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Abstract

In his landmark essay The Metropolis and Mental Life, Georg Simmel drew the distinction between two “different, yet corresponding” aspects of modernity, which become embodied in the metropolis “as one of those great historical formations in which opposing streams which enclose life unfold, as well as join one another with equal right.” Raymond Williams termed these individuality, which “stresses both a unique person and his (indivisible) membership of a group,” and individualism, “a theory not only of abstract individuals but of the primacy of individual states and interests,” the former being something that diminishes in the metropolis, while the latter is intensified. With the emergence of “digital life,” including new spheres of virtual interaction, these forces take on new forms and characteristics which need to be articulated and understood more widely if plans for the ‘digital city’ and ‘urban transformation’ are to be open, accessible, and generally beneficial. In what follows Simmel’s insights are developed with consideration of work by Williams, Zygmunt Bauman, Erving Goffman, and Richard Sennett, leading to an outline of the paradoxical, ambivalent, and complex nature of the digital metropolis.

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