Roger Cohen, The Quest to Belong
Next year’s Thanksgiving grace.
Henry Farrell skewers Jeff Jarvis, Evgeny Morazov, and Andrew Keen as poor thinkers and worse, charlatans and buffoons, but winds up giving up on tech intellectuals as a whole:
In a better world, technology intellectuals might think more seriously about the relationship between technological change and economic inequality. Many technology intellectuals think of the culture of Silicon Valley as inherently egalitarian, yet economist James Galbraith argues that income inequality in the United States “has been driven by capital gains and stock options, mostly in the tech sector.”
They might think more seriously about how technology is changing politics. Current debates are still dominated by pointless arguments between enthusiasts who believe the Internet is a model for a radically better democracy, and skeptics who claim it is the dictator’s best friend.
Finally, they might pay more attention to the burgeoning relationship between technology companies and the U.S. government. Technology intellectuals like to think that a powerful technology sector can enhance personal freedom and constrain the excesses of government. Instead, we are now seeing how a powerful technology sector may enable government excesses. Without big semi-monopolies like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft to hoover up personal information, surveillance would be far more difficult for the U.S. government.
Obviously he has not read my work, but I suppose it is only big names who have been embraced by the centrist middle of the American muddle that rise high enough in the ether to be discovered by a self-described non-tech intellectual, like Farrell.
I agree that there are few of us who are not libertarian — but actual progressives or socialists — writing frequently about income inequality and the dark relationship of tech-dominated culture with the forces that divide us from our selves.
Maybe the book I am working on will change that.
Mark Josephson, who lead sales and marketing at Patch for the past two year has left the company. Josephson was CEO of equally poor performing Outside.in when it was acquired by AOL two years ago.
AOL’s content group posted a loss of $5 back in May, making $146.4M on its membership business. Yes, that’s people dialing into the internet through AOL.
I’ve maintained for years that Patch would never take off (see We Don’t Want Hyperlocal News, We Want Social News), and I wrote similar observations about Outside.in back in the early days (see Jarvis Is A Local Yokel, and First Look: Outside.in), and other hyperlocal bellyflops (see Everyblock is yet another proof point that no one understands hyperlocal, if it means anything at all).
Josephson probably just got tired of beating his head on Tim Armstrong’s $100M investment in Patch, which is going nowhere.
It’s time for AOL’s investors to can Armstrong, shut down Patch, and let Huffington steer the company somewhere, using the cash flow from the declining membership business to build something new.
I recently stumbled upon an October 17 2011 jeremiad by Nathan Jurgenson calling for public intellectuals to regain the lost ground in technology writing that has been yielded to business-oriented writers:
Nathan Jurgenson, The Rise of the Internet (Anti)-Intellectual?
My goal in this short piece is to encourage the reader to take a look at these two essays in tandem to suggest a further conversation about the need for public intellectuals, the role of academics in framing theories of new technologies and what the consequences are when we leave this discussion to be dominated by business folks.
Jurgenson’s post uses Larry Sanger’s Is There a New Geek Anti-Intellectualism? and Evengy Morozov’s The Internet Intellectual as a two-lane point of departure, and as a result Jurgenson winds up commenting on Jarvis’ techno-utopian views on the privacy-publicy debate (which Jarvis calls publicness, and Jurgenson calls publicity). That debate is actually a side track to Jurgenson’s actual point:
My problem is really not with Jarvis, but the fact that these “books that should have remained a tweet”, as Morozov states, have dominated the conversation about what the rise of new and social media means. I do not care that these fun little books exist, but that they are dominating the public conversation.
