The West clearly embraced the idea of the marketplace, of letting those forces shape much of what’s happening within our societies. And maybe that’s fine, maybe it’s the perfect way to structure human communities and will naturally lead to widespread improvements, bettered standards and high-quality choices. But are there points where it crosses lines and causes little more than problems?
Obviously marketplaces are complicated, with countless actors and trends constantly flitting about to the next new thing. The ins and outs of all that are honestly a little beyond me. But, as an interested observer, its outcomes and general directions often seem questionable (see Note One). What is it we’re creating here? How are we using the world’s resources to meet our very human needs? Where’s it all leading?
Then, to focus in more specifically on the crossing of lines, where’s it leaving us as individuals existing within society? Making everything – culture, relationships, access to services and information – subject to market forces and the tendency toward higher tech solutions seems to risk stripping away essential human and social functions from what’s commonly available (Notes Two).
As I’ve said, I’m generally out of my depth when it comes to economic theory. But surely things need to make sense from a human perspective? Whereas pretty much anyone could access a local shop, bank or office to interact person to person, make themselves understood, and get their needs met to some degree, running ‘all that’ through systems accessible only via technology just isn’t the same.
The idea of everyone having to maintain, afford and keep pace with ever-evolving standards in computing must be an obstacle to participating freely with social or economic life. In terms of mental inclination, time commitment or various other pressures in life, expecting everyone to understand and operate wisely within these systems is quite an incredible challenge (Notes Three).
Are we really going to exclude people from participating fully in shared realities simply because we’ve let market forces dictate the speed, cost and complexity of the systems we’re filtering these functions through? Does that not make people intellectually, financially dependent on the whims of industry? Effectively creating this threshold for societal participation with a burden on all individuals to meet it?
We might argue we’ll educate and support people to gain access, and this is simply the ‘cost’ of pushing society ahead through the medium of technology. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s creating another whole industry of facilitation, commentary, and support services. But surely it also creates a degree of dependency, on reliable information as much as on electricity itself?
Markets may work well in motivating innovation and progress, but they also create burdens of cost and active engagement on our part. When it comes to essential functions, is inclusivity and stability also not important for social cohesion? Otherwise it begins to seem this survival of the fittest mentality where we risk becoming OK with leaving others by the wayside, buried by all the entry costs being insisted upon.
Notes and References:
Note 1: Economy & Humanity
Note 2: Culture, art & human activity
Note 2: Can we overcome purely economic thinking?
Note 2: Learning to be human
Note 3: The web and the wider world
Note 3: Using internet to construct community
Note 3: Testing times