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Home enhancement
Ilkka Vuorikuru   Mar 22, 2013   Ethical Technology  

As the world gets more and more wired, the wire has to turn inside, that is: inside our culture. This means more of our everyday experiences are liable to change. And it’s very likely that our slow pacing culture will fall behind.

But there is a problem. A fundamental problem that has to do with the extremely conservative nature of the institution called home. And if you resist, you will be labeled evil.

The prison of private space

Be honest. How many times have you and your family argued about you spending far too much time on Facebook? Don’t you just hate when that happens? It’s not fair, you say, it’s not like I’m waisting my time online! It’s part of who I am!

Assuming you have a modest home you should respect it for what it is: throughout an outcome of the modern nation state. In fact a thing called home can only exist in a modern society with clear social and practical distinctions between social groups.

Different from television, a mass media that tempts you to see and listen, Facebook and the social media in general is more like a private conversation. You and the network are interwoven in a very private, hard to share and definitely distancing act of modern communication.

Home and the family as an institution is actually a very recent discovery. The middle-class home we are used to idealizing is came about only a few decades ago. The social order of the family is however older than that.

It has been a huge shift from a Pre-Industrial society to a labor intensive wage-earning society.  On a macro scale, modernity is linked with the spread of industrial technology, political reform and a massive restructuring of social order.

Foundations of the modern society required an organized workforce in order for the economy to grow.  Any modern society needs institutions of order for it to function (or, to have a function). A ”home” is a clever way of managing people into simple categories of consumption and production. This may sound a bit critical, but I’m just making a point.

The creation of the public sphere

There is a clear distinction between public and private in a modern state. The public is where things are produced and consumed. What is produced are not only plains, cars, food or services but also social and cultural categories. At home, however, people are more resistant in letting in external powers.  

The sociologist Jürgen Habermas has written an extensive book about the creation of the modern public sphere. In his book ”The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” he describes how the idea of ”being in the public” was created.

At the hight of Industrialization (and onwards to our days), people were suddenly crammed together in an unnatural urban stack pile of cave like apartments.

In many ways it can be seen how ”home” is produced by culture. A standard layot of any middle class home reflects the roles within the family and the role a home has in general society.

Therefore the kitchen is separated from the dining room, visitor area is separated from the rest of the house, parents bedroom is the “heart of the home” and it is separated from the bedrooms of children. Try to make an exception and very likely people get nervous. Just ask them why and they will produce an oration that speaks from the heart of society.

So why we argue about Facebook?

Home became a private place where ”peace and quiet” reigned. Home was also the place where women were enslaved as the ”keeper of the house” and  the modern public sphere was a place of work and a dominion of Men. Not surprisingly, the collapse of the patriarchy in the 60’s coincided with the questioning of traditional (home) values and culture in general.  

Right now a second or even third wave of modernization is having a tremendous impact on our planet and peoples that inhabit it. As we are now stepping towards a more personal technological age, we need to start thinking on the cultural fundamentals that shape our grasp of the future.

When we argue about Facebook, we are in fact having a serious talk about life in general. Sure, you can have an addiction to the social media but it’s also possible that you are living through a revolution.

The following generations will live in a different world. Very likely they will not have strong nation states and unifying mass media around them. It’s likely that they will have a pile of different communication networks and their personhood will be in constant flux.

How ever, they will not notice that. But we will. And only because we remember how it was like in ”the good old days”. Our grandchildren will look at us and in their eyes reads You Don’t Understand.

But wait! Who wins the argument?

Don’t feel depressed, become a rebel. I have described just one possible future and there are several less-than-techno-friendly futures waiting to happen. All that needs to happen is nothing.

We will lose if we continue considering home as a place where we can park our 19th century personhood.

I am a distance worker myself and spend most of my time at home or at a meeting. I have made the mobility of work almost a second nature to me. This means, that I win the argument about Facebook.

The work-leisure divide is no longer valid. The specialized work of the high-tech and other special occupations can no longer be separated from the individual. To ”un-plug” after work is a thing of the past.

I use social media like my dad uses his wrist watch - all the time and unnoticed. Have you ever looked at the time but forgotten to actually look what time it is. That’s what I’m talking about.

Say No! To Nature

The modern family is not a natural thing. It’s a product of a culture of power. It all seems natural to us, but it is also absurd. The internet is a horrible stranger in our homes. It really is an entity looking for a way in. And it forces the world inside with it.

So stick a social media tattoo on me and give me Google Glasses. It will put pressure on my family life but it’s all for a greater good.

A simple rule for anyone else willing to drill holes into an concrete culture is this: if it put’s pressure on people, it’s likely to do good for humanity.

Homes and families will change and there never be a constant.

In the view of the history of living, it is not surprising that the distant work ethic has not really settled in with a wider audience. I mean, people say they can’t work at home because of all the distractions. Or, more likely, bosses don’t believe that people work without supervision.

What if it was normal for people to have a Work Wall at home? A direct link to other workers in the same company (and the boss). This wall would be like a window overlooking our working life and there would be no need to stop sharing. If you need a brake, just click the ”i’m resting”.

In the future there will be occupations that are happening all the time. They are not some superhuman workers but people who work with ”content” and ”networks”. They live on a different time zone. In fact, they live on all time zones.

Ilkka Vuorikuru is a PhD student in sociology of science and technology at the University of Turku, Finland. He works as a Technoculture Adviser, journalist, coach and motivational speaker.

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