Volume:7, Issue: 3

Dec. 15, 2015

Will latest megatrends become our tomorrow or even our today?
Veselova, Valeriia V. [about]

KEYWORDS: globalization, socialization, information society, netocracy, precariat, consumtariat, hikikomori, solo life, new social reality, development tendencies.

ABSTRACT: The paper discusses a number of megatrends (the term coined by John Naisbitt) and society development vectors during the information stage of society transition. Analyzing publications of foreign philosophers, sociologists, scholars in culture studies and futurologists, the author pinpoints such significant tendencies and factors, which go along with this transformation. Among them are social fragmentation and alienation, loss of values, information inequality and a threat to information safety. The author also extends the circle of notions which characterize the present-day global changes and the new social reality. The paper presents the author’s vision of the Russian social medium development based on the balance of traditional values and technological achievements.


Russia entered modernization path nearly a quarter of a century ago and since then it has fully experienced the hardships of the rough transition from tradition to innovation. So far, there is no consensus on the majority of issues, and only recently there have appeared ideas that helped the society to feel united. In other words, there has been a re-conventionalization, which enables a further progress.

In the West, the agreement on such values as freedom, progress, individual autonomy and national importance has been achieved after 150 years of continual nonlinear development. Russia, (similar, to some extent, to former USSR countries), found itself in a completely different situation. A sweeping change of traditional social principles in the 1990s taking place without any preparation or substantiation of such “transformation”, led the country into a deep crisis in all spheres of human activity. In this situation, Nikolai Gogol’s words from his Selected Passages from Correspondence with his Friends (2011)have acquired a new meaning:

…Never before in Russia has there been such an extraordinary variety and disparateness of opinion and belief among its people, never before has the difference in instruction and education so alienated one from another and produced such a discord in everything. Through all this a wind of scandal has blown, of empty, superficial deductions, of foolish gossip, of one-sided, worthless conclusions. All that has bewildered and confused everyone’s opinions on Russia to the point that one cannot definitely believe anyone [4].

Implementation of new values and rejection of old ones (“one cannot definitely believe anyone!”) have created a vacuum of values, or anomia (Durkheim’s term). Moreover, our society received a serious trauma, and a successful adaptation to it in the surface does not mean that Russian citizens have accepted values borrowed from the outside.

The development of capitalism in the 20th century was already marked by contradictions in the new world formation: consumerism vs. conflicting classes; social justice vs. inequality; spiritual, moral, economic, social, and environmental values vs. material values; and finally, the spirit of capitalism vs. its criticism. Absence of social agreement or value-related consensus in our country resulted in some kind of immunodeficiency and tolerance to a harmful impact, which is revealed in a certain social apathy. The matter is that values “reveal the characteristics of the objective reality – they are not controlled by people’s desires or educational measures; to change them is as difficult as to change technologies or a political regime; they are stable when settled, but unsteady during social transformations” [16]. Development of an individual and a community is a continual process that takes place consistently through many stages or the so-called waves of values. These are some kind of outlook samples of individuals and social groups which often become the causes of conflicts. In fact, consequences of value-related conflicts are more dangerous than resource conflicts because carriers of waves with less content are unable to understand whose outlook is wider. However, globalization produces the unification and averaging tendency which is known to standardize everybody and everything. What are these procedures?

The principal one is the expansion of western culture. It may include such tendencies as 1) English as the only language of international communication; 2) development of international tourism; 3) an international academic exchange; 4) an increasing number of scientific and expert contacts; 5) development of international mass media; 6) unification of cultural standards in such spheres open to general public as cinema, music, show business, and fashion.

Research conducted by Gorelova [5] has shown that the first factor is IT revolution, which raises our culture to a new level of rationality. Along with that all complex material processes are analyzed and converted into simple digital equations. (Note the following analogy: when a television set malfunctions, we see a multitude of colored spots instead of a meaningful image). The culture itself “moves” from concert halls, museums and books into digital media where natural signals (sound, color or text) are replaced by their digital equivalents.

The second factor is communication revolution, which changes the quality of communications. The spread of IT leads to human dumbness as verbal means of communication are squeezed out of use. It changes or, which is more often, damages mutual understanding (when knowledge about culture is passed over to the next recipient), coordination of social activities and socialization itself, because the way of building personal identity is altered. But let us ask ourselves if these technologies are a transitional phase to future communication of people on the level of telepathy, thoughts or intuitions – as known from science fiction…

The third factor is virtualization of communicative processes when information and communication systems begin to determine our policy, social interaction, etc. Intelligence experts specializing in social networking activity forecast the possibility and likelihood of mass disturbances and revolts. Modern mass media stop being “a tool” of communication. Instead, they turn everything they can get hold of into a tool. BY the tool, I mean not only social networking addiction but also a high risk of influence or threat to personal and public safety.

