In the early part of the 20th Century German photographer August Sander endeavored to document all of the social classes and professions that made up society. The impact of modernization on Germany at the time was disorienting and Sanders genuinely hoped to classify and make sense of the world he found himself in. His great unfinished work was called People of the 20th Century.
Sanders wasn’t the only one trying to make sense of the world emerging around him. German media, after World War I, was obsessed with documenting the new face of womanhood after World War I, as the new morality and reality of the Weimar Republic took hold. I don’t believe we’re in another Weimar Republic situation today, by no means – but I do believe the technological change, coupled with a pervasively weak economy and clouded prospects for jobs and livelihoods, is tremendously dislocating to citizens of the West. People are worried, angry and looking for answers. Now that we’re all seemingly connected to each other through the internet, that’s a source of trouble too.
It leaves people searching for new ways in this world, new meanings, and explanations for the order of society, the economy, politics and the place of the individual.
It strikes me that now, in the early part of the 21st Century, we have a new kind of person, whose motivations and ways of expression over the internet are unique and distinct for this time. Some are paid workers of the Kremlin. Some identify with the pro-Slavic positions, but live outside of Russia. But others probably don’t even have the ethnic connection to Russia, at all.
Intriguingly, there are people who troll pro-Kremlin opinions for free and for their own purposes (either wittingly or unwittingly). They have to be seen as unique to our era, seeking to fill their days with meaning by posting abuse and ridicule and skepticism at positions, ideas, and figures that they, or those goading the trolls on, disagree with.
The irony is that they use US-made technology (Twitter, Facebook, etc) to tear down the US and its politicians. For those who aren’t paid trolls, they must see trolling as a source of meaning, the experience of online anonymous abuse against one cause or person presumably for a more just cause as a kind of world-ordering activity. They are truly a product of this time. A new kind of person of the 21st Century.