When Worlds Collide

(Or checking in at Life World with Jürgen Habermas and 2 others)A few months ago, I was watching the morning news and the anchor made a terrible pun. I don’t remember what it was, just that it was really, really bad. And cheesy. I love bad puns, but this one was a little much for me.

But then then anchor screwed up his face and said, “Sorry guys, that’s just what it said on the teleprompter.”

It was kind of refreshing. I sometimes wonder how much of the morning news banter is scripted and how much of it is the actually personality of the anchors coming through. Most of the time, I honestly don’t know.

Whenever it comes up that the president of the university where I work is very active on Facebook and Twitter, that observation is usually followed by the impressed comment, “And, he actually posts himself!”

No one’s ever impressed that I post myself.

So what is it about these types of situations that I find interesting?

The news anchor and the university president are both examples of what German sociologist Jürgen Habermas would call the “system” – essentially the structures and institutions we interact with. I would probably call it “The Man” but “The System” is a nice, gender neutral alternative. I can dig it.

So when you have a brand on Facebook, or a person who is institutionalized to some degree, you don’t necessarily expect them to post to Facebook themselves. President Obama…probably doesn’t update his Facebook status. Coke…is not sentient and can’t update it’s status. 

But my relationship with both of them is the same. They are the system.

I, meanwhile, am living in what Habermas would call “the Life World” – the “world” we inhabit in our day to day lives.

More and more, there is a blurring between the Life World and the System. The fact that Coke is on Facebook at all is a sign of that blurring.

Sometimes it’s clear where the line is, and sometimes it’s not.

When Red Bull first launched – this is one of my favorite stories – they wanted to be known as a cool, hip, brand (that could dangerously be mixed with Vodka). So, like any good industrious company, they went out too all the coolest clubs in the wee hours of Saturday mornings and left empty bottles of Red Bull around the bar.

The System invaded the Life World.

And folks who were busy partying away in their Life World, saw that presumably somebody cool had been drinking Red Bull in their cool club. And so they started drinking Red Bull, cause clearly that’s what the cool kids did.

Except that’s not what the cool kids did. At least, not until the System convinced them it was.

This is not entirely relevant, but it is a picture of my class all pretending to be Habermas, wearing, if you will, Habermasks.

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