There are new population strata that will probably expand. They include consumtariat, precariat, and netocracy. What do they mean?

Consumtariat is the new lowest class of the consumerist society, consumption proletariat or people who fell out of the production sphere. They are on welfare, receive unemployment compensation but are not looking for a decent job. Instead, they spend most of their time lying on a couch in front of a TV screen (thrillers, porno movies and cybersex), regularly consume alcohol and satisfy their squalid social and cultural needs sticking to the “bread and games” formula. The system of unlimited consumption is controlled from above by prompting desires with the help of advertising and providing resources to consume on the level endorsed by netocrats.

The Russian Wikipedia has a short article about the general term precarization [17], and there is also a book devoted to this phenomenon translated from English and published in Russia [15]. This is a new class, pseudo-proletariat, which has grown in the situation of liberalization of public life and which has united millions of people who do not have guaranteed income or professional development prospects. This group includes immigrants, ready to work for peanuts, representatives of the educated bohemian artists, people who work part-time (designers, journalists, and freelancers of different other occupations). Precariat also includes students who, instead of studying, have to earn their living by taking odd jobs that eats up most of their time. It comes as no surprise that this situation decreases the quality of young specialists’ qualification – clearly, young people  come to college not for knowledge or skills but for formal diplomas.

A new modern phenomenon is netocracy (derived from the word net). This is an active, educated and dynamic part of the society intensively using the world wide net and other intellectual computer technologies as a means of communication and social interaction. There is a new differentiation of the society, the so-called digital division, which gives social priorities to scholars and IT specialists against the background of decreasing psychological prestige and the very need for many manual occupations which used to be in high demand during the industrial era [2]. One researcher argues that with the advent of Internet as a global phenomenon, the world has come to the dividing line of essentially different civilizations. Two simultaneous revolutions took place in the way of life and culture, which did not only influence the IT environment but also changed the way of people’s lives, communication, and comfort. Netocracy is becoming the ruling elite; information itself turns into commodity while the excess of information is used as an intentional strategy to maintain control over the society. There appears a vacuum of values filled with multitudes of experts, and “the latest truths” spread around replacing the Truth [3]. Along with radically new opportunities to improve life standards and expand human creative abilities, the development of information civilization also causes new problems which were unknown before. One of them is information inequality of people, countries and regions, which widens the social gap in the society and hampers social development.

The second problem is related to human safety in the information society. Contrary to its name and direct function, mass media have stopped to provide connections among people; instead they are increasingly turning into battlefields for net or virtual wars, conflicts and offence often leading to real life tragedies. Virtual space is largely controlling people’s behavior, creating illusions and replacing real life, which makes it the most influential channel of socialization. It has been proved that social networks trigger addiction not only among children and young adults but also in at-risk groups (sociopaths, neurotics, lonely or unemployed people, etc.).

As globalization is establishing itself as the leading trend of world development, a new social education paradigm, the paradigm of people’s individual survival in a high-risk society, is being formed. People have to create their individual “life projects” not based on tradition, religion or the authority of a leader or family. The key principles of the new social education concept require: 1) reliance on one’s own strengths and potential in order to survive at any cost; 2) viewing an individual life as a game; 3) a refusal to plan one’s own life because long-term plans bring disorientation to people living in the situation of uncertainty and risk [10]. Games for adults have become very popular due to new technologies. Gamification, which is more than just game addiction, has spread all over the country. Game elements and procedures are introduced into various areas of life – from everyday situations to business. Gaming strategy and multiple repetition of such situations develop an algorithm of actions which are often openly aggressive and do not imply personal reflection in terms of value-oriented behavioral criteria.

In regards to social consequences, gaming addicts are more predictable in their real life behavior as they act according to a standard pattern.

A kind of gaming addiction for older generations is TV series addicts. TV series help them relax, relief anxiety (even if there is shooting on the screen – they are not shooting in their place!) and make them feel as if they gained control over their own lives. The illusory world on the screen serves a psychotherapeutic function and creates a feeling of participation in or connection with the world. The world of today features dramatic changes in the family life or in the matrix of family relationships that take place both in Asia and Europe [6]. As a result of the birth control policy in China, now there are often four elderly people and one child (five dependent people) per family. There is an even worse byproduct – children growing without brothers or sisters, which damages horizontal family relationships of mutual influence and cooperation. Relationships among children and parents are known to be the social and emotional pivot of the family and later on, of the society; they are the relationships of authority and power. If they are not present, there comes an anthropological collapse when children grow with the vertical outlook.

Europe witnesses a completely opposite trend – the vertical subordination (power, authority, necessity to obey and the skill to be harsh in making commands or insisting that the order be obeyed) is eliminated. It is done through a wide set of measures to protect children’s rights (juvenile justice). Radical measures, prescribing absolute physical inviolability, depriving children of traditional physical contacts with parents and relatives kill both emotional and social bonds. The authority of elders is destroyed. Instead, the horizontal line starts to dominate in any social organization. That results in contempt for rules and norms; life shifts to the Net where the most valuable prizes are likes and reposts while the most severe punishments are being un-friended or banned.

