I recently perused the latest edition of Wired. The article, “The Rise and Fall of the Hit”, caught my attention. It was an intelligent digest of how technology has recently mutated our relatively unified cultured (via the industrial revolution) into a niche market—a market more readily designed for organization around shared interests. Technology was decentralizing the culture.
In Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves To Death, he worried that the television would be the great unifier and sustainer of mass pop culture—a culture driven by the fragmented and disjointed running images of the boob-tube instead of a culture rooted in the coherent and rationale realm of the written word. His concern was that our culture was becoming more insipid and lackadaisical in its thinking processes, being fed instead with inane sound-bytes and drowning in a sea of amusement.
Neil is correct about the sea of amusement. What Neil had not realized (at least through that book) was the coming tribalization of America--a hi-tech tribalism. Technology further facilitated rising multiculturalism and fragmentation. Age-groups dominate the social scene with the Gen Xers emailing over vast distances while their Boomer parents complain about Gen Yers who text-message. Groups geographically isolated now connected through individual and mass media to further their agendas. People no longer are American or Anglican, they are Asian-American or Green-Anglican, creating new categories of differentiation that accelerate the sub-group’s distinctions from the larger community in which it dwells.
Another name for this effect is Postmodernism. With no epistemic-center in the system of many contemporary philosophers (otherwise known as post-structuralism), and especially the lack of self-reflective thought in most Americans, balkanization in American ideology and theology was sure to follow. Technology further enhanced such an approach through the individualization of tastes: don’t like what’s on the tube? Watch your own streaming video. Finding the radio to boring? Listen to your MP3 player instead. Is the local church too humdrum? Choose your pastor on cable or online.
Thus, technology has connected people who would have otherwise been separated geographically and economically. We can talk for pennies on the dollar with those we’ve never seen and we can disseminate our views with wider audiences via blogs. Hobby-horses connect world-wide with sympathetic ears; church members follow sly blogged innuendoes instead of their own church leaders; families withdraw from local friends as they connect with those far away; ministers grow distant with their own presbyteries while bonding with outsiders. In short, we begin to fragment and tribalize.
And this modern balkanization has wormed its way into the various God-ordained spheres of life: family, church and state. It has existed in small forms over the centuries (compare Anabaptists & some Fundamentalists) and, through the help of current technology, is in resurgence today—albeit in more subtle forms.
[Next: What it Is]