The Social Dilemma

The existential crisis of our social development is that we are formed into a certain kind of being by everything we see, hear, do, and have done to us. We are not born with knowledge or experience. We gather these things by living in community. The communities we spend time in significantly shape us as we learn and grow through our shared experiences.

I’ve always been fascinated by the impact of technology on culture. History is replete with the stories of seismic change brought on by advances in science, medicine, and technology. Often those shifts are initially seen as threatening and harmful. However, over time, they are adopted into the broader fabric of the community and become the norm.

In the late 19th century, bicycles were all the rage. The freedom of movement and range of travel opened doors of economic and social opportunity to many people, not the least of whom were women. Initially, people (mostly men) did not approve of women riding bicycles. Bicycles extended a woman’s mobility outside the home and were instrumental in the “rational clothing” movement.

There are always hazards and potential detrimental impacts associated with advancing technology. Always. What typically cements a new technology into the structure of society is that it has far more potential for good outcomes than it does for negative ones. Ultimately, the community itself determines what will stay and what will go based on the values of that culture and the shared experience of its members.

Social media has transformed the social and cultural landscape in significant ways. It is certainly in the realm of those technologies that create seismic shifts. Like the bicycle, social media has radically altered the mobility of a person, except that mobility is in access to information and the experiences and opinions of others. Like the bicycle, a significant claim against social media is that this “mobility” is or will be the cause of social decline. That it is shaping society in negative ways.

The underlying issue is not with the technology. What is always at play is the nature of how we see and relate to each other. In a community where some believe they are superior or more valuable than others, almost any advancement can be either used against or withheld from others in order to perpetuate that ideology.

The resolution to this problem is rarely additional restrictions or government control over the technology or its use. In fact, that almost always leads to greater abuse and more stratification of the community. The solution is rather simple but very difficult to apply consistently. Our communities must champion and uphold the intrinsic and equal value of all people.

Since the culture of a community is disproportionately influenced by leadership, it becomes a primary concern and responsibility of leaders to both demonstrate this belief and act on it with every decision they make. Healthy cultures are not absent disagreement; they are absent disrespect.

The mobility offered by global connectivity can be and has been a wonderful thing. It can also be wielded by some to harm others. For this to be beneficial requires respect. If we respect one another, not agree with, not celebrate, not even change our mind, but simply respect and value each other, it works.

People have the right to join communities of people who are more aligned with themselves and not spend time in communities that don’t agree with them, but we should respect and value others regardless of whether we agree with them or not. I want to be part of a community that welcomes a wide range of viewpoints and experiences because that richness will inevitably lead to better understanding and additional advances that benefit us all. Respecting and valuing each other equally is the key to a better future, and it is the Bison Way.