Seeking the “Great Community”

John Dewey’s book “The Public & Its Problems” (1927) discusses concepts and issues that have been touched upon throughout readings and class discussions, being still relevant matters 83 years after the book had been written. Some of these concepts include associated and “localized” connections between people, interactions which direct behavior, driven by policy, democracy and essentially by a relatively small group of people.  The consequences of directed behavior generate a community of interest, the role of technology, potential of communication, importance of freedom of speech and access, and finally, the unavoidable mediocre nature of all communities.

“There are too many publics and too much of public concern for our existing resources to cope with. …Our concern at this time is to state how it is that the machine age in developing the Great Society has invaded and partially disintegrated the small communities of former times without generating a Great Community.” (p. 126-127).

Dewey calls the modern society to become a “Great Community” (chapter 5), defining conditions in which it can be done.  Such conditions include individual being a member of many groups, and groups interacting flexibly with other groups (p. 147).  In that sense communication technologies have the potential to facilitate the association between people in a democratic way.  Realistically, however, the modern society has been using technology-driven communication inappropriately, causing the transformation to a Great Community impossible.

Such notion sounds still relevant to today’s dilemma concerning new technologies and whether it advances human thought and our association to a globalized community.  It brings to mind the 3D film “Avatar” that I viewed this week on the big screen, where technology in theory afforded the association of modern society with another community from out of space, in search of scientific research and in support of materialistic greed (some approach the task of association in a more naive way than others).  In reality, the modern white man’s invasion of the community of the natives (futuristic, utopian yet vulnerable to the warriors of modernity) aggressively destroys any mutual association.  The natives from that planet are unified with nature (ecological awareness and positive co-dependency) – they exchange essential energy from the trees which supports their survival.  However, instead of taking the communication-facilitated-by-technology potential into constructive and unified “Great Community”, the white man who is a servant of the corporate modernity (even without proactively selecting this role) is sent to destroy the natives.

“I need your help” says the visitor to the native, realizing that he is held captive in the modern society – a world of greed, power and war, where effort is invested in the development of destructive technology.


February 10, 2010. Tags: , , , . Columbia University Doctorate.

One Comment

  1. Ruthie Palmer replied:

    Yes, I think Dewey’s most important point is what you identify, that we have amazingly advanced communications technologies, but they have surpassed our abilities to use them effectively to create communities that understand just how interconnected they are.

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