“For better or worse business invites you to remake it, to consolidate it into a shape you can live in. You too can decide who you are and the business will again assume a fixed form around you. Decide what it is in your own identity will be revealed like a map fixed by triangulation. Businesses are quite like cities, and unlike villages and small towns, in that they are plastic by nature. We mold them in our images and they in their turn shape us by the resistance they offer when we try to impose our own personal form of them.

Jonathan Raban


The world’s locked up in your head

You’ve been pouring in a concrete bed

Nada Surf


This is a companion piece to “the flattening of people and society.” The term ‘depthlessness’ actually comes from Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism by Frederic Jameson. Jameson suggests “depthlessness” is defined by the postmodernism’s refusal of depth and focus on surface. In other words, things are superficial and have no depth beyond what is displayed on the surface, i.e., we reside in a world of superficiality. Tie this to Jean Baudrillard’s claim postmodernity was defined by a shift into hyperreality in which simulations replace the real and we are officially off to the societal race where representations replace reality. In fact it was Baudrillard who suggested we would be reaching a point where reality was replaced by false images to the level where most in society cannot distinguish between the real and the unreal. Twisting his thinking a bit what I would suggest is reality takes work to really see. What I mean by that is (using his word) representation in what we see day in and day out and, in today’s world, phone alert by phone alert, only reflects a superficial representation of reality. It has little, or no, depth.

Which leads me to that ‘depthlessness’ thing.

We often discuss a need for ‘instant gratification’ or even just the fear of missing out all of which encourages an overall lack of depth. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest this depthlessness seems to have pervaded society and rhetoric and it has some inherent dangers. One of those dangers is loss of control. Without depth we all end up skating on the superficial surface of the mostly meaningless. Therefore, even what we would consider deep and considered decisions really are not anchored in anything deeper than anything else that other people are thinking. I believe it was Charles Newman in the New York Times, sometime in the 1980s, who said “the flattest possible characters in the flattest possible landscapes rendered in the flattest possible diction.” Flat or depthlessness all I know is the collapse of substance and thinking and of anything that could be construed as long term, combined with a preoccupation with the instantaneous, has created an emphasis on everything with lack of depth. The circling back to ‘control,’ this not only increases a sense of diminishing control it, literally, does create a loss of true individual autonomy and helplessness, i.e., control. It is within this depthlessness recurrent larger issues, some would call the meta crisis, wallow. Without depth we not only cannot understand but certainly cannot come up with any meaningful solutions and, therefore, our depthlessness has created a lack of control over issues.

Which leads me to suggest this has nothing to do with postmodernism and more to do with people, culture and sucking at critical thinking.

I’m neither a philosopher or sociologist so I’m not qualified to talk about what post modernism is or is not. For today though I believe I can talk about depthlessness in terms of technosocialism. What I mean by that for decades there have been discussions on whether technology drives society or society drives technology. Personally, I find the argument unimportant. They weave together like an intricate dance. That said. Technology has amplified flattening. Deathlessness may be a feature or characteristic of postmodernism, but what I would actually argue is from a societal standpoint it is a characteristic of people. What I mean by that is as things become more complex and complicated and fragmented, people will feel significantly more comfortable on the superficial level. And I believe everyone could agree that technology has certainly made the information world more complex, more complicated, and more fragmented.

“We erect our structure and imagination before we erect it in reality.


We have always felt more comfortable with binaries and we have always felt more comfortable when what we imagined appeared to relate to reality. Things get a bit tricky here because both binaries and imagination thrive, or reside on contradictions to reality. It is easy to say, for example, ‘things were better back then” and the reality is “things are better now” and both things can be, simultaneously, true. It is a contradiction, even theoretically in conflict, and, yet, uncomfortably, both can be true. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that it’s the exploration of contradiction which tends to lie at the heart of all original thought as well as the heart of truth. It is within that exploration where we find the power to improvise. Shaped not only by imagination, but by experience, exploration of ‘what could be’ uncovers an almost endless ability (mentally) to test the limits of what history (the past) may have suggested is not only probable but possible. This is kind of important with regard to this depthlessness thing because inevitably a society will have people who imagine and people who don’t. It is somewhere within the space between which leads to progress, leads to cultural touchstones and the exploration of simultaneous newand permanence. Where depthlessness becomes an issue is when this becomes a conflict between two worlds of people, the depth and the depthlessness, who process similar information, but envision different future possibilities. To be clear. They can simultaneously have the same set of ‘values’ and yet envision an entirely different future state. Anyhoo. I once scribbled down the phrase this is what precisely defines the common experience. Common experience is found not in the commonality, but within the differences.

