This week we discussed the sociological imagination as the “ability to see the impact of massive cultural and historical processes on our private lives,” and that we are not merely the product of our own decisions, but that everything we are – beliefs, behavior, fashion-sense, etc., is influenced by society. Traditionally, society is defined as a people with a common identity, shared culture, under the same political authority, and in the same geographic location. However, with the internet and the explosion of social media (at least in the developed world) this definition of society can pretty much be thrown out the window. Well, of course, we can always talk about ‘pockets of society,’ but it’s undeniable that the world is “shrinking” as we become more interconnected.
The video above shows a spectrum of how social media and technology is changing society. Some people say that this generation is doomed because we are addicted to our “phones” (I put phones in quotations because many of them functioned more than just a hearing-speaking device), and that our social skills are going down the drain because we favor media communication over face-to-face interaction. This is evident in the scenes with the girl waiting for her phone to beep, the boy hiding in his jacket in the middle of the playground, the women at the bar, the alienated young lady in the elevator without a smartphone/tablet, the guy on his computer at a party, and the kids on their separate devices during what appears to be “family time.” We even see a woman committing the social faux pas of breaking up via e-mail, but I guess that’s acceptable now (considering the circumstances).
The video goes on to show how society is seemingly “losing its values” and ends with a final scene of a girl contemplating suicide. You almost lose hope, but then you see a glimmer of light (aside from those of the oncoming train) as the girl’s phone is bombarded with encouraging words.
Anyway, tying this back to “The Sociological Imagination,” it is amazing how Mills’ writing is still applicable today. Even though he wrote about the sociological imagination decades before the computer and internet, etc., it seems like he is referencing it just the same. He talks about the “Age of Fact” as we are now living in the age of information and how almost everything we want to know is at our fingertips. Yet, as much as we want to consume all this information about the world and people in our immediate circles, we are severely concerned with privacy. It’s interesting to think about how we are to reconcile our want to know everything about everyone else, but limit everyone else’s knowledge of us.
That last scene with the girl was especially moving because, although the audience doesn’t know exactly what is causing her to feel so alone and want to give up, it seems to be something universally understood. We have all heard the stories of how internet bullying was the cause (or a cause) of suicide for many youths, but in this video narrative, we see how the internet community came together and saved her life in the nick of time. With the world getting smaller and people realizing that they have more in common than differences, the sociological imagination for the masses is expanding.
Obviously, there will always be those who are informed yet closed-minded, but if we are to look at this expanding sociological imagination with optimism, we might achieve world peace in our lifetime (insert A LOT of optimism here).