Am I an Atom?

Science Museum

Nice quote from the introduction to journalist and academic Jeff Jarvis’s new book, Public Parts:

“Society splinters and splits and then reshapes in new forms. Think of us as atoms in molecules. Centuries ago, our molecules were villages and tribes; location defined us and often religion guided us. In Europe, Gutenberg empowered Luther to smash society apart into atoms again, until those elements reformed into new societies, defined by new religions and now nations. Come the industrial revolution—for which Gutenberg himself was the first faint but volatile spark—the atoms flew to bits again and reformed once more, now as cities, trades, and economies. We atomize. We reform into new molecules. We don’t evolve so much as we blow up in wrenching bursts of violence, breaking strong, old bonds and forcing us to feel disconnected until we can connect again. This is not a debate about whether we are meant to be alone or together, whether our natural state is independent or social, private or public. We are meant to be both; we just change the formula, given chance and necessity. We like to think that we finally find the right balance and discover our natural state. And then technologies come along and ruin our dear, old assumptions and order. That is what is happening today.”

Great metaphor – except that it assumes the Individual [atom] is always and everywhere, deep down, the fundamental unit of society [molecule]. Some societies make this assumption. Others don’t. This isn’t to criticise – simply to note that every metaphor carries its own freight.

Found at

Public Parts: atomize & reform

Image Credit: Science Museum, London

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