Perhaps the fault lies with the more rigorous intellectuals, both in and outside academia, who have made themselves largely absent from the public conversation about new technologies? Where is the Marshall McLuhan of social media? Why is it that Jeff Jarvis is setting the public conversation on publicity, Andrew Keen on amateurism, Tapscott and Williams on prosumption, Siva Vaidhyanathan on the impact of Google on society or Chris Anderson on abundance economies and “free”? To be clear, I think it is good that these folks hit on important topics in a catchy way. But they cannot be the whole picture, nor should they even be at the center. None of them provide a rigorous historical or theoretical treatment of their topics. (We called out Siva Vaidhyanathan on this blog after attending his a-theoretical talk at a public university).
If we can indeed convince more scholars to take on these topics, and there are many who are doing so already, do they have any chance at being public intellectuals? That is, can the ideas be delivered in a way that engages those interested, regardless if they have a degree in any specific field? For intellectuals to be public intellectuals they will need to be as engaging of writers as those authors listed above.
Or maybe the blame for the Sesame Street level books that dominate tech-writing is that publishers simply are not allowing public intellectuals to publish their ideas? I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has insights into this area.
In the meantime, I think the two essays linked to above are an important pairing to start a conversation over who gets to frame how new technologies are understood. Will it be a-historical, a-theoretical, non-rigorous business folks or can we inspire a new wave of technology-centered public intellectuals?
I consider myself a public intellectual, I guess. And I agree with a lot of Jurgenson and Sanger are saying (less so Morozov). However, I don’t side with the Nick Carr and Andrew Keen that the web is making us stupid, any more than Tapscott’s argument that Google makes memorization passé, or Shirky’s arguments that books like War and Peace are no longer worth the effort.
But this is just another example of the extremes dominating the discourse, which is a game that the media are happy to play, and sells lots of fun, little books. But then again, didn’t Marshall McLuhan write a lot of fun, little books?
[Returning again to the proximate cause — the privacy-publicy debate — I agree that no contemporary book pulls together all the threads well. All I can do today is offer a sampler of some of my writing on the subject, which I confess has not been smoothed into a single long form piece, although I would like to do so. For those interested, see A Publicy Reader.]
Sounds like Jarvis had an ulcer-inducing trip to London, where the BBC pissed him off, big time.
Jeff Jarvis via
I’m seeing that news organizations think it is their role to lead the conversation (they set the agenda), allow the conversation (you may now comment on our story, now that it’s done), and judge the conversation (see Bill Keller’s sniffing at vox polloi).
That’s why I went theatrically batshit on Twitter against the BBC for holding the first day of a meeting this week about *social media* under Chatham House Rule, which decrees: “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed.”
That’s a fancy, British way to say “not for attribution.” Or as I said in another tweet, “Chatham House Rule turns everyone into an anonymous source. Precisely the wrong thing for a journo org to do!” That is especially an issue for a public journalistic institution, which should be setting an example for other journalists and their sources.
But it’s most shocking that the BBC would impose this rule on a meeting that is not only about *social media* — I thought all Brits bragged about having a sense of irony Americans lack; apparently not — but worse, one that carried the haughty ambition to formulate “a universally accepted set of verification guidelines for social media material” and “an accepted ethical framework for using sensitive material from social networks.” Don’t they see that one can can longer set true standards for the rest of the world in closed rooms with invite-only guests who are gagged or anonymous and prevented from interacting with that world? Then the outcome becomes a standard only for that small subset of people, which negates its authority as a standard. At best, it’s another club rule.
He also is peeved at the way that newspaper view their interaction with the public — via comments — as a way to, at best, get some feedback, and at worst, a way to stifle real discussion.
The problem with comments, I’ve argued lately, is that the form and timing of them is essentially insulting to the public: It says we journalists don’t want to hear from you, the public, until after we are done with our work making content for you to consume. Then the public speaks and journalists don’t listen (because they think their stories are done) and the commenters are insulted and so they insult the journalists and the journalists say that’s the proof that the comments and the commenters aren’t worth the attention. A very vicious cycle. The conversation catches cooties.
