In what ways is society keeping us from our full potential?

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Before answering this question, let us bear in mind that there are different types of society and each one has its own culture and social structure that can actualize and hinder people’s potential and goal. It is really difficult to generalize to answer this question. Achieving one’s potential in primitive societies is different when done in urban and state societies. But we can assume here that we are dealing with the contemporary urban societies.

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First of all, society has an opportunity structure and social stratification. The opportunity structure determines how an individual can actualize his/her potential in whatever field s/he wishes to become. So there is some inequality here with regard to access to opportunities and societal benefits to achieve success and realize one’s dream.

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For instance, in the job market, not all people are qualified to apply and be accepted to the type of job they wish to work. Society through the corporate industry determines the qualifications and screens applicants when awarding job opportunities.

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Second, opportunity structure oftentimes is connected with the social stratification or classification of people in society which consists of social class and social status. The former refers to the classification of people based on the amount of wealth and property, while the latter refers to one’s marketable skills, credentials, and level of education.

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These 2 types of social classification of people in society are actually 2 major sources of power in the modern world which can greatly affect one’s access to opportunities in society. If one is rich or famous, s/he can easily use his/her resources and social connections to achieve what s/he wants in society.

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The poor and those with lower social status cannot just attain their potential in life because of social stratification. Studies show that the poverty does not only deprive people of material wealth but social options in society. Indeed power differentials in terms of wealth and social status can keep or allow people to achieve their full potential in society.

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Rumors and Fake News as “Improvised” News

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Rumors are often believed by people to flourish in an environment of news blackouts and information famines, and thus, assumed to them diminish in an era of information overload. But the opposite seems to be the case. In contemporary information society, rumors seem to arise not from lack of information, but from an information overload (Kimmel, 2004).

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In today’s globalization age characterized by liquidity and flows, information has become “liquid” and can swiftly penetrate the various domains of social life (Ritzer, 2010). Liquidity is a metaphor used by some globalists to explain the growing flexibility and mobility of things that is brought about by the current processes of globalization.

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Liquidity simply means that things, information and places are increasingly becoming light and thus easy to move from one location to another. Like water, “liquids” can easily “flow” to different locations with the capacity to change their form in order to adapt to the environment.

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With today’s globalization and technological innovation, almost all things have become so fluid and light that they travel in various spaces in blinding speed. In a similar manner, news, “fake news,” “alternative facts,” e-rumors, e-gossip, and other forms of content now mounted on digital and electronic platforms in the cyberspace flow like running water or liquid that penetrates dimensions almost all dimensions of social life. Corporate organizations are not spared from this tsunami of information that besieges the market and the workplace.

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As information is easily and freely created, traded, edited, and manipulated to suit one’s interests, the veracity of their content declines resulting in the difficulty to know which news are “real,” “fake,” or “improvised” such as rumors and gossip. With information overload and the constant bombardment of the mind with unverified information from the Internet, people are deprived of the luxury of time and immediate means to swiftly investigate whether the posts, news, or information they received from and passed on to other people are totally or partially true or false. This also happens during crisis or emergency situations when information is absent or lacking to ascertain the truth. Knowledge means control. In business settings, sufficient information is good for managers and the corporate organizations they handle to achieve higher productivity and profit.

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Rumors and gossip do not normally emerge in moments of certainty where the corporate organization runs smoothly, but usually during times of crisis and unexpected change in the day-to-day operations of the company. Thus, rumors usually abound when a business firm faces or experiences bankruptcy, leadership change, mergers, buyouts, financial losses, labor problems or restructuring.

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For instance, when Twitter faces a buyout by other firms, rumors spread like a wildfire. When news leaked that Twitter will be the takeover target of the giant companies in September 2016, whispers were immediately and spread in the cyberspace. News spread that the engine company Google (Google parent Alphabet (GOOGL, Tech30), would take over the company, pushing the stock value of Twitter to 20% rise. But since no immediate confirmation came from Google, more speculations arise.

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CNBC mentioned that the business software company might also be looking to buy Twitter, but no clarification what benefits Twitter would bring to this transaction. Later, other rumors surfaced that Verizon (VZ, Tech30) might be bidding for Twitter as well, but Verizon denied the speculation. Since no accurate information to rely on of who would buy Twitter, the rumors continued.

