Tag Archives: Max Weber

Self-Organization and The Hierarchy of Institutions

Marc Smith of the Social Media Research Foundation analyzed twitter associations of Occupy Wall Street tweets and found a viral, highly decentralized network of individuals. They compared this to the Tea Party, which had a much more centralized group dynamic.

Americans have gotten so good at being consumers that it almost seems hackneyed to acknowledge such a thing. I say “almost” because there are still wonderfully interesting things being said in some literary and academic circles that continually find deeper levels of meaning in the seemingly shallow end of the societal pool. Our near-perfect systems of consumption not only make it technically possible to exchange beautifully designed plastic gift cards,but  it makes it socially acceptable as well. A gift-giver can reliably assume that the recipient a thousand miles away has access to the same stores, with almost the exact same products. The gift-giver can also assume a certain level of homogeneity about gift-giving practices. Most of us share a set of common beliefs about what constitutes a good gift: It should, relate to our interests, be useful, carry sentimental value, reflect the nature of a relationship, provide entertainment, and/or fill a need. When you give a gift card, you are acknowledging the need or want, but allowing the receiver to specify its final material (or digital) form. This system relies on stability and uniformity to function smoothly. There must be a common culture, as well as a reliable stream of goods and services. But such stability is becoming less, and less likely. Whether it is peak energy, financial collapse, or a little bit of both- our world is becoming less predictable and the systems that rely on steady streams of capital and petroleum are breaking down. In their place, we might begin to find self-organizing systems that are not only more efficient, but also much more just forms of resource distribution. (more…)

In Time: Dystopic Fears of Life-Prolonging Technologies

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The recently released film In Time, staring Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried, depicts a dystopian future where time, rather than money, acts as the currency. This film gives a Marxist critique of capitalism with a technological twist. In doing so, it reflects the cultural fear associated with life-prolonging technologies. At the same time, the film falls victim to the overly structural depictions common in popular Marxist tropes, and overly individualist claims about human nature—failing to make a connection between the two. (more…)

“Fitting in” Childhood: Technology’s Place in Schools

One of the things I find most striking about discussion around technology’s “place” in schools is that adults treat technology as if it is a hot-potato bomb tossed around among young people.  In some senses, I think it is a bit of a ticking bomb: when used in schools, new technologies show that society’s norms about their “appropriate” use are still being formalized. Moreover, when new technologies are used in the classroom, they reveal how both teacher authority and the construction of childhood are themselves unstable – schools are charged not only with the role of enforcing appropriate use of technologies, but they must also maintain that they offer an ideal learning environment for children. In classical sociologist Max Weber’s terms, schools’ current use of technology reveal cracks in teacher legitimacy, fueling a panic whereby parents and teachers suggest these technologically-infused settings are contrary to the needs of young people.

In a recent series of op-eds in the New York Times, Greg Simon argues that a Silicon Valley Waldorf School, one of a number of esteemed and very expensive K-12 schools here in the U.S., is a model for education because it privileges creativity and imagination over the infusion of technology in classroom instruction.  For Simon, technology and childhood are dichotomous entities: technology serves only to debase kids’ need for free-spirited play. Moreover, because computer images, games, and ubiquitous technology dominate in the adult world, they serve as distractions to children and cannot “fit” in schools. (more…)