The reason the BBC cut its comments down to 400 characters is cost. In a discussion on Twitter with the BBC’s Nick Reynolds, the social media executive who oversees moderation of all BBC social media, that became clear. Comments require moderation and that’s a cost. True enough. But I tried to argue with Reynolds in Twitter that the conversation writ large could also save costs. I couldn’t get it through to him. He kept defining the conversation as comments and “UGC.” I kept defining the conversation as collaboration.
Collaboration is not allowing people to comment. Collaboration is not giving them opinion polls. (Carey, by the way, argued that polling is “an attempt to stimulate public opinion in order to prevent an authentic public opinion from forming,” but that’s another topic.) Collaboration is not enabling them to send in the pictures of the snow on their back porches, something I hate when TV news does it as it condescends — it says the public can’t provide real news or quality images; we’re merely humoring them. “UGC” is bullshit.
No, collaboration is about sharing the work of journalism.
This is really about conversational control, though.It’s not about the comments on the newspapers or the distancing involved in terms like ‘user-generated content’. It’s about the demassification of The Public into a million publics, and therefore the decrease of influence of publications that think they shape the opinions of a Public.
The reality is that Jarvis obsesses more about old school media because they keep inviting him to their confabs to and speak on their TV shows. A lot of us are just looking ahead, and not worrying so much about what the BBC thinks about ‘the verification of social media material’.
The NY Times — especially Bill Leller — just can’t stop throwing rocks at Ariana Huffington and her Post. Jeff Jarvis spends some time analyzing this — a good read — but I can abstract the argument using just one phrase buried in his piece:
Jeff Jarvis, Who’s afraid of Arianna Huffington?
Comments have cooties.
All the tired arguments being kicked about by the Church of Journalism about their reason to exist, why we need them, and why we should pay them to do what is most comfortable for them really don’t address the deep motivations of people online.
We have invented the web to happen to ourselves, and to the extent that the NY Times staff and owners wise up to that, they can benefit from it. We are not here to be informed, or be part of the public that they want to address.
The central problem at work here is not paywalls, but simply that conventional, old school journalism doesn’t want to share the podium with us. They don’t even want us nattering in the comments, really. The leaders of The NY Times — arguably in favor of liberalism — are really not willing to accept the basic premises of the social revolution, and will definitely not reshape what they do to support it.
Comments have cooties because we, the people, have cooties. We have unwashed ideas, dirty minds, and bits of social rhetoric caught between our teeth.
Huffpo is not going to up end the media world, necessarily, but it has accepted more of what is hotting up the social mess online than the NY Times does, and so Huffpo is gaining community while the NY Times is losing readers. There is more of us in Huffpo than in the NY Times, and with the exception of our money, that seems to be the way Bill Keller and company like it.
The Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York wants to capitalize on some of the shifts that have rocked traditional journalism — and traditional journalists — with the creation of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism and a new master of arts degree in entrepreneurial journalism, which the school will announce on Monday.
Entrepreneurial journalism, broadly speaking, simply refers to pulling journalism, business and technology closer together. CUNY already offers a course in entrepreneurial journalism, and this new master’s program will extend the traditional degree program to two years from 18 months. The courses in the program will focus on the business of managing media, and the study and creation of new media business models, and it will offer students apprenticeships at New York City start-ups.
“We’re all very concerned about sustaining quality journalism, and we think the future of journalism is going to be entrepreneurial,” said Stephen B. Shepard, the founding dean of the school and a former editor in chief of BusinessWeek.
I agree that the statement ‘we think the future of journalism is going to be entrepreneurial’ does undercut the authority of the speaker and gives the feel that its a bubble-inspired gamble of some sort.
And the reference to ‘quality journalism’ is a codeword for the implied sinking standards of the top dogs online, like TechCrunch, Politico, HuffPo, and so on.
