Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Internet and Group Directedness

Riesmann identifies a transition from tradition to inner to other directedness. The transitions relate to technology and religion. Tradition-directedness exists in most societies. The Protestant reformation led to an emphasis on conscience and individual responsibility that previously had not been known in most societies. Most important in the transition to inner directedness was the invention of the printing press that facilitated publication of the Bible in the vernacular. This led to a new emphasis on conscience and faith. The printed word was thus associated with the development of inner directedness. Inner directedness was potent in developing major breakthroughs in science, business and technology. The United States was transformed from a small agricultural frontier nation to the leading manufacturing nation in the era of inner directedness. Naturally, technological advance led to transformation of communication from the telegraph to the telephone to radio and television. With respect to transportation, inner-directedness progressed from sea, foot and animal-based power to canals and railroads, then trucks, automobiles and air travel. As these developments occurred, inner-directedness gave way to other directedness. In the book The Achieving Society David McClelland identifies success not only with focus on achievement or achievement motive, but also other-directedness. Yet McClelland's classic study was done after inner directed society had made major technological advances. In the period since McClelland wrote The Achieving Society, the era of other directedness, there has been considerably less achievement and technological innovation than there was in the nineteenth century. Nevertheless, there has been one critical invention: the computer and its attendant telecommunications and Internet capacities that have revolutionized communication and mass media.

Much as David Riesmann argued that mass media played a pivotal role in the transformation from inner-directedness to other-directedness, so it must be that the new communication methods, the Internet, computer, cellular phone and related, emerging technologies (my students are ahead of me on that) are likely to revise modes of personality.

Other-directedness involved a focus on the opinions and needs of others. But the Internet focuses people not on all others but on peer-group others. Interpersonal skills are minimized because much communication occurs on the Internet. Therefore, while interpersonal skills remain crucial for success in the other-directed world, much as a number of inner-directed traits do as well, group directedness is replacing other-directedness in many contexts. Group directedness calls for different skills from other directedness. It is hinged on narrower segmentation than was other directedness. Tastes are increasingly fragmented, and segmented preferences can now be tailored to so that pleasing the crowd becomes less important. Much as today's students may be gay or straight, they may prefer different lifestyles and need not feel obliged to fit in in the way that students did in the 1950s.

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