Sunday, 22 May, 2022

Digital Social Relationship and Uncertainty

Dr Matiur Rahman

Digital Social Relationship and Uncertainty
Dr Matiur Rahman

The digital social relationship is an integral part of Digital Sociology. It has now become central to the lives of most people living in developed and developing countries across the globe. Since the introduction of personal computers in the early 1980s and the internet in the early 1990s, those technologies – variously termed as ‘Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) or ‘cyber technologies’ and now frequently called ‘digital technologies’ or ‘the new digital media’ – have reached into many dimensions of everyday life, impacting on family and intimate relationships, leisure activities, paid work, education, commerce and how mass media are presented and consumed.

New digital media technologies have had a profound influence on everyday life and social relations for many people in societies. People all over the world are becoming linked together by digital media and networks in unprecedented ways, allowing for the fast and efficient flow of information across these networks. As a result, a digital social relationship is being built up among people across the world, which has drawn sociologists’ attention to research on it.

The theory of the Liquid Society was coined by the eminent Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman in his book titled ‘Liquid Modernity’ published in 2000. According to him liquids, unlike solids, cannot hold their shape. Liquids are fluid and they flow, spill, drip, ooze, in our society. It means that we are “being transformed from the ‘solid’ to ‘liquid’ phase of modernity.” Flexibility has replaced stability and ‘solidity’ as the condition to be pursued.

In sociology, society refers to a group of people who live in a definable community and share the same culture. On a broader scale, society consists of the people and institutions around us, our shared beliefs, and our cultural ideas. Typically, more-advanced societies also share a political authority.

Bauman compared the current society to a fluid one where every human being behaves like a particle of fluid, meaning that the bonds between them are not as strong as a solid, and society cannot hold its own by applying different kinds of force. He thinks that this process of liquefaction of society has started from the time of changing the face of society and state in the name of modernity. And according to Bauman, various factors such as insecurity, uncertainty and individualism play a major role in such societies.

We are now at the age of the fourth industrial revolution; where there has been an unimaginable development of technology and, at the same time, there have been various changes in the basic structure of societies. However, the most notable and common feature of these changes is that the depth of connection between people in society is creating various distances and the thick and strong threads of social bonds are gradually narrowing and weakening.

In this digital era, we can send huge amounts of information, money or goods from one place to another only through the Internet without direct interaction. We are also replacing humans with artificial intelligence, which is said to take over many professions in the near future. In this age of new technology, the Industrial Society has been transformed into a new social system, which has been named as Information Society.

We now have sophisticated computers, smartphones and the Internet. In this new information-based society, we see that the distance between people has narrowed as a result of the unimaginable improvement of the communication system. Now, we can talk to someone far from us through a video call on Messenger or WhatsApp. We are using a webcam for meetings or other purposes. In the virtual world of social media like Facebook, people from different continents are becoming friends, which may not have been possible in the real world. With the help of search engines like Google, we can get news from all over the world from anywhere. Due to this rapid development of technology, globalisation is accelerating and its benefits are reaching all people. But what kind of changes are taking place in the basic structure of society as a result of this ubiquitous development of technology?

According to Bauman’s theory of liquid society, with the development of information technology, on the one hand, virtual relationships may have expanded in many ways, but on the other hand, the bonds of daily relationships with the people around them are getting narrower and weaker. People are constantly moving away from people close to them; relationships are getting strained and, at the end of the day, everyone is suffering from extreme loneliness. At the same time, as a result of the ubiquitous spread of capitalist development philosophy, people are giving priority to their welfare.

Baumann opined that people are moving from the ‘hard’ hardware-based modernity of industrial society to the ‘liquid’ software-based modernity of information-based society today. It is creating a ‘liquid society’. The characteristic of this liquid society is that it is associated with the uncontrolled and remote processes of the global system and the unorganised and loosely bound social relations that have pushed people towards an uncertain and insecure life.

Because of this uncertainty, problems after one another are emerging. So people are always worried about any unexpected issue. After getting rid of one anxiety, another one is appearing because in this new society there are many more factors affecting everything constantly and what will happen nobody knows in advance. It increases the risk in society, which Ulrich Beck calls the ‘Risk Society’. An important feature of this risk society is that man-made disasters such as environmental pollution, global warming, war, famine, epidemics of various diseases, etc have to be dealt with by people alone in such a society.

The Covid-19 is a good example of these risks. It has proved how insecure and uncertain life is in this society. Therefore, states need to focus on programmes that address the uncertainties and insecurities of their citizens. Creating a philosophy of development at the local and international level, the mutual relations among the people of the society will be strengthened, confidence will be increased and various fields of cooperation will be created. By these, we may build up a balanced society for our future generations.


The writer is a researcher

and development worker