Does the term “culture” even mean anything, given humanity’s turn away from particularity and toward a more fluid world of never-ending change? Philosopher Byung-Chul Han, known for his treatise-like reflections on modern life, combining philosophical inquiry with cultural critique. Han objectively delineates and clarifies modern society’s existential ailments, while trying to discern where we may be going on the current trajectory. His book Hyperculture: Culture and Globalization is a look at the way the world is shifting due to globalization.
Who are we as human in this strange world? Are we mere tourists, to use Han’s metaphor, or are we searching for a deeper meaning? By definition, a tourist collects experiences that are often superficial, and the way we experience culture today seems to operate on the same level. Rootlessness to such an extreme can lead to a total existential breakdown. Any notion of boundaries, be they metaphysical or geographical, will quickly dissipate and with that the perennial question of what it means to be human. After all, it is our differences that maintain creativity as well as, unfortunately, destruction.
The worlds are shifting, and the question is whether a new world is emerging. “After the end of culture,” writes Han, “should the new human being simply be called ‘tourist’? Or are we at long last living in a culture that affords us the freedom to spread into the wide open world? If we are, how might we describe this new culture?” Han is alluding to the “end of culture,” which is enough to make everyone quite depressed. Fast-moving technology has precipitated this change, and we cannot turn back the clock. Technology has tapped into human listlessness and spiritual torpor, taking many souls hostage.