If the world of journalism continues the rate of change of the past decade in the the next decade we won’t be talking about entrepreneurial journalism, but something else completely. The challenges of the future aren’t about being entrepreneurial, as some rebalancing of the role of journalism in society. The media empires that control news and its meaning are devaluing ‘journalism’ as they invest in entertainment, games, sports, and politics, directly, instead of the media who are supposed to make sense of it for us.
Fox News is a great example of directly making politics — not that I agree with their right wing lunacy — but it is working: it is entrepreneurial, since they are making money using the tools of media.
So I hope we can shift to a different blending of concepts.The focus on technology is perhaps the smartest move, since the successful media companies of the future will be more like software companies that magazines or newspapers.
I guess it would have been too much to call it ‘The School Of Media Technology’, because these guys still think the web is just another pen or a printing press. By ‘technology’ I mean a collection of skills, or the study of a body of knowledge, not just the hardware and software underlying modern media: not just the iPad or content management systems, but the knowledge of how to apply all these tools and techniques in the context of the new world we are entering. And if you teach people about that, they will figure our the business model, so you don’t have to put ‘entrepreneurial’ in front of every thing else.
Yes, it’s great that Jarvis is spawning new media start-ups, but I don’t think being a launchpad for start-ups should be the basis of a school dedicated to the future of ‘journalism’. It has to be something larger than that. So I am going to start talking about the future of media technology in this more general sense.
Will the freshman j-school seminar on objectivity never end at The Times? http://nyti.ms/cml0nM
Jarvis cuts off the new Public Editor of the NY Times, Arthur Brisbane, at the knees.
Brisbane is yowling about the decline of objective journalism, citing a large number of annoyed readers who would like the tooth fairy to take control of the swirling opinions that are permeating the news. He quotes Dan Gillmor, who sees no conflict between “having a worldview and doing great journalism”, but he doesn’t countenance the psychological and philosophical basis of human consciousness: it is impossible to report on the news, or to even decide how much to say about various ‘sides’ of the news, without making judgments about where the hypothetical ‘middle ground’ is.
There is no way to make sense of the world — or to help others do so — without being grounded in beliefs about what is true, what is false, and the values what animate our beliefs. It’s impossible.
But apparently we have yet another advocate of the impossible, which is simply the silent and unexamined acceptance of a set of beliefs about objective journalism.
Brisbane seems intend on wagging his finger at all this new-fangled gonzo writing and the retreat from the high and noble principles of old school journalis, as in this:
When I asked Matt Bai about his Aug. 12 “Political Times” column on Representative Paul Ryan — the one Mr. Johnson criticized — he said: “I guess my column is part of a broader effort to take some chances in the paper and explore different formats for a new era. I think that represents a great and exciting trend for the paper; none of us can afford to think in old rubrics for new generations of readers.”
Bai’s editor, Richard Stevenson, the deputy Washington bureau chief, elaborated on how The Times is navigating the new norms. “We are still exploring how much of a voice you can have … what kinds of conclusions you can draw when it comes to politics,” he said.
A news-page column like “Political Times” carries the “freedom to reach a reported conclusion,” he said. Not to “throw opinion around,” but to “express in a restrained and fact-bound way a conclusion about something.”
Mr. Stevenson’s careful language draws a line between a Times news-page column and the kind of material one looks for on the Op-Ed page. I acknowledge the distinction in theory but think it is a very fine line, one that is easy to miss and easy to transgress. And one that readers often can’t see.
He characterizes what the NY Times is trying to do as playing in a mosh pit, so we can assume that Brisbane will be returning to this theme again and again.
Jeff Jarvis is right when he makes the point that those with the most followers may not be the most influential; but he misses the fact that some people might still be more influential than others:
Jeff Jarvis, The Hunt For The Elusive Influencer
[…] trying to find the big influencer with big audience is really just old mass marketing in a cheap dress. Old mass marketing (go with the largest numbers … and breasts) isn’t economical; neither, it turns out, is marketing to just one or a few powerful people — the mythical influencer. That brings us to a new hybrid to mass marketing, which is what I think Watts is suggesting: Target many people who at least have some friends who’ll hear them. (Disclosure: This was a key insight in the development of the company 33Across that made me invest in it.)
