"A century ago, many people lived their entire lives in
small communities of familiar and like-minded people. Long distances
were a real barrier between people, and one's cast of 'significant
others' stayed relatively stable throughout a lifespan. In the late
20th century, however, we are the beneficiaries (and sometimes the
victims) of a confluence of technologies that has dramatically
altered the cultural landscape. The new technologies of the early
20th century--telephone, automobiles, radios, electric lights--that
began the transformation of modern life now seem like unremarkable
necessities. But with each of these advances, the physical world in
effect shrank while the individual's experience of the cultural and
social world expanded and grew more complex.
"In the past three or four decades, television has
provided a source of enormous social stimulation at very low cost,
air transportation can now bring together two people from opposite
points of the globe in little more than 24 hours; personal
computers, microchips, satellite transmitters, copy machines and
faxes have set a vast, humming grid of connections upon the entire
world. Through these technologies, we are now, whether directly or
indirectly, significantly connected to vastly more people, of more
varied ways of life, spread over broader geographical domains than
could scarcely be imagined in any other historical time. At a social
level, we have become embedded in a multiplicity of relationships.
We are aware of the needs of more people, empathize with a greater
number of tribulations, join more causes, confront more potential
threats and enemies, sustain more social obligations, experience
more longings and disappointments, and are tempted by more varied
and tantalizing possibilities than ever before.
"At another level, we ingest myriad bits of others'
being--values, attitudes, opinions, life-styles,
personalities--synthesizing and incorporating them into our own
definition of self. As we blend the qualities we find in others with
our own potentialities, we find it increasingly difficult to look
inward to discover what we desire and believe. We have gathered so
many bits (or bytes) of being to create ourselves that the pieces no
longer mix well together, perhaps even contradict each other. To
look inward, then, is to risk seeing a maelstrom of partial beings
in conflict. It is, for example, to locate a realist coexisting with
a romanticist, a lover of tradition mixing with a revolutionary, an
advocate of commitment at odds with a free adventurer. This is the
experience of the world and the self that I call 'social
"For each new investment in a cause, an ideal or a
person, a host of inner voices stands ready to belittle our latest
interest, laugh derisively at the newest waste of time, prick our
vanity for previous failed investments, undermine our confidence. As
every new choice invites a sea of mixed opinions and speculations,
both from outside ourselves and from the multiple voices we have
already collected within ourselves, the possibility of rational
choice fades away. When one can see the situation in multiple ways,
how is one to discern the 'best' or the 'right' way?
"At the most subtle level, these changes in social
patterns bring about a profound shift in our conception of ourselves
and others. Our traditional belief in ourselves as singular,
autonomous individuals gives way. Where in the interior lies the
bedrock self? Are not all the fragments of identity the residues of
relationships, and aren't we undergoing continuous transformation as
we move from one relationship to another? Indeed, in postmodern
times, the reality of the single individual, possessing his/her own
values, emotions, reasoning capacities, intentions and the like,
becomes implausible. The individual as the center of cultural
concern is slowly being replaced by a consciousness of connection.
We find our existence not separately from our relationships, but
within them." "The Saturated Family," Kenneth J.
Gergen, Networker, Sept/Oct 1991, p. 28.