Disillusioned but not disenchanted…
Throughout the Twentieth Century and now coming into the Twenty-first, Americans have increasingly become more and more fragmented, passive, inarticulate and media-dependent. This development has by no means been one of rapid change and has not been caused by an singular event, rather it is the cause of a slow progression over time based in the ever-increasing technological development, industrialization, urbanization and the like. While there is perhaps no one theory within sociology which can fully account for this phenomena, there are theories which can give some insight into this. Some of these are the ideas of Karl Marx as well as the basis of the theory of structural functionalism.
During the Twentieth Century, Americans have faced the rapid development of technology and industrialization as well as the rise of mass media. This rapid development began roughly following World War II and first began to show its head within the great appliance development era of the ‘50s. During this period technologies and industries that would allow people to become more and more removed from the actual processes of life came into being and along with the alienation proposed by Marx that develops within industrialization, this has allowed for the passive and fragmented aspects of society to come into being. Functionalist theory also plays a part in this phenomena, but a skewed part. Functionalism would posit that each part of society, as an organism, serves some function. In this case, these functions have began to take up the place of ends rather than means. Technologies allow people to become more passive in that it no longer takes as much effort to do any one thing. Furthermore, these technologies have removed individuals from the need to interact with one another, they have reduced the interdependency of individuals, the equilibrium. Functionalism posits that societies have a tendency toward equilibrium but these developments have thrown this equilibrium off-balance. With technologies to take the place of people, the people become more divided, more fragmented from one another.
The latent functions of these technologies have also served to further make society more inarticulate and media-driven. With more advancements in the realm of computers and communication the reverse effect is actually being achieved. As communication advances individuals actually have less need for traditional forms of communication, such as basic speaking skills. The advent of e-mail, text-messaging and the like has removed much of this need for simple language skills. Furthermore, the advent of mass-media has absorbed into it the population. Rather than serving its function of giving information, it has fostered a population fully dependent upon it. The media is no longer simply a means of information. The media has become the soul vessel of what is described as culture, style, and society.
With the advent of the media in a widespread form individuals are allowed to be more passive as well. Individuals no longer need to go out and interact with other individuals in order to get news, entertainment or other such things. Also, because of the fragmented state of society individuals no longer have basic things in common which to discuss. Because of this they turn to the media as some sort of common ground, resulting in many conversations based souly upon what may be on TV or the latest actions of some television star.
The advent of technology has thrown society into a completely new path, unpredictable and full of change. It has served to fragment society as well as make individuals passive. They no longer need to put forth as much effort to do many things, even such things as interacting with other individuals. It has all been fused with technology and has become fully-driven by the media, which has now come to define for people their interests, thereby allowing them to become even more passive. Industrialization has allowed for a sort of breakdown of traditional community, which has in turn also allowed for more fragmentation.