Or to put this question in the current argot: Is there more influence in the tail than in the head? If you talk to 100k people who talk to 10 people each, do you get more bang than talking to one person who has 1m followers? (Watts did also say that a combination of mass and tail marketing is effective.)
Just because the most popular people are not the most influential does not mean that no one is influential. Jarvis seems to fall back to a position that there are no influencers:
So the message spreads not because of who spoke it but because the message is worth spreading. What makes us spread it? First, again, we spread it if it resonates and it is relevance; it has value to us and we think it will have value to others. Second, trust or authority is a factor. If I see Clay Shirky or Jay Rosen or Kevin Marks tell me to click on a link I’m more likely to do so because I respect them and trust their judgment and I’ve found in the past that clicking on their links tends to be worth the effort. They give me ROC (return on click). But if I followed Miss Kardashian (I don’t) and she told me to click on a link, I’d be less likely to, both because I don’t put her in the same intellectual corral as my other friends and have no relationship with her and because I have seen that clicking on her links gives me lousy ROC. Is trust or authority or experience influence? In a small circle of actual friends, I don’t think so. And in any case, having only a small circle of friends isn’t the one-stop-shopping influence marketers are seeking.
So abandon the hunt, marketers. You’re not going to bag the influencer. She doesn’t exist (well, one did but she quit her TV show).
The flaw in his argument is that popularity is not the only way to weight nodes in a social network. Jarvis mentions authority, but doesn’t go very far with his analysis. However, I think authority is a red herring, too. It is looking at the transmission of messages int he context of an individual’s value judgments, as if we decide what to be influenced by, day by day.
But influence is actually a sort of dark matter: a force that surrounds us without us really being aware of it, like gravity.
In recent posts, I have explored these ideas at some length (see It’s Betweenness That Matters, Not Your Eigenvalue: The Dark Matter Of Influence and Social Scenes: The Invisible Calculus Of Culture), so I will simply reprise some of the recent research about social influence and what it means to us, as individuals.
The number of followers a person has is an indicator of a sort of connectedness in a social network, but it is not a good predictor of influence. Even when you weight the value of each link based on the rank of each person connecting to someone, like Kim Kardasian, it doesn’t line up with influencing others. That weighted measure is — to use technical terms for a second — called the eigenvalue, and while it is a measure of ‘centrality’ — a degree of connectedness in the network — centrality isn’t the measure of centrality that best aligns with influence.
Another form of centrality is to look at where an individual sits in the network relative to subnetworks. For example, a person who has solid connections in the tech community and a number of deep connections in the art world is likely to act as a bridge between those communities, and carry new ideas from art to tech and vice versa. This is called ‘betweenness’. To the degree that people that traverse different social scenes are rare, and if these communities benefit from this cross-pollination, then such bridgers will have an inordinate influence of both communities. But it is insufficient to simply measure the number of social scenes that an individual touches, just as it is inadequate to simply count links to a page to determine its page rank: you have to weight the links by the ranking of the pages that link. That’s the core of Google’s PageRank algorithm. However, in the case of this sort of bridging across social scenes, the individual’s betweenness has to be calculated based on the sum of the betweenness of all those that she connects to. In this way, one person’s betweenness is a function of the betweenness of all of her connections.
This seems intuitive: people who have many connections into diverse social scenes will act as the conduit for ideas to spread. And if I am connected to many others who are likewise connected to diverse social scenes, then I am even more likely to spread ideas: I am a better idea vector to the extent that I have more of these kinds of connections: more betweenness.
The conclusion here is that betweenness is a good predictor of influence, because influence is strongly linked with exposing people to new ideas, trends, or culture, while eigenvalues are not. The most popular person in a social scene may not be the one speanding a lot of time in other social scenes; on the contrary.
