The Connected Society

A few commentators have focused on Singapore as an intelligent island that has been developed through modern technocapitalism. Singaporeans have ready access to computer technology, and IT has penetrated many aspects of their society. The country has a unique culture, and seems to be relatively peaceful.

Recommended Reading (PDF): Intelligent Island Discourse: Singapore’s Discursive Negotiation With Technology

This has led some to wonder whether or not the Singaporean model of development is the direction other societies may take in the future. One could also use the Singapore example to show how people become peaceful when they have connections that they don’t wish to sever. This is true even when the connections are digital.

That’s not to say that Singapore doesn’t have any problems. Where there are humans, there will be problems…always. But the country’s success is often cited in journal articles discussing the theory of technocapitalism and is at least worthy of further examination/discussion. These principles will probably vary for each society due to customs, traditions, history, etc. Nevertheless, the idea that building connections lessens social deviance is a valid theory. Most people will avoid ruining their lives when they have a good thing going for them in the interest of self-preservation. Since technology is helping people to build connections at a rate far beyond anything in prior history, most individuals are likely to cause trouble when their actions are spotlighted (or perhaps even predicted with enough data).

This is one reason the connected society may be a good thing. Take away criminal acts and society benefits greatly. On the other hand, with a truly connected society (I’m not talking about Facebook here…but REAL connectedness), invariably there will be increased governmental monitoring.  Whether people are willing to accept this in exchange for a more peaceful world and greater efficiencies…well, things will likely have to get much worse before this ever happens.

Exploring Cyberspace Sociology

I recently watched a documentary called Life 2.0 and was fascinated by the notion of Second Life and the societal implications that virtual reality is having on people today. While I’m more interested in the implications this will have on humanity in the future, a current look at this evolving area is intriguing nonetheless. Read More →

Sociology in Action – The Breaching Experiment

The breaching experiment is a simple yet ingenious social psychology technique that explores people’s adherence to the unwritten social norms of society. The experiment was developed by sociologist Harold Garfinkel and has become a favorite tool in teaching sociology and psychology students about the strength of social norms and social conformity.

Breaching experiments are planned and deliberate breaks of a commonly accepted social norm. The researcher or the student, after performing the break, observes and records the reactions of the people who witnessed the break. The reaction to the breach is the crucial point of the experiment. If a breach is done correctly and the social norm is compromised, the reaction that people exhibit is the mechanism by which they try to make sense of the odd behavior or how they combat the behavior. Lighthearted breaches can induce laughter, confusion, and curiosity. More serious breaches can actually cause anxiety and anger.

In order to demonstrate the concept of the breaching experiment, Garfinkel famously instructed his sociology students to act as lodgers when they went home to their parents. Students were excessively polite to their parents, asked permission to use the restroom, and pretended to be ignorant of the comings and goings of the household. Parents were reported to be distraught and generally bewildered, some were even angry at their children’s behavior.

Although breaching experiments essentially break the rules of society, they do not make a traumatic mark on the witnesses. The reactions that they exhibit are part of a repairing process. Unconsciously, the witnesses rationalize the breach in order to maintain the sense of a stable social order. As easily as the social norm is broken, it is repairable. It is this precariousness and maintainability of social reality that Garfinkel highlights. The breaching experiment also tests what behavior is accepted as a social norm. Since social norms are culturally dependent a breach done successfully in one country may not have any effect in another.

Breaching experiments can be easily conducted by anyone with a healthy curiosity in the social psychological workings of society. Breaches are characteristically low budget and do not require much time and planning to carry out. Popular examples of breaching experiments have been to stand backwards in the elevator, negotiating the price of food at the grocery store, starting a conversation at a public bathroom, and ordering something not on the menu of a restaurant. The first step in conducting a breaching experiment is to identify a social norm to break.

It is important to not confuse breaching experiments with crimes. Although they both work under the concept of breaking social norms, proper breaches are harmless and generally good-natured. They are commonly aimed at etiquette norms concerning how one should act in public.

Breaching experiments are an appropriate and fun way for teachers and professors to get their students involved with social and psychological theories and concepts. The methodology of the breaching experiment may be simple and basic, but it teaches a rich lesson about social norms, social order, and the unwritten rules of society that people take for granted.

Social Constructs Vanish in the Virtual World

Everything seems to be moving to the Internet these days. Regions of the web don’t necessarily correlate to any real geographical regions and the Internet doesn’t physically exist. It’s interesting to note that virtual reality itself is a social construct.

Virtual philosophies are heavily influenced by science fiction. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fiction is something that most people can relate with. While it’s unlikely that the present reality actually exists in another virtual universe, virtual philosophies still raise some important questions.

People in a virtual community start to develop the same sorts of social bonds that citizens of physical communities do. Technological innovation is one of the driving forces behind social change. Society itself may very well be moving towards a less concrete reality.

While it seems that human beings are moving towards a technological singularity, individual collective consciousnesses are actually starting to develop. Individuals with special interests are often unable to find people near their homes that share their hobbies.

Forums on the Internet have successfully given people with every interest a place to discuss their hobbies with like-minded folks. Knowledge flows dynamically among people with such interests. A lack of hierarchy has made the flow of knowledge considerably more democratic than it is in the real world. Therefore, it’s safe to conclude that a virtual world already exists today.

Where Has Our Capitalist Spirit Gone?

The Source of Consumption and Commodity

Max Weber was concerned, sociologically, on the effects of class, status, party, and the bureaucratic nature of the struggling lower classes in everyday life. He, too, spent much time contemplating religion (since it has been known to shape party), status, and the daily life of citizens, as well as effecting attitudes about work and the free market. Everything that Weber studied revolved around rational works done by meaningful Read More →

Herbert Spencer’s Synthetic Philosophy

Herbert Spencer isn’t a name that most people would recognize, but his prospectus on the System of Synthetic Philosophy was extremely influential. He was born in Derby in 1820. Though he died in 1903, Spencer’s ideas eerily foreshadowed the way in which humanity would evolve into a technological utopia. Moreover, he was the first individual to apply Darwinian ideology to psychology. Read More →