Everyone’s right and no one is sorry

That’s the start and the end of the story

From the Sharks and the Jets to the call in the morning

And life is just bets anyway

Nada Surf

Interestingly, we have having this conflict when discussing technology – LLMs to be specific. Reality and hallucinations. The machines, not really understanding the depth of any specific topic, will ‘hallucinate’ and create some alternative reality. We could even stretch this concept to human vision. Within the complexity of the eye we make up most of what we see and the components within the eye ‘predict’ the image we see.  Uhm, hallucination. Regardless, we use a lot of implicit knowledge about the world and how the world works to understand shit and depthlessness simply amplifies the likelihood of ‘not seeing’ some important shit..

Which leads me to This depthlessness reaches into the bowels of society.

What I mean by that is that it affects how individual people citizens think about some very important issues. Or maybe I should say how we don’t think about some very important issues. Whether we wanna use the complexity of everyday life as an excuse or not, the truth is the majority of people skate along the superficial surface of irrelevant data and information. For example, an important issue like the economy loses any depth as people simplistically suggest things were better than or, specifically, the economy was better for me during the Trump Administration than it Is now. Better is defined on a superficial level based on some individual things important to the individual. This isn’t to suggest that the benefit to “I” is not an important issue; just that it lacks depth. The reality is that pre-covid, at least in the United States, the government used every trick and tactic to prop up the economy for the everyday person despite some horrible policies which affected the depth, resilience, and strength of the economy. Superficially, on the surface, the duck was paddling along quite effectively, but underneath in the depths of the pond the bacteria were growing and the pond scum was rising to the top. Horrible metaphor or not, it’s an example of depthlessness. It ends up being part reality and part hallucination in society.

  • ** note: I am happy to go, in depth, on the economy precovid, covid, and postcovid, at a different time. I am simply making a point on depthlessness today.

Climate and clean energy would be another incredibly important topic which most everyday people approach with depthlessness. While the powers are certainly against us understanding the depth of the issues, I would argue that exploring the depths of this particular issue is a fairly dark place. Most sane people avoid dark places. The problem is today’s corporate-dominated global capitalist system is incapable of protecting us from the ecological consequences of our current way of life which are essentially locked in by the interlocking network of business institutions imposing their will against society. Don’t believe me? Well. The young people, who still are open to exploring depth and haven’t completely fell under the sway of the Will of Institutions, know that climate change is upon us and accelerating, and that they and their descendants will disproportionately bear its escalating burdens long after the people who got us into this mess are gone. Regardless. The embrace of depthlessness permits this entire discussion to reside in a conflict of superficiality.

While I am going to move on to business, let me lastly state here, we must recognize that the damage being done to our world is not the result of natural evolution or the natural arc of history; it is the result of system policies, the system’s wealthy and powerful, and the system’s institutions, supported by those of us who tolerate or, worse, accept, this system. If we explore the depths of the issue, and the system, we can, well, design a new system.

Which leads me to business, the ‘institutions’, culpable to depthlessness.

Shorttermerism is actually grounded in depthlessness, but I would argue the worst offender of depthlessness is actually business leadership. One of my most popular writings, ‘the hollowing out of business by one generation,’ which outlines depthtlessness without ever really referring to depthlessness. Business leaders found it was to their own personal benefit to have the everyday employee skating along the superficial surface of data, information, objectives, KPIs, and milestones.

I think I wrote this today because I rub elbows with some fairly nerdy intellectual people and within some discussion on postmodernism and post-postmodernism (I told you it can be nerdy) it occurred to me this really wasn’t some sociological, or philosophical, ‘deep discussion,’ but rather depthlessness was a control mechanism by leadership and a short cut to encourage some specific objectives and more a reflection of a system imposing its will rather than some intellectual society decision. I started noodling the thought that depthlessness was simply a feature, or characteristic, of some version of Taylorism which, as I have argued a number of times, is not just a business ideology but has become a societal ideology. Yeah. I began thinking that depthlessness was an, uhm, ideology. That isn’t to say it isn’t an individual choice or mindset, but rather if we, as individuals, want to explore more depth and substance on some really really important issues than we, as individuals, probably have to make the decision to shed the shackles of an ideology to dissolve the hallucinations. Or, circling back to one of my opening quotes, we need to break up the concrete bed we poured for ourselves. Ponder.

Written by Bruce