Monday, February 13, 2012

Public vs. Private Goods in Today's Society

Ran into an interesting blog post over at Babs Ray's blog (a blog that often has reflections on emergent adulthood) on the topic of public vs. private good in an iSociety. The post was a response to recent articles about the rise of online school options.

Some of my favorite quotes from the post are:

This steady disappearance of the public systems we take part in daily is for many a sign of progress. But in this headlong race to privatize everything–and its cousin, tailoring everything to our circumstances, we risk losing the very fabric that stitches us together in a society. We risk losing the “public” spaces; the “we” in a rush for the “me.”

The daily interactions in public spaces, whether on a public bus, at the park, on our sidewalks and highways, in a classroom, at the doctor’s office, or at the DMV, are shared experiences, and ultimately meritocratic. Even Bill Gates has to renew his driver’s license. Our interactions remind us what we have in common with others–sometimes others we would not otherwise meet. The rules (wait your turn in line) and customs (say thank you to the bus driver) reflect back on us the order of our ideal society.

In fact, the online communities are the exact opposite of public spaces. We self-select into the online worlds, balkanizing by interests, splintering down to the most specialized slices. You don’t have to ride with someone who is talking too loud, or who is softly weeping with her face to the window, or who is reading a book you never heard of. You might run across those ideas or people online, but you don’t have to sit with them for 30 minutes—time to wonder, to sympathize, and yes to fume. You click and you’re gone. Some will say that’s the exact reason they love the internet, or private taxis. They don’t have to be bothered. It is why we live in gated communities as well. In those havens, we don’t have to brush up against humanity if we don’t want to.

The last quote in particular  made me reflect on my own interactions with the world around me. The further away I get from college (an environment that tends to emphasis the "public" more than "private") and the more I find myself entrenched in the daily routines of life, the easier it's become to isolate myself and avoid what seem like inconveniences on my time, comfort, and personal wants. It's as if isolation breeds more isolation. It makes me wonder if "brushing up against humanity" somehow goes against our very nature as humans.

I'm glad that God intentionally chose to "brush up against humanity" literally through Jesus and that more often than not, he took the time to interact with people in the public spaces of life. It's a good reminder that every interaction with people around us can be significant and it's not necessarily a bad thing to seek to include people in our lives.

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