How specialisation is destroying society

This has to be the quote of the week:

[…] The unwillingness of Facebook and Google to share a public commons when it comes to the intersection of search and social is corrosive to the connective tissue of our shared culture.

Everywhere that commerce gets involved in what used to be public spaces, there is the same tendency to make exclusive of each other different products and services supplied by different providers.  From software such as Microsoft Office which locks you into proprietary data formats to supermarkets with private malls and parking places which can only be used for a certain time and only for a certain purpose, the desire by powerful companies to own our physical and intellectual spaces only seems, as time goes by, to march unstoppably onwards and upwards.

And yet commerce wouldn’t have to be like that if excellence rather than competition were the name of the game.  A massive evolutionary step forwards it – indeed – would be, in fact.  And perhaps, in a way, we are in the anteroom of such a step forwards: whilst the web is still in its relative infancy, we – even so – are able to perceive on the social horizon many tendencies and tools which might allow for a perfect perception of true excellence – above and beyond the tricks of marketing and persuasion which currently tend to cloud realities.

In times of a relative lack of consumer information, brands were a guarantee of minimum quality – a commercial pact, if you like (maybe a bet of a kind), between supplier and end-user.  But in an own- and secondary-brand age it seems now that those famous names of yore – and the whole branding mentality which serves as their backdrop – will manage more to deceive than guarantee.

Most corporations tend to prefer to convey the impression they are champions of openness, community and engagement with society.  In their ongoing battle to beat mighty oppositional forces, however, such HR- and comms-driven instincts are in practice destroyed in their day-to-day behaviours.  They too, as perhaps our politicos, are at the mercy of much broader systems and processes.

We are all, it would seem, disintegrating morally and economically in the face of structures far more powerful and persistent than almost any of us.  Each of us is on the evolutionary end of a process whereby civilisation and its peoples once had a clear overview of procedures and chains of command – a process which has now terminated in an overwhelming specialisation of skills and responsibilities.  Yes.  With such specialisation, we can do so very much in societies of such massive complexity – but, on the other hand, we have lost the ability to comprehend the nature of another’s work. 

And thus we have lost the ability to properly work alongside and together with others – except when in the thrall of considerable fears: fears of losing a job or promotion; fears of losing market share or shareholder trust; fears of consumer lawsuits; fears of patent challenges … the list is fearfully endless – and underlies almost everything we don’t do.

From bankers whose complex sums destroy the future economies of whole nation states to politicians unable to channel the vagaries of markets whose only responsibility is to themselves, this is how specialisation is destroying our connective tissue.

And all our company structures are made in this image.

And all our commerce is leading us to finally upend our instincts to cooperation.

In the name of competition, specialisation arose.  Through this process of specialisation, disconnection began to spread.  Now we only know how to keep a community together by creating as big a sense of distance and difference as possible from those beings we are forced unerringly to compete against.  By creating a worldwide web of interconnectedness on the back of such specialisation, we have created an impossibly gigantic circle the squaring of which can surely only break us.

My conclusion?  We either stop using, at least as we have done to date, that specialisation I mention to advance our society – or we work out some pretty convincing alternative way of overcoming the Chinese walls that are breaking up our ability to share our evermore uncommon experiences.

Either way, it’s going to be an uphill battle for the cooperative instincts at the heart of humanity.

And an example, perhaps, of where a progress measured only empirically distorts a wider understanding of what excellence – and, as a result, our society itself – should really look like.



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