by science. At the turn of the century the modern man was one who was in limbo, trapped between the old world and the new with no sense of direction.

After WWI the ideas shifted towards acceptance of the fact that there is no future, that meaningless war can erupt at any minute and tomorrow your city might be leveled to the ground. The modern man of 1920 was also in limbo, but his past and future weren't as tangible as the characters from Dracula. The 1920 modern man only has fragments of an existence, his life is knowingly meaningless.

So where do we stand today? What does it mean to be modern? Do we still exist in limbo? In between past and future? Could that be the definition of modernity, to be stuck between history and possibility? To know what it means to be modern today must we know how we relate to the past and how we are traveling towards the future? What does it really mean to be in limbo, to be constantly in purgatory? And are we really?
In my opinion we are on the verge of a reconstruction of our understanding of the modern man. In this post Francis describes the scanner and the juggler personality types. She describes a shift from the specialist towards the generalist. And I can see this shift already underway.

The modern man is the entrepreneur with 100 hands in 100 different pools. The modern man looks something like the hipster (post ) but most like a hyperlink. He has the capability to structure all those fragments from The Waste Land into a coherent and stable structure. The modern man is reconciling himself to technological change and readying himself for constant movement. The modern man lives in a house on wheels.

James Joyce and T.S. Eliot were preoccupied with their countries and their position to it. The modern man in Dracula was afraid of foreign countries. The modern man today can fall from a plane and land inside any border and feel safe, still feel connected to home and still understand his relationship to both his current position and his global one.

I don't think we are in a purgatory or in a limbo, I think now more than ever we have a greater understanding of our relationship to the past, but now I think we are less dependent on history and are more set for a new age of discovery. The modern man's eyes are constantly in search of the next horizon, are constantly in search  for new universes to explore.

The modern man is a global citizen. The modern man is a wikipedia page, he is a compilation of overlapping hyperlinks that each connect him to the outer reaches of the universe.

I don't think the term modern has any lasting definition. How could it? Modernity passes in an instant. It's happening right now and it's ending right now. So rather than think of modernity as the necessary connector between past and future, can't we just think of one single line where all are constantly occurring?
This is quite an interesting idea. I never thought of "modernity" in such a progression. Quite frankly, when I first thought of "modern" I thought of broad issues like better human rights, better transparency, better anti-discrimination laws - issues that we have seen happening in the second half of the 20th century. This eventually lead me to the idea that Mark introduced, the global man: A man/woman who can fit anywhere, a cohesive culture that obliterates superficial differences like race, nationality, gender.

In previous years, "modern" was almost always associated with "Western." Coming from the Middle East, this was my initial impression. But it gets murky. Hanna, I don't think we can ever find one constant definition for the "modern man/woman." The modern man in the times of Renaissance is noticeable different from that in our time. The only thing that will stay constant is the change of that definition and our ideas. My only hope is that "modern" will always indicate "better."
I also have a bit of an ambivalent relation to the word "modern" and to the question of the modern person, which can be a way of describing a kind of generational leader/hero or a way of talking about the "man of the crowd." My reaction to the original question is as much "who are these strange people I find myself among?" as it is "who have we become?" or "who best exemplifies our age?"

I agree with Dalal in that a lot of what I hope for from modernity has to do with major improvements in social issues and in constructing a world in which, as much as possible, the obstacles to becoming a fulfilled human being are not economic, religious, racial or gendered. But there is of course a world of difference between the leveling of infrastructure, which has to do with society, and the operations which Mark describes which, I agree, seem to be operating on the level of the individual person. A world in which a person can travel freely between countries is not the same as a world in which people are not a citizen of any country. When the dismantling of categories happens on an individual level the effects are initially liberating, but can also be deeply problematic. Rather than opening the door of a house to allow people free passage in and out, it amounts to leveling the house. In the long run this might produce people with much more enlightened ideas of shelter, but on the other hand, it might not.

Wikipedia pages are a good analogy for Mark's "global person". Though informative, they are relatively shallow and contain a series of pointers to other places which one might visit if one wanted; the links are somewhat ambivalent, full of possibilities and suggestions, but not really a part of the page itself; in fact the authors of the page might not even have visited them, and they often change. In fact, as Mark hints, what is really distinctive about Wikipedia as opposed to an encyclopedia of the past is the fact that it is, fundamentally, a diffuse collection of hyperlinks.

Compare this to the great thinkers of the past. If one reads Montaigne for instance, it is difficult to go more than a paragraph without tripping over a quote or a reference, but these aren't hyperlinks; they are treasures which he has brought home from his travels through the kingdom of thought. Ideally, of course, his reader has traveled there also, and so the production of these various postcards conjures up a whole story in the mind, a mood and taste which frames and flavors the argument being given.

In the old world a map was a collection of cities, each one a world unto itself. But now our maps consist almost entirely of roads, which is why I think one of the characteristics of modernity is the flighty or hyperactive person, who flits from place to place and has nowhere to rest.
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Latest Post: July 16, 2011 at 12:54 AM
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