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The Media companies News Corp (NWSA) and 21st Century Fox (FOXA) — both controlled by Rupert Murdoch — have been cited as possible Twitter acquirers too. So has NBC parent company Comcast (CMCSA) as well as the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — who are two of Twitter’s largest shareholders — could team up to take the company private. Again, in the absence of certainty, more rumors surfaced saying that the influential Silicon Valley investors Marc Andreessen and Silver Lake Partners could team up to buy Twitter and so on (La Monica, 2016, 23 Sep).

This case of Twitter buyout shows that rumors can immediately spin and become uncontrollable if no convincing and reliable information is available.

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The sociologist Tomatsu Shibutani notes that rumors or other forms of unverified information or “fake news” arise from uncertainty, from the absence of context and concrete information by which those affected by a crisis may understand its significance:

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“When activity is interrupted for want of adequate information, frustrated [people] must piece together some kind of definition, and rumor is the collective transaction through which they try to fill this gap. Far from being pathological, rumor is part and parcel of the efforts of [people] to come to terms with the exigencies of life (Doorley & Garcia, 2007).”

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Thus, rumors  for Shibutani are “improvised news,” a tentative information created by people who are affected by uncertainty in order to gain control and to make sense of ambiguous situations or crises.

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About the Author:

Dr. Vivencio (Ven) O. Ballano is Associate Professor V of the Sociology Department of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) in Manila. In 2011, he obtained his doctoral degree in Sociology from the Ateneo de Manila University. He was chosen Post-Doctoral Research Fellow of the Southeast Asian Studies Research Exchange Program (SEASREP). He is the author of the book Sociological Perspectives on Media Piracy in the Philippines and Vietnam published by Springer Singapore in 2016. Dr. Ballano’s specialized areas of teaching and research include sociology of law, religion, disaster management, corporate organization, and the Catholic Social Teaching. His current projects and interests include writing monographs and articles on rumors and gossip in corporate settings and the Catholic Social Teaching, as well as doing sociological research on film piracy and illegal camcording in the Philippines.

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Are People with Positive Traits Deviants in Society?: 8 Guinness Record Breakers in 2018

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Why do people break rules and norms of society? How do we view deviant or “abnormal’ behavior of people in society?

There are basically 3 naive and non-sociological definitions on how to understand rule-breaking or deviant behavior of people in society:

1. Absolutist Definition: Deviance resides in the act itself. The evilness of an act is not in the person but in the nature of the act itself. Thus, killing is always murder, or abortion is always sinful. Once a person performs the act, he or she automatically becomes deviant regardless of his/her intention and circumstances surrounding the act.

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2. Statistical Definition: An act, person, place, quality is deviant or abnormal if it does not conform to the average standard. The law on averages is the norm to judge an act/person as deviant or not. Thus, a person is deviant if his/her height is below the average height, like a woman standing 3 feet tall. Or a normal Filipino usually takes a bath once a day on the average, thus a person who takes a bath once or twice a week is deviant under this definition.

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3. Positive Definition: An act, person, or trait is deviant if it is extraordinary or above the average standard in society. A woman who is extremely intelligent or beautiful is deviant under this definition. Those with extraordinary talents like those who established world records in the Guinness Book of Records are deviant due to their positive traits or talents. But do people ordinarily call people with positive traits deviants or abnormal? Or they are praised by people as heroes? This definition is misleading because society consider those with extraordinary capabilities or talents as celebrities and not abnormal people in society. Take, for instance, the following 2018 record breakers. Would you look down on them as deviants and abnormal? Or praise them as super humans?

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Here are some of the 2018 record breakers and holders. They can be considered deviants by positive definition:

1. Longest fingernails on a pair of hands (female)

The longest fingernails on a pair of hands (female) belong to Ayanna Williams (USA), and have a combined total measurement of 576.4 cm (18 ft 10.9 in), as measured in Houston, Texas, USA,

2. Longest eyelash

The longest eyelash measures 12.40 cm (4.88 in) long and has grown on You Jianxia’s (China).

