Extraordinary is the New Ordinary

Kevin Kelly, in The Improbable is the New Normal, an article on how the internet increasingly exposes us to massive quantities of impossible and improbable events, explores how that may affect our culture.

Every minute a new impossible thing is uploaded to the internet and that improbable event becomes just one of hundreds of extraordinary events that we’ll see or hear about today. The internet is like a lens which focuses the extraordinary into a beam, and that beam has become our illumination. It compresses the unlikely into a small viewable band of everyday-ness. As long as we are online – which is almost all day many days — we are illuminated by this compressed extraordinariness. It is the new normal.

When we get bored of our ordinary lives, consuming stories about the extraordinary can be an addictive, if temporary, remedy for all the mundanity we experience.

That light of super-ness changes us. We no longer want mere presentations, we want the best, greatest, the most extraordinary presenters alive, as in TED. We don’t want to watch people playing games, we want to watch the highlights of the highlights, the most amazing moves, catches, runs, shots, and kicks, each one more remarkable and improbable than the other.

We are also exposed to the greatest range of human experience, the heaviest person, shortest midgets, longest mustache — the entire universe of superlatives! Superlatives were once rare — by definition — but now we see multiple videos of superlatives all day long, and they seem normal. Humans have always treasured drawings and photos of the weird extremes of humanity (early National Geographics), but there is an intimacy about watching these extremities on video on our phones while we wait at the dentist. They are now much realer, and they fill our heads.

This reminds me of walking through the Louvre Museum. Because there are so many amazing things to see, amazing becomes ordinary. Context is everything. In another environment, some of the less amazing pieces in the Louvre become the extraordinary ones. Yet in the Louvre they are ordinary.

When everything is amazing you get overwhelmed at first. After a prolonged exposure, you become desensitized to it.

Needless to say, to stand out, you need to be extraordinary. But the definition of extraordinary depends on your environment, context, individual characteristics and the amount of exposure to the remarkable or amazing.