When I was stuck in traffic again this morning and listening to the radio, I heard about the news that Belgium is facing tremendous trouble in forming a new government after the most recent elections. The same has been true in the past for The Netherlands, where the results of the elections provided the image of a very divided country, with quite some votes for the more extreme left-wing and right-wing parties. It took quite a while to form a government, and the Dutch voters are now stuck with a government that nobody is really enthousiastic for (except maybe the families of the new ministers and the memebers of the three coalition partners).
But enough about politics, this blog is about
perspective on IT. But I think this trend in politics could have
something to do with a growing structural differentiation in society due
to technology. Let me explain why.
Somehow, I really have the
impression that in many aspects in society and our everyday life we are
experiencing the consequences of what sociologists call "modernization".
This refers to a concept that describes a process in which society goes
through industrialization, urbanization and other social changes that
completely transforms the lives of individuals. Key elements in
modernization are structural differentiation and cultural
generalization, or in plain English increasing individualism and
mono-culture. Lately, this modernization appears to be happening at warp
speed, not in the last place because of the explosive growth of
technology usage in Western society. The use of technology and new (IT)
concepts, especially those branded as Web 2.0, accelerate the processes
of structural differentiation and cultural generalization.
I wrote about culutural generalization before in a reaction to Nick Carr's claim that Web 2.0 is amoral. Former Internet boy wonder Andrew Keen goes as far as saying
that today's internet is even killing our culture. Although I have some
second thoughts hearing this from somebody who made a fortune on the
internet (that's not "eat your own dog food", but "spit in your own dog
food"), I have ordered his book for the Christmas holidays that are
coming up. It should be an interesting read.
On the other hand,
there appears to be some evidence that the explosion of internet usage
is also accelerating structural differentiation I mentioned earlier.
According to Oxford University Press, societies are seen as moving from
the simple to the complex via a process of social change based on
structural differentiation. The process may be imagined, in its simplest
form, as an amoeba dividing, redividing, then redividing again. Society
is evolving from quite simple structures into seperate institutions of
education, work, leisure, government, religion and social contacts. Most
people do not stay with the same employer their entire working life
anymore, some even work at 2 or 3 different employers, churches see a
declining number of people, small political parties are attracting
voters from the traditional larger parties, mass markets are being
replaced by niche markets (Long Tail, anyone?). In fact even identities
of single persons are differentiating: John Doe who works as a loyal
clerk during day-time, may be SuperVixen666 in his favorite virtual
world at night.
Media is already heavily influenced by the 2.0
phenomenon (serious newspapers publishing movies of incidents that were
filmed by readers with their cameras on their mobile phones), politics
arguably also is facing the consequences of the wisdom of the crowd
(some might say the power of the mob) and the collective intelligence.
It will be very difficult to predict where this is all leading to, but
for sure society is dealing with Modernization 2.0.