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The Yes-No Society

Beyond the "yes-no" society Abraham Maslow suggests that our needs fit into a hierarchy ranging from basic needs like food and shelter to ultimate self realisation. Only where lower needs are satisfied can the fulfilment of higher needs be undertaken. That we consider the person in terms of needs is in itself significant. The relative importance given to the satisfaction of individual rights and needs far outstrips any efforts made to encourage corresponding obligations to society. In modern Western society, however, we have gone one step further. The fulfilment of needs has largely been masked by the market-driven satisfaction of desires.

Mass production, rather like mass media, scatters its wares far and wide. The more it throws out, the less it knows of what people want. This is all the more so as profit margins in mass markets shrink leading to a drastic reduction in after-sales service thus cutting producers off from a valuable source of information about customers' reactions. Costly market research, in which individuals are reduced to numbers, serves primarily to reassure uncertain minds, to justify risky investments and to convince would-be advertisers. The only tangible feedback for manufacturers and broadcasters alike is the "on/off", the "yes/no" of the buyer-viewer. It is through such an undifferentiated binary choice that the individual is supposed to exert his or her ultimate power over the market place. Apparent freedom of choice is often pure illusion: how many people can afford to say "no!" to Microsoft even if their products are of debatable quality and the company's closed, monopolistic attitude is undesirable?

The advent of the networked society potentially changes this binary system, allowing companies to escape from the current "broadcasting" logic by making individual dialogue with customers possible. The major question is whether companies will be able to overcome internal inertia and adhere to a form of commerce based on sustained two-way relationships between them and their customers. The second major question is whether customers will accept to enter into this new form of relationship as described by the advocates of "virtual corporations" in which close ties and shared interests inexorably link customers and companies. Clearly, should such a change take place, a new form of "integration" will be underway in which the place of the individual in society will once again be redefined.

A similar situation occurs in our democratic systems that invest the individual citizen with the supreme right to choose by a "yes" or a "no", when a thousand other answers would have been more appropriate. The growing dissatisfaction with forms of democracy based on representation and the advent of the Information Society with the possibility for the individual to develop an informed opinion in dialogue with others raises the question of the increased participation of the individual in democratic processes. Practically speaking, apart from the need to overcome ambient apathy, a major challenge involves providing timely, understandable information to enable citizens to discuss and decide on key issues.

The other texts of The re-connected individual are:

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey,
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Created: July 3rd, 1996 - Last up-dated: July 3rd, 1996