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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Technology Can Free Rather Than Enslave

Written by: on September 18, 2012

As I began the quest of reading, and trying to understand, Contemporary Social Theory by Elliot, I was surprised how interested I became.  This is new ground as I’ve had precious little study personally or academically in this area.  Some of the names and theories are familiar but precious few.  Therefore I am grateful how Anthony Elliot attempts to make it understandable to people like me.

When I got to Horkheimer and Adorno, I thought “they are exactly right.”  “I can see that happening.”

Horkheimer and Adorno were key members of the Frankfurt school in Germany and began to write and theorize about the influence of mass culture.  Together they coined the term “culture industry” and the outcome of their thinking was the book Dialectic of Enlightenment published in 1944.  The premise was that the various forms of popular culture can be seen together as anindustry, but an industry in which the population is essentially enslaved by those that market the pop culture.  They believed that mass produced or standardized goods – “films, radio, TV, print media —are used to manipulate mass society into passivity. Consumption of the easy pleasures of popular culture, made available by the mass communications media, renders people docile and content, no matter how difficult their economic circumstances.”

The idea is that as mass types of culture is produced and consumed, we become only receptors and gradually forget to contemplate, think and make decisions on our own.  Rather, we accept what is given to us and hunger for more, buying and procuring all sorts of technology to continue receiving – while never giving feedback discussing or debating what come to us.

That’s what I initially agreed with.

 As we are spoon fed information, we are unable to think for ourselves and instead allow Fox News or MSNBC tell us what we need to understand and how to think of others.  As music and other art forms are mass produced and we begin listening or absorbing the same styles and words, which are then reinforced on awards shows and festivals which push those same artists and songs – the circle repeats itself.

But as Horkheimer and Adorno pressed this thought further, I began to see light at the end of the tunnel.  I am confident that some of this has begun to change.  We are seeing around the corner.  Because this same technology that they saw as enslaving us further and further is the exact technology that is breaking down governments, calling for the free press and that caused the Arab Spring (as well as allowing a “nobody” to produce a video that is causing worldwide revolution by Muslims). 

The difference is that while the technology Horkheimer and Adorno spoke of was primarily only capable of transmitting and receiving on our part, this new technology is interactive.  Not only is it interactive, but its whole basis is built upon back and forth dialog, debate and conversation.  Email, internet with chat, Twitter and Facebook are all built around the common desire of interaction.  We can disagree; we can blog in opposition to something we feel is wrong.  Someone in their bedroom with a camera on their computer can go viral and the world will know their message within minutes. 

Today, mass technology serves a new purpose.  Instead of enslaving the masses as it did during the Frankfurt School and their understanding of the Culture Industry, it has the ability to free, to correct, to confront and challenge.  This new voice produces the opposite of what those philosophers thought.

The question remains however, is good?  Only time will tell.

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