Quite often mass media do not serve their primary goal while social networks disconnect rather than connect people. Moreover, social networks trigger virtual wars. Psychologists study such phenomena as bullying, trolling, fishing and, more recently, digital kidnapping (when children’s online photos are stolen and appropriated by somebody else). The violator either uploads stolen photos on his/her own website and receives admired feedback from the site visitors or creates the profile on behalf of the child with such captions as “I have no parents. I am dreaming of finding a loving family.”

The utmost degree of isolation from the society is hikikomori (or hikki), which originated in Japan in the late 1970s, long before the global spread of the World Wide Net. It all started from a case when one fourteen-year teenager came home, locked himself in the kitchen and did not leave it for several years. His parents left food under the door; the boy had a bath once in 6 months. This could have been considered a single deviation but in Japan, there are currently about 700,000 people who spend their time in a voluntary seclusion [13]. This extreme way of isolation from the society is increasingly finding its adepts in other countries including Russia [7; 11]. Such people turn into modern termites – they prefer not to leave their dwelling places and become voluntary hermits. Such acute form of sociopathy is often caused by unhappy love affairs, bullying or abuse, agoraphobia, failures at exams or extreme shyness. People turn into hikikomori if they are unable to find their own “true self” or play social roles. Hiding themselves from the society, such people lose social connections or communication skills while the society, in turn, loses millions of its citizens. This tendency for isolation is also observed in other age groups.  

Another social reality, the formation of the community of loners, is becoming more obvious. An increasing number of people live separately from others and even more people would love to live like this if they could afford it. Thus, 47% of households in Sweden consist of one person while 60% of all apartments in Stockholm have single dwellers. Eric Klinenberg’s Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone [9] is already becoming a feature of modern world. This phenomenon has formed as a result of such social changes as growth and expansion of individual demands, an improved status of women, an increasing number of cities, longer life span, and a development of communication technologies. People are linked to the society via multiple visible and invisible relationships which are realized through various ways and forms of social influence. Saving themselves from this unbearable burden, people find personal freedom in their individual homes. It is not improbable that the described trends will strengthen Russia while the meaning of a certain phenomenon may be understood only within the middle- (as a minimum) or long-term and spatial perspective.

Values, adopted during socialization, have their own structure and dynamics, and they depend on multiple reasons of historic, social, economic, political, ethnic and cultural nature. In what way do mass mentality archetypes differ among Russians and citizens of other countries? One way to analyze archetypes is to apply the psychosemantic method. A.L. Andreev [1] asked foreign students from different  Moscow universities to select from the list five notions which are associated in their minds with: 1) their own country, 2) Russia, 3) the USA, and 4) Europe.

As a result, it turned out that we associate the USA with such categories as human rights, technologies, power; Europe – with culture, civilization, technologies; and Russia – with energy, culture, and also technologies. It is natural in the 21st century that the world is united by the world of technologies. As for specific peculiarities, Russia gained more score in spiritual characteristics (apart from culture, people named the spiritual world, intellect, humanism and patriotism); Europe may boast life standards, wealth, achievements of civilization, and safety; the USA may be associated with violence, hypocrisy, and egotism.

At the same time the survey showed that our country in losing not only to the West but to other countries as well in such life quality aspects as human rights, liberty, democracy, wealth and others.

The survey results have revealed problems which we are well aware of and deserve to be criticized for. However, it should be noted that the shift of the development paradigm may not take place without a conflict or search for compromises which may conciliate liberal freedoms, human rights, success and progress, on the one hand, and traditional values, on the other. Through our long history, the hierarchy of values in Russia has been maintaining the following priorities: power above property, service above ownership, justice above law, collective above personal, and spiritual above material. That is exactly why liberal values, which contradict this hierarchy, meet little support in the society.

That is why we find relevance in Maxim Kantor’s words that,

Russia is a unique communal creation – and this is the source of its only hope and strength. Russia is so vast and active that it has long developed its own principle of survival, the common cause principle… Such a common cause is to build a moral society, i.e. to be able to share and defend one’s friend, in spite of the crisis, the law of corporate greed and even war. The unity which may take place only in spite of the market profit; it is the moral duty of each Christian, and it exists only regardless of rivalry; it is solely by solidarity which makes it possible to build the society (…). Just as there are no two types of morality, there are no open or closed societies – this is an ideological trap. Morality and society are interrelated concepts: it is impossible to change one of them without destroying the other [8].