3. Shortest married couple

The shortest married couple are Paulo Gabriel da Silva Barros (Brazil) and Katyucia Lie Hoshino (Brazil), measuring a combined height of 181.41 cm (71.42 in).

4. Oldest bodybuilder – male

The oldest bodybuilder is Jim Arrington (USA, b. 1 September 1932) and was aged 83 years 6 days when competing at a professional bodybuilding competition in Venice, California, USA,

5. Farthest flight by hoverboard

The farthest flight by hoverboard is 2,252.4 m (7,389 ft 9 in) and was achieved by Franky Zapata

6. Fastest 100 m slackline walk

The fastest 100 m slackline walk is 1 min 59.73 secs and was achieved by Lucas Milliard (France)

7. Most apples bobbed in one minute

The most apples bobbed in one minute is 37: Cherry Yoshitake (Japan)

8. Most tattooed senior citizens

Most Tattooed Senior Citizens: Charles “Chuck” Helmke and Charlotte Guttenberg (both USA)

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Photo Credits: Guinness Book of Records 2018


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Has social media destroyed the very fabric of how society works?

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The growth of social media is part of the growing digitalization or “technologisation” of social life. Due to globalization and growth of the cyberspace, social interaction is now extended from the temporal or physical space to the cyberspace, from face-to-face interaction to digital interaction through chat, post, video chat, etc.

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Has social media destroyed the very fabric of society?

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Well, it depends on one’s perspective in judging the effects of social media to society. A conflict theory would probably see the birth of the social media as the “colonization” and— yes, the destruction of the current face-to-face or personal interaction. But a functionalist perspective may see it as playing a major function of integrating and connecting people into a small social network or global village.

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The social media can easily connect people from distant lands in a matter of seconds by using the Internet and online networks. This is not possible in the temporal or physical space. Moreover, the social media plays a crucial role in doing business and marketing of goods and services worldwide. Nowadays, business opportunities are done more and more in the cyberspace and social media rather than in the temporal space. Physical stores, for instance, are now gradually being replaced by the cost-efficient online stores. Hiring is also now being done online via the social media LinkedIn and other sites, rather than through the walk-in application process.

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The social media has also challenged the traditional media, such as the print, TV, and broadcast media, because of its interactive nature. Yes, the social media has radically altered the way people communicate and transact business around the globe. But has it destroyed how society works today?

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Well, I would rather see it as expanding and improving the very fabric of society rather than destroying it. Under this process, the old practices are gradually replaced by new ones, and in this sense social media can be considered “destructive”. But in every process of social change, one can’t avoid discarding the old methods by novel ones.

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As the Bible says: “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins” (Mark 2:22).

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What changed in society to make people so heartless?

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People can be warm, generous, and welcoming to others in primitive societies since the population is very low and almost everyone is related by blood or affinity. We can consider these people as “persons with a heart.” The warmness and generosity of people to insignificant others can still be felt in rural communities.

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In a Philippine barrio, for instance, members of the community share food and participate in “bayanihan” or solidarity if someone is in need of labor. But this warmness and generosity to others would be difficult to find in urban communities or cities.

When society becomes more highly urbanized due to massive out-migration from rural to urban, social alienation of people would intensify. People would be uprooted from their kinship network of relatives which serves as a social protection against intruders and deviants. In the city, people become strangers from one another and thus increase their distrust for one another.

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The social psychology of living in the city, therefore, requires dwellers to use one’s intelligence first rather than the heart for security reasons, and in this sense, they become “heartless”! They would not easily welcome strangers into their homes nor easily help people in distress for fear of being victimized by crimes.

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They would analyze first the situation carefully before helping people. This seems to be the general pattern for city dwellers and are therefore seen as “heartless”. The use of the head rather than the heart in the city is not intentional, though. It is one of the negative unintended effects of living in a society with high social alienation and social risk.

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Living in rural societies is different. People are united by common values and beliefs or what Durkheim calls as mechanical solidarity. Rural folks usually know the kinship ties in their community and are familiar of community members. Thus, the trust is high and can easily use their heart rather than their mind in helping people.

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