Sunday, January 22, 2012

Social Media & Social Change: Cooley's Marriage of Concepts

PHOTO: Reuters/John Kehe Illustration

Charles Horton Cooley writes in his essay, “The Process of Social Change” about writing and printing (read: mass media) on social change.  He writes that “[p]rinting… does open a path along the margin and give every one a cup from which to drink” (Peters & Simonson 2004, 22).  He presents that because printing makes writing available to a larger audience, that then that larger audience can reap the benefits of being informed.  He points out that one of these benefits is the recognition of a social relationship to the whole social group (22-23) – that social communication is “the precise measure of  the possibility of social organization” (22).  Another benefit that he notes is that the availability of information from mass media increases the feeling of freedom of the individual and individual development, or originality (23).  He argues that this freer development or originality allows for more development of social order (24).  My favorite quote in this article is when he argues that mass media allows for greater social change because of the availability of information:

Modern society… is more like the uninterrupted ocean, upon which the waves of change met with no obstacles except one another, and roll as high and as far as the propagating impulse can carry them (24).

Photo by Manoocher Deghati/The Associated Press
Cooley's essay could be applied precisely to the role that social media plays on social change today.  In particular, I was thinking about the direct correlation between social media and the Arab Spring.  This article in the Huffington Post summarizes the importance of recognizing the role that media plays on social change – even platforms like Facebook, and Twitter.

Raymond Schillinger writes:

Alec Ross, the tech paragon of the State Department, who has spent the past few years merging cutting edge technology with the mission of diplomacy … equated the rise of social media to a democratization of world politics, shifting the balance of power from nation-states to individuals and smaller institutions… (Schillinger 2011).

I would argue that social media and social change are tied to each other today -- and  Cooley would agree.  What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I read the book “Here comes everybody: the power of organizing without organizations” by Clay Shirky last year. It claimed that the present social order is been revolutionized by blogs, wikis, twitter and other Web 2.0 accouterments last year. Interestingly, This book was written almost 10 years ago but I feel like it is just talking about "what is happening now"

    Internet revolution based on Web 2.0 services has made life for us really simple. Digital networking has made interest groups to form effortlessly, regardless of their geographical distances. There are countless cases of people who use Web 2.0 services and other accouterments to start a campaign that attracted attentions from different places around the world. The book explained the power of organizing without organizations, such as a woman who lost her smart phone in the taxi and then opened up a website that recruited volunteers to help her get the phone back. Another man set up a website called “” to find his dream girl who he met on the subway in New York city.People on the internet eventually helped him find her. This digital networking age is reflecting on not just economical and sociological theories, but also on philosophical and statistical theories.