Thursday, May 26, 2011

Social Identities--a growing problem?

I think it was Neil Postman who first alerted me to the fact that although more people are texting and sms-ing and emailing than ever before, what they are writing about is becoming less and less. Or, to put it another way, as we move towards becoming a global village, we all start to live in that same village: that is, we live, breathe, and talk about the same things. If, for example, a political leader is shot in France, then wherever we live in the world that will be in our newspapers, on our radios and TVs, and in our Facebook statuses within a few hours.

This doesn't just mean that our personal identities are being swallowed up by our social identities; it means something even more serious. For media to become mass media, information must always be dumbed down; mass in this area means in practice the lowest common denominator. So more and more of us are learning less and less.

I was struck by this phenomenon recently when I heard high school students singing the lyrics of Rihanna's S&M single. The students also had watched the S&M video countless times. But, when asked, they didn't know what S&M meant. And they certainly hadn't heard of the Marquis De Sade or Masoch.

If you don't know where it's from, how can you know where it's going?

Yes, we're all becoming citizens of the global village; but in the process we're all losing our individual roots. If you don't know about De Sade and Masoch, then presumably you'll think S&M is perfectly normal adult behaviour: and before too long it probably will be. Without roots, everything is on the surface, superficial, without depth, and ephemeral. There is no context because there is no history; and without context there is ultimately no point of comparison; and without comparison there is no ethical basis on which to build.

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