“The coming struggle for power will increasingly turn into a struggle over the distribution of and access to knowledge; not just consumption. Power seekers’ will use this struggle to further their power ambitions. While mass media could have been seen as sweeping generalized manipulation of attitudes and beliefs, technology is using fragmentation to have those with power divide and conquer.”

Alvin Toffler, 1981


It is too simplistic to suggest any society, or nation, is divided. The reality is that society, and communities, have become fragmented, each isolating into its own cocoon of mindsets, attitudes, beliefs and even performative metrics (proof). If we step back, this is a natural consequence of years of rhetoric and unhealthy narratives. What else would we do after years of businesses suggesting business was a war and the other businesses were out to get us and it was a battle of us versus them, kill or be killed. Or your church is telling you only you will go to heaven and everyone else is designated for hell (or heathens). Or some Cause suggests it is Armageddon if you do not agree with them and if you don’t you are part of the problem. Even issues like climate change, abortion and vaccinations have become battlegrounds of us versus them. And the politicians, well, they are an onslaught of ‘the other party is evil and will destroy this country” or “that country is evil and out to destroy us” or whatever us versus them derivative they can create. Each, individually, divides, and each contribute to fragmentation. There are two main consequences to all this which leads to the creation of smaller groupings, communities, of like minded people:

  • –         The more dividing issues occur, the more complex the world seems and the more inept, or unable to contend with, any centralized center of power is, which leads to decentralization (of everything) which only compounds the sense of lack of coherence.
  • –         From a whole cloth perspective this cacophony of dividing creates an overall sense that everything is out of control and the world is spiraling downwards into the depths of despair (this is the roots of cultural despair).

But then we get too technology.

Technology, in and of itself, is nothing. Without people, without people generating content, it is a passive tool regenerating itself to its own purposes. Yet. Once humans become involved technology begins to amplify – amplify divides, fragments, communities and tribes. It is within the fragmentation aspect in which we begin to pause on the benefits of technology with regard to society. The fragmentation, the phrasing of ideas, ideologies, values, norms and actual ideological commitments just begin to blur the greater truths associated with each. Fragments get emphasized to strengthens pieces of views all the while blurring larger issues and societal coherence. The extension of technology into our lives has only seemed to accomplish the fact that people everywhere sensing their control over their lives slipping away as the world becomes increasingly complex. With that mindset/belief people begin discerning specific scenarios within which they can find meaning, self identification & success and then go about creating a subsystem, a likeminded community, where desired actions and direction are created, further intensified by a sense of their own survival within the larger system. There is a general feeling of remoteness from the centers of decision making so they create their own decisonmaking centers. These choices are supported by a feeling (which becomes a belief) that those in power don’t care what “people like me think” which only increases an increasing sense how little capacity individuals, alone, feel they have to shape events. Individuals recognize they cannot flex power to manipulate any meaningful levers of control, they end up groping around almost desperately for ways to bring back some order and sense to their lives, and inevitably smaller likeminded communities are forged. What ends up happening is that society becomes an interaction between these likeminded communities and their changing micro boundaries at a community level all trying to exist in a macro larger system attempting to shape boundaries and pull levers itself for the collective good. The consequence of this conflict/tension tends to make the likeminded communities only double down and increase close identification with those within that particular group. This means that society has become fragmented and not divided.

To state again, a major part of the issue is that people have come to believe that whole systems are simply too complex to meet their needs or serve their wants. So, they’ve sought to regain control by turning to subsystems, in likeminded communities, less complex relatable groups, in the hope that their interests can be better served and some control is regained over the distant impersonal forces that intrude upon their daily life. Simplistically, people have simply given up on the distant big structures of power striking a “big is threatening” and “small is effective/beautiful” pose. Technology has simply taken a gentle sloping trend rising towards skepticism and doubt, laced with some conspiracy theories, and exponentially made it a steep climb.

