Tonight I was watching the latest episode of Fringe, “The road not taken”. In one of the scenes, Walter is explaining to Olivia why she’s been having visions. He describes our perception of time as a line, while in reality at every moment our reality unfolds into an infinite number of these lines. Every decision that can be taken creates an alternate reality, as real as ours.
What this triggered in me was something far from Fringe’s plot. It made me think about how we see the world the way we see it. Why we consider what’s acceptable or not. What makes us think as Gen X or Gen Y; and ultimately, what makes us change as a society. How did I get here, you may be asking yourself. Well, this is how…
When Walter was giving his explanation to Olivia, he wasn’t just explaining that. It was Pop Culture speaking about Quantum Physics (multiple histories of a particle), about a different paradigm. In high school, I remember learning Newton’s 1+1=2 physics. The “simple” and predictable one. Quite ancient compared to “the 1+1= a lot of things and some other we can’t answer” physics of nowadays.
Formal education isn’t the way to evolve a society. To prepare its members for change. Quite the opposite. It ensures (and enforces) that the traits of the current generation are transmitted to the following.
Society tends to adopt this “manual to life”. It saves us the job of thinking about things. If someone gives us the answers, why waste energy in double checking them? Besides, it’s the Truth.
Those with a critical attitude will challenge this guide and set sail to discover the other truths.
So, what drives social change then?
I believe that it’s not just one factor. It is a constellation of them. Only one would not be enough to foster massive cultural change. It needs to be supported by other factors to make the meme/chunk of knowledge get traction and thrive. Trying to analyze these factors one by one would certainly require more than one post. Or more than a dozen (I should write a book). That’s why I’ll focus in one. The one that drove me to write this post. Pop culture.
It plays an important role and often underestimated role. Pop culture prepares society for what’s coming, or for what’s already here and we are not seeing. I bet that today, our schools are not teaching the the theory of Relativity, nanotechnology or quantum physics… hell no, we are still debating if evolution is a fact or a conspiracy to deviate us from the Truth. But nowadays people are getting, through almost subliminal channels, bits of information that prepares them for the moment to switch paradigms. Pop culture is creating the foundations to support that knowledge. And little by little is preparing us to view the world through a different screen.
For instance, if tomorrow on CNN you read that a group of scientists have discovered the way to travel through time, I don’t think you would jump from your chair freaking out about the crazy stuff that people discover or create. You have been prepared, for when the moment comes, to digest those news faster. If you are a hard core sci-fi fan, unless a flying saucer abducts you and gives you a thrill ride through the galaxy, you shouldn’t be shocked by groundbreaking or “look-like-magic” discoveries. Warp speed? That’s old!
I stated that there wasn’t just one factor. If I had to name a few ones quickly I’d say that any communication channel that is not at the service of the status-quo can function as a change-driver. It’s always by the clash of the old vs. the new that advancement is possible. One can’t exist without the other. There is no change if there is nothing to change.
Fernando Tarnogol is an Argentinean psychologist, currently working as Program Coordinator at the Devereux Foundation in West Chester, Pennsylvania.