Networks vs Groups of Belonging

Zygmunt Bauman’s book, Does Ethics Have A Chance In An Age Of Consumers is one of those books that I don’t know if I ever will finish. I’ve been reading 3 pages a week for the last few years and then get distracted. But occasionally a paragraph will stand out that I read a few times over that resonates. The problem I have with Bauman is he is the most wordy author I’ve ever read and I’m not very good with words. I also think he just makes up words. But the brilliance is there.

The contrast between ‘groups of belonging’ and ‘networks’ is quite fascinating and awfully true. Our society has been moving more and more to networks, celebrating networking luncheons and encouraging social media networks. All the while we belong to no one. We have people we are networked too others all around the world, but we aren’t part of communities that we belong to anymore.

The most consequential feature of networks is, however, the unusual flexibility of their reach and the extraordinary facility with which their composition may be modified: individual items are added or removed with no greater effort than it takes to type in or delete a telephone number in a cellular phone’s directory. Eminently breakable bonds connect the network units, as fluid as the identity of the network’s “hub,” its sole creator, owner, and manager. Through networks, “belonging” becomes a (soft and shifting) sediment of identification. Belonging is transferred from the “before” to the “after” of identity and follows promptly, and with little resistance, the identity’s successive renegotiations and redefinitions. By the same token, relations set by and sustained by network-type connectedness come close to the idea of a “pure-relationship”: one based on easily dissolvable one-factor ties, with no determined duration, no strings attached, and unburdened by long-term commitments. In sharp opposition to the “groups of belonging,” whether ascribed or joined, a network offers its owner/manager the comforting (even if ultimately counterfactual) feeling of total and unthreatened control over his or her obligations and loyalties.
– Zygmunt Bauman

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