Saturday, May 2, 2009

Principle 1: Technologies of Social Exclusion

In a rapidly globalizing world, technologies of social exclusion are becoming not only a central part of the lives of average people, but a major challenge to planners and policy makers. Technologies of social exclusion refer to technology that allows individuals to customize to an extent never before imagined their social environment and, importantly, prevent unwanted people from entering it. A variety of technologies and services that many of us use on a regular basis, from iPods to specialized news websites, qualify as agents of social exclusion because they encourage several key human tendencies: the tendency to self-segregate, the desire to have personal views reciprocated, and the aversion to difference.

I am opposed to the widespread growth in technologies of social exclusion because society depends on a close web of interconnections and interrelationships to maintain cohesion. In diverse societies like ours in the US, this is even more important. For decades government and educational institution policy has been to encourage integration in order to increase contact among different groups; however, the little success that these efforts have seen is in danger of dissipating as people are increasingly in control over who they have in their lives.

As an example, I have often seen people put iPods on as soon as a bus or subway becomes crowded in order to discourage others from speaking with them. This not only makes it virtually impossible to interact with them in any meaningful way, but it also allows them to ignore all events around them. Another example comes with the fragmentation of the media market (to be discussed in a later post) which has seen people choose to subscribe to websites and television stations that express their views. I believe that this has contributed fundamentally to the polarization of our society.

In the world of planning and policy-making, technologies of social exclusion have contributed to the growing difficulty in enlisting public interest and participation on community development policy decisions. Basically, it is hard to get someone to participate in this life if they are too busy in their "2nd" one. Technology has made people attempt to become virtually self-sufficient within their tightly regulated and carefully defined social circles, which reduces their interest in the world of policy, even though that world is still vastly more important. As I plan to enter planning, and I am interested in community development and democratic development, I am concerned as to how I will enlist a community that is increasingly disinterested in finding workable solutions to important policy decisions. This occurs even though these same technologies give people more power than ever before to effectively participate!

While at this time I do not know of any reasonable policy way to reduce the problems arising from self-segregation and technologies of social exclusion, I do believe that we should all seriously consider the impact of our using iPods to cut out the world around us, the cost of our spending hours in virtual worlds, and our tendency to search for news that confirms our views. We must work to participate actively in our community and society since we depend heavily on its cohesion for our prosperity (to be discussed further later as well).

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