This has become a period of cultural despair and creation of likeminded communities is an active response to fight despair. I say that because this smaller group creation is an adaptive response to the problems of complexity; not an abandonment of responsibility. The creation of likeminded communities should not be equated with indifference nor is it an expression of apathy or cynicism. Development of smaller communities is simply a search for new structures around which to organize scenarios and which the individuals’ micro needs can have macro consequences. I highlight this to make two points:

  • –         This is active participation in society, not a passive reaction. These people are not retreating, they are going on the offensive toward things they actively care about. This is important if we attempt to engage with a collective future in mind. As with any self-decentralization if we seek to regain some centralization or, at minimum, coherence, the fragmented communities must be solicited with sincerity, not disdain or a belief they are not ‘smart enough’ to know better.
  • –         Technology feeds on active participation. This is more a warning than it is anything else. If a likeminded community ‘feels’ something, the internet will feed that feeling until it hardens into a belief. It will also actively feed other likeminded people into that community. Contrary to opinion, technology can create blindness and will actually encourage people to go blind.

Which leads me to proof in a complex world.

In order to have some legitimacy and just survive within the larger system the likeminded communities construct scenarios, assume responsibilities, and assign analytics to everything they are involved in. In other words, likeminded communities have their own analytics, they have their own narratives and, unfortunately, sometimes they have their own facts. In fact, the larger the macro societal crisis the more likely it will involve a shift at the subgroup level performance criteria that they will attach to their own legitimacy. This expanded use of metrics may dispose people to rethink what has long been taken for granted and decide to shape their own performance criteria themselves. I would be remiss I remiss if I didn’t point out that media plays a role in subgroup performance criteria development. For example, what Fox News cites is important can often become a community criteria. This criteria becomes a measurement for the larger system – even if the larger system may not have the same criteria. So, while the larger system may actually be quite effective in totality, if not the very specific issue at hand, the performance analytics are not aligned and the conflict only creates further dissonance between the groups and the system.

Technology is the ally and the enemy.

Information should be intrinsically beneficial to society and, yet a fragmented flow of information and communication results in increased knowledge AND fragmentation. Technology plays a role in where we go from here, but first, people need to think about the future they desire which, typically, rests on the most fundamental assumptions we make about reality. In the present competitive view of the world, we often think that the most capable are those who are the most competitive, and accordingly that competition creates and secures long-term viability. On a societal level, we have essentially adopted a zero-sum dynamic behind most of the things we do. This separates everything, and everyone, into a binary 0/1, yes/no, good/bad, this way/that way design world (software, algorithms, business individuals and even countries). This current design belief has only made the divide between winners and losers constantly grow and this polarization leads to radicalization (of ideas, opinions, behavior) and, well, society does not benefit. A fragmented society is not one that will effectively build a future good for the collective whole.

We do need technological advances, but our humanity and society must develop at the same speed as technology develops. As our technological ability to impact the world is radically scaling up, our human ethical choices as to how to implement that power must scale up accordingly.

The solution resides in being able to see clearly.

It may be difficult for a likeminded community, from all views within a healthy community, to recognize that humanity – even theirs – is lagging our technology. It may be difficult for a fragmented society, specifcally the smaller communities themselves, to see beyond their loose talk about obsolescence and the rot at the core of our society and institutions and business when the existence of that community may be grounded in some apocalyptic view about every systemic crisis. It would behoove each of these smaller communities to understand it stretches credibility to extend each individual systemic indictment to the entire structure of business, government, justice, and institutions. Every debatable action does not demand some mandate to destroy the entire system and every disappointment or concern about the larger system is not a mandate to shrink away to a smaller community mindset. We need some optimism, not just in humanity, but in the grander systems and institutions. Not blind faith, but optimism. I always recommend reading Rutger Bregman’s Humankind to remind everyone about humanity. I recommend for the ‘We’, those who seek to find solutions to what seems like a dysfunctional society, we need to recognize the difference between fragmentation and divided because the solutions are different for each. Divided is about building bridges and fragmentation is about building coherence. Ponder.

Written by Bruce