Problems of role conflict – intergenerational gap
Some changes occur directly through social conflict, with concerted efforts by members of different communities to effect change . The present chapter is more concerned with gradual changes that often happen without anyone putting in an effort; or when, as sometimes happens, people really want to change one thing and not know that other changes are also going to occur as trickle-down effects that were not predicted and were perhaps even unwanted.
When looking at conflict across generations, particularly with respect to the environment, several possibilities for analysis emerge. We can examine differences in how the political and institutional forms of conflict change, how views and behavior change between generations, we can examine changes in technologies and social organizations over historical time periods, and we can look at social dilemmas over time and the question of programming sustainability.
Technological Changes over Generations There is much written about the major technological changes that have occurred, especially in the last hundred years (see Appropriate chapters elsewhere in EOLSS). It has been difficult for people to think about and analyze technological changes because the impact, especially the social impact, has often taken many years or decades to become observable—or even noticeable. This is very apparent with the trickle-down effects on social behavior and social relationships. It was many years before the effects of television, both good and bad, were noticed. The impact of the Internet on social relationships has certainly been noticed earlier than was the case for television, but we still do not know the ultimate impact it will have on how societies are organized—both for good and for bad. For example, it could be that people become more isolated from one another and spend vast amounts of time doing what they have to do to get their resources in front of a computer screen. On the other hand, it could be that getting resources could become easier and people therefore have more time to spend with those around them instead of working in an office from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day of the week. We do not yet know what the effects of the Internet will be and it could end up meaning either more or less time for developing our social relationships.
In making analyses of social situations involving new technologies we must be careful to learn from some analyses mentioned earlier. First, the strategies and motives of social behavior and conflict that have been presented in these chapters have always included both good and bad, and what is good for one group and bad for another. That is, stories about new technologies that are one-sided are typically not going to be true. It is not the case that the Internet is going to be the way to save the world through globally-linked cooperation—an option extremely unlikely from everything we have analyzed about conflict but promoted by Internet scientists and some New Age-influenced persons (see Structural Sources of Conflict). Nor is the Internet going to be one-sidedly bad for all people and bring total destruction on the world—again we have seen counter strategies appearing for every bad strategy one side has put forward.
What this really means is that social science analyses need to be carried out hand-inhand with analyses by “hard” scientists, to explore systematically the strategies to which new technologies might be put, and how these might be expanded if the context changes, how made more useful (and with respect to whom?), what may be learned from them, and how they may be countered if deemed necessary by the community. Such analyses will not tell us the best thing to do but bring forward the strategies that are likely to occur anyway, and options to increase those strategies or counter them if that is possible and necessary.
The second thing we can learn when making analyses of social situations involving new technologies is how the talk about technologies is just that—talk. We learned in this previous section that such talk will be part of someone’s strategies and can be made into urban legends and rumors, can be used to justify research budgets, or can be used to make a fabulously scandalous story to shock or horrify people for attention or can be made into a moralistic story to make a young person choose a particular career path. Whichever, none of these assumes that the truth of the matter is being told.
This means that for the social science analyst, when hearing and listening to stories about new technologies and what they can/might do, these stories always need to be listened to or read in the context of analyzing language use, not taken at face value (see The Language of Conflict). This includes stories from “hard” scientists as well as daytime shows on television.
An interesting anecdote in this regard was a recent television item that criticized medical researchers for putting early results of tests onto the media and then future tests showing either contradictory results or neutral results. So, for example, we hear a media story on how coffee is bad for you and then one the next night on how coffee is good for you. One night we hear a story about new tests on a drug that “promises” to lead to a cancer cure, but three years later, strangely, nothing more has been heard. Some of this occurs because the results of a single piece of research are blown out of proportion before a replication is carried out elsewhere, and partly because the medical researchers have simplified what they are saying and made the little tiny piece of the puzzle they are looking at sound like the whole picture. When the research is put back into context the effects they found might be overshadowed by other things.
What is perhaps most instructive about this example, for the present analyses, is that the media report did not implicate the media itself in any of this. There were hints that researchers rushed into press because they wanted more research funding, but the role of the media in sensationalizing and distorting a story was not raised—even though the story itself was about the problems of distorting and sensationalizing.
When analyzing the changes in social behavior and society over generations, there are even more ways to proceed. We will look at just some of the areas that are relevant by following through the chapters in this section including demographic changes, changes through colonialism, changes through capitalism, and changes through urbanization. The warning is the same as the one is the previous section—do not expect simple, onesided outcomes and strategies. Each of these has at least a few good features amongst the bad.
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