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August 16, 2010

the unbundling of everything

(Aspen, CO) There has been much talk at the FOCAS conference about the "un-bundling" of news products. You used to get one newspaper that "bundled" together international and local news, serious issues and fluff, editorials, letters, comics, sports scores, want ads and classifieds. Now those products can be obtained separately, and most people are not choosing to purchase any serious journalism.

It strikes me that much more than the newspaper has been unbundled over the last century. We've unbundled political parties into collections of entrepreneurial politicians and discrete ballot initiatives. We've unbundled careers by losing most of the unionized jobs and secure, lifelong positions. We've unbundled religion by creating a proliferation of "faith-based" networks, organizations, and self-help groups that are separate from congregations. We've unbundled civil society by moving from demanding membership organizations to a la carte networks. And we've unbundled families.

The result is a lot more freedom. But people will use that freedom to choose not to discuss and address public problems, unless they have skill and motivation for civic engagement. Skill and civic motivation are scarce and very unequally distributed. The cognitive demands of citizenship have risen: you need to know a lot more to navigate the complexities of modern, unbundled institutions. Meanwhile the motivational hurdles have risen, because no one can make you engage with public issues or obtain the skills and knowledge you would need to do so effectively. Public education can help by getting youth on the right track, but the effects of even the most engaging and inspiring educational experiences are likely to fade in later years. As a result, too few people are engaged in addressing our public and community problems, and the public discourse is dominated by those who remain highly motivated--strong ideologues and wealthy interest groups.

August 16, 2010 6:58 PM | category: none



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