Several decades ago it was recognized that galaxies rotate much faster than their mass, stricktly speaking, allows. Theorists suggested that something must keep these galaxies from flying apart. They called this something "dark matter."
I am beginning to wonder if marketers and social scientists should posit a "dark matter" of our own.
There are, at least, two forces at work in the contemporary world. One is fragmentation. Every social group (i.e., nation, culture, ethnic, subcultural) is fragmenting into smaller groups. Every organization is "baggier" than it used to be, containing a looser assembly of elements themselves more numerous and more heterogeneous in nature than before. Indeed, even small units (neighborhoods, familities and selves) feel the effects of fragmentation.
The other force is change. This comes faster and goes further. What used to take a century can now happen in a decade. What used to take a decade can now happen in a year or two. (Let’s mark YouTube as exhibit "A." This organization went from nothing to $1.6 billion of value in a couple of years.)
Between the two of them, fragmentation and change put the very system of contemporary life in question. In the first decade of the 21st century, "system" is too generous a word. There is no overarching architecture. But things do seem to work together, the center does somehow hold. We might not have a system but we are still systematic-ish. So is this good for the duration? Is there a point at which things cease to sync? At what point do fragmentation and change accumulate until a wheel comes off?
This is no liberal cry. I am not making an argument about "the world we have lost," life before the "cash nexus," or the effects of alienation, anomie, or bowling alone. The sociologists and one or two economists have made a good living telling us the sky is falling, and I dearly hope that I have not just signed on as one of them.
But I am growing impatient with the Panglossian argument that says that we are sustained by the invisible hand of "emergent properties" or the "wisdom of crowds." I used to buy this, and I might sign up again some day. But as an anthropologist, I do "look down" every so often to see to what sustains contemporary world. I am always relieved to see that we are not "treading air" but usually I am hard pressed to see what holds us up.
Is there dark matter there. What am I missing?
Anonymous. 2006. Galactic crash sheds light on mysterious dark matter: researchers. Anatara News. here.