And the final piece of the puzzle is that we are all embedded in social scenes that are larger than we know. For example, I am connected to hundreds of friends, who are influenced by tens of thousands of their friends, some of which I may know, and more of which I could encounter. However, the friends of my friends are influenced by the third closure, the social scene of millions of people, a scene so large I cannot possibly know all those involved.
Recent research has shown that it is this social scene scale that influences our weight, our health, our smoking habits. This dark matter — the third closure — influences us like an atmosphere: we don’t notice it, but it is filling our lungs, and pressing against our skin. We meet some friends who mention a new sort of club music, and a few hours later you hear some on your favorite radio station. The next day, at a friends’ house, she’s playing the same band on her stereo, and that night you hear it again at your favorite bar. That’s because in your corner of the galaxy, some number of people with high betweenness, floating around in the third closure, dragged this new music into the tech scene from the art scene, and turned a bunch of people onto it, and a year later it’s on the pop radio channels.
So, people need to bone up a little on network research to get the differences between different sorts of centrality, and to unthread popularity from influence, mathematically and anthropologically. Just because popularity isn’t a good predictor of influence doesn’t mean nothing is.
Betweenness and the dark matter of the third closure are the keys to understanding — and potentially directing — how influence flows though social networks. There’s a lot to research yet, but these will likely be the starting points of influence science going forward.
There are a lot of folks suggesting that the Econolypse might lead to something more than a recession and a rebound. Jeff Jarvis suggests that we are headed to a 'great restructuring' of our economy, with great parts of it (print media) perhaps completely wiped out, or crushed to a fraction of their former size. Umair Haque has suggested we are in a ‘compression’ rather than a recession, where value is being brought down to ‘real’ values from perceived values.
I think something much larger is at work.
Things are falling apart. The world order of the post-cold war era is falling to bits. Some of that we have been discussing for years as edge economics: people’s loss of self-identification though affiliation with large organizations, like the federal government, corporations, world religions, and so on.
We have thought about this as a media phenomenon, and then a social one. What about now, when we are in the maelstrom of an unprecedented economic downturn? Will this edgewards movement of people continue, or will we snap back into something else? What are the forces operating?
The past fifty years of growth-oriented, unsustainable business practices have created such complex and interconnected economic systems — and largely unregulated ones — that we simply don’t know how they work. Even the folks dreaming them up — like the people who structured the sub-prime mortgage mess — really didn’t understand the implications of connecting things together, to this degree and extent across the entire globe.
One thing we do know from other economic downturns is that the effects of market hiccups are amplified at the end of supply chains. So, in the past, when there is a small drop in car sales, distributors take a little hit, manufacturers a slight larger hit, the outsourced parts manufacturers a larger hit, and a bunch of machine tool companies go bankrupt. The so-called whipsaw effect snaps hardest on the player at the end of the supply chain, away from the buyer.
We have made our supply chains much, much more complex and distributed all over the world. So a downturn in retail clothing is devastating for various retail chains, but leads to hundreds of thousands of people out of work in the sweat shops of Asia, and the collapse of the market for cotton. A downturn in the tech sector leads to thousands of PR people learning how to teach high school math.
And we have elaborated these chains — in services, clothing, food, metals, energy. and electronics — on a worldwide basis.
The growth of globalization has led to the end of any real social bond between most companies and their employees. Companies retain no real margins against downturns, especially not downturns of this magnitude: so they immediately cut staff.
The reason that we can contemplate the rise of soft socialism in the US as the outcome of the Econolypse — socialized medicine of some sort or other, nationalizing the banks, possibly nationalizing GM, and so on — is because there is no social contract between workers and their place of work. Millions of workers have been fired or laid off, and there are no safety nets.
We have backed into a system where effects are being magnified at the end of the supply chains, and the result is that the pretense of security and safety inherent in living the 20th century working lifestyle has completely fallen away. People aren’t working half time in the office, and growing crops in the afternoons. We have committed ourselves to an industrial lifestyle, so we have no margin but our savings.