And now let us turn to a famous American futurologist John Naisbitt who, as I unexpectedly found, holds the same ideas. Back in 1982 he wrote the book Megatrends, which became a long-lasting world bestseller. It formulated basic trends of world civilization development; and his forecast successfully passed the test of time [12]. Naisbitt analyzed the way which the US society covered from postindustrial to information eras. This book is of special interest to us right now when our country has embraced the same road. The research enables us to look through the American past, where the “mega shift” started in 1956-57. Below I will humbly enumerate just the key (in my opinion) postulates: (1) the essence of the information society is that it selects rather than obtains information; (2) this society needs two languages: English and a computer language; (3) our response to, high technologies which are everywhere, must be the development of a very personal system of values while tangible hi-tech miracles should be in balance with our natural human needs; (4) globalization of economy will come along with a renaissance in language and cultural self-assertion; (5) we must think in long-term perspectives and understand that re-thinking is a long and continual process; (6) an individual is judged by place s/he lives; and, finally, (7) changes will not take place unless changes of values are prompted by an economic necessity.

In conclusion, let us think in long-term perspectives and find the right balance between our spiritual demands and technological progress while remembering our historic roots and respecting our national culture, and participating in reforms of our system of education which we should see in the long run as having multiple vectors, subjects, values, etc. [14].


References

  1. Andreev, A.L. (2009). Rossija v global'nom obrazovatel'nom prostranstve [Russia in the global education environment]. Vysshee obrazovanie v Rossii  [Higher education in Russia]. 12.
  2. Andreev, I. (2013). Internet kak preljudija informacionnoj civilizatsii [Internet as a prelude to the information civilization] Zhurnal'nyj klub Intelros. Chelovek vchera i segodnja [Journal club Interlos. An individual yesterday and today].  5, 250-274.
  3. Bard, A., Zoderkvist, Ja. (2004). Netokratija. Novaja pravjashhaja jelita i zhizn' posle kapitalizma. [Netocracy. The new ruling elite and life after capitalism]. (Translated from Swedish) / St. Petersburg: Stockholm School of Economics in St. Petersburg.
  4. Gogol, N.V. (2011). Vybrannye mesta iz perepiski s druz'jami. Pis'ma k grafu A.Tolstomu. [Selected Passages from Correspondence with his Friends. Letters to Count A.Tolstoy]. Мoscow: Azbuka – klassika.
  5. Gorelova, T.A. (2013). Ob jekologicheskih paralleljah sociokul'turnoj dinamiki. [On ecological parallels of sociocultural dynamics]. Znanie. Ponimanie. Umenie, 3.
  6. Dragunsky, D. (2014). Bez otsov i brat'ev [Without fathers and brothers]. - Gazeta.ru. March, 22. URL: www.gazeta.ru/comments/column/dragunsky/5002613. Retrieved on August 30, 2014.
  7. Kambur, N. Hikikomori. (2012). Chernye slezy pod odejalom u monitora [Black tears under the blanket in front of a computer screen]. November 1. URL: www.yburlan.ru/biblioteka/khikikomori. Retrieved on October 16, 2015.
  8. Kantor, M. (2013). Obschee delo [Common cause].  Izvestija, December 30.
  9. Klinenberg, E. Zhizn' solo. Novaja social'naja real'nost' [Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone] (2014). (Translated from English). Moscow: Al'pina non-fikshn.
  10. Lukov, V.A. Gumanizm i paradigmy vospitanija v global'nom obshhestve [Humanism and social education paradigms in the global society](2007). Znanie. Ponimanie. Umenie, 3, 86-92.
  11. Lyagushkina, L. Kto takie hikikomori. [Who are hikikomori] Nauchno–prosvetitel'sky sait: “Znaete li vy?”  /Do you know? A popular science site]. URL: scisna.net/a – 1522. Retrieved on October 16, 2015.
  12. Naisbitt, J. Megatrendy [Megatrends] (2003). Translated from English. Moscow: AST, Ermak.
  13. Reese, P. (2002). Japan: The Missing Million. BBC News. World Edition. 20/10. URL: news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/2334893.stm. Retrieved on May 15, 2014.
  14. Romm, T.A. (2015). Vospitanie: povestka na zavtra[Social education: agenda for tomorrow. Voprosy vospitanija [Issues of social education]. 1 (22), 78–85.
  15. Standing, G. (2012). Prekariat – novyj opasnyi klass [The Precariat: The New Dangerous Class]. (Translated from English). Мoscow.
  16. Fedotova, V. (2012). Modernizatsija i kul'tura[Modernization and culture]. Znanie. Ponimanie. Umenie. 4, 139–147. URL: www.zpu–journal.ru/contents/2012/4/Fedotova_Modernization-Culture Retrieved on August 10, 2012.
  17. Prekarizatsiia [Precarization]. URL: https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Прекаризация Retrieved on October 1, 2015. 

 

This publication was supported by the grant from the Russian Humanitarian Science Foundation, Project # 15-06-10102a.





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