We are going to go through a dramatic reworking of our social polity, and the results may be nothing like we anticipate at this time.
I gave a series of lectures last year that were very downbeat, predicting some really frightening possibilities, based on my conviction that globalization would lead to both a widespread economic downturn of unprecedented proportions, and that this would be followed by food and ecological challenges so severe that they threaten civilization.
What may emerge — by plan or by reflex — is a world that is drastically slowed, with increased protectionism and regionalization of production and investment. Germany this week drew back from helping Hungary with its own banking crisis, and we will see the idea and reality of of the EU change very quickly under the populist pressures in each country for government to take steps to alleviate the crisis in their own countries, and only then to consider what is happening over the mountains. We will see increased strikes from truckers, farmers, and others who are the first to feel the impacts of wildly oscillating prices based on currency fluctuations.
(Farmers worldwide are having trouble getting the capital to buy seeds and fertilizer, which is going to lead to price spikes in food. Worldwide drought will also contribute to food costs: Schwarzenegger announced that the California drought would lead to some areas of prime agricultural land not getting any water this year at all. This is another manifestation of the whipsaw effect, although in this case the crisis causing the problem is drought, not credit.)
The United States’ actions to bail out our banks, auto companies, the steel industry, airlines, whatever, is inherently protectionist. We will see the rise of regulatory barriers that will slow and increase the costs of investments oversees, international production and transport of goods, and so on. These may not take the form of direct tariffs, but the results will be the same.
And the core premises that may change, at the heart of our society, are these:
(We may think is is good, for example, to have low cost food, but not if the food is unsafe, or if the practices that make it cheap are unsustainable and contribute to global warming, based on low cost oil. And especially not if it makes us insecure in the face of growing droughts in many of the world’s richest agricultural zones. It may be better to pay more for food, where the true costs are all tallied, and food safety and security are factored in. Note that the most obvious paths to food safety and security are inherently protectionist: buy your food locally, from those you know.)
I can’t summon the optimism that many others seem to have, that we will have a quick landing in this crash, and sometime in 2010 things will be back to where they were status quo ante.
I do believe that good can come of the dark lessons we are learning, but it may require a lot longer for the full whipsaw to snap, and a lot longer for any stimulus to moderate the oscillations that are damping down production and consumption.
We may well come out as a very different world: where people do with less, that work is harder and money scarcer, and where our affiliation to the government is much more localized, more regionalized.
This is why the push of Obama’s administration to create a new and deeper bond between the state and the individual seems inevitable: since there seems to be no one else to turn to. Religious institutions and philanthropic organizations are in financial troubles of their own, and people are increasingly divorced from social capital-rich involvement in community-oriented organizations in general.
However, moving from federal stimulus to actual local action may take years to get into place.
Robert Putnam pointed out that the only light at the end of the tunnel in our growing dissolution from social involvement is the rise of the Internet. The web is an alternative that has led to the growth of social involvement at a time when we seem to need it more than ever. It remains to be seen how well the government uses the web, or how long it will take to have the web become an effective aspect of government.
But if the government fails to move quickly enough, and if its actions have too little effect — for example, if we have millions more homeless living in tent cities, or the total collapse of social services — other sorts of affiliations could emerge to fill the power vacuum. Who knows what those could be: old style criminal organizations, that loan people the wherewithal to stay alive, but demand unflinching loyalty and enormous pay back? Or will Obama be hiring millions into a modern Civilian Conservation Corps, to reboot the economy and rebuilt mass transit?
The econolypse is hastening the die off of those businesses and industries that were already weakened, but also the restructuring of our social contract. That will take a lot longer to play out than a few quarters, and we won’t see it in the barrage of ticker symbols going by. It will have to be built up one neighborhood at a time, one job at a time, one new urban farm plot at a time.