David Ehrenfeld

Becoming Good Ancestors: Pseudocommunities, Obsolescence, Accelerating Social Evolution, and Writing



1.       Diagnosis of the passive/casual rudeness story?

          a.       Students treating him as if talking head on a TV, not a real person

          b.       TV authority figures can’t hear them, don’t take offense, don’t rebuke

2.       TV’s negative affects

          a.       Has induced passivity, unresponsiveness

          b.       Encourages a “wandering, superficial mentality”

          c.       Isolates and alienates people

          d.       Loneliness of people caught in the television culture”

          e.       Cuts treads of community

          f.       These criticisms of TV are ones that he makes of e-communication in general


3.       Importance of community

          a.       Only effective power to limit consumption, pollution and degradation of nature

                    i.        Why does he say this?

                    ii.       Caring about one’s community best strategy for env. protection? Community and responsibility tied

          b.       TV promotes these evils while weakening communal ability to resist them

          c.       People need community


4.       Email and internet not created community, but rather pseudocommunities (=PS)

          a.       Facebook and twitter not true but pseudocommunities


5.       Pseudocommunities = assemblages of electronically linked people

          a.       Substitutes for real communities (which are gone or going)

          b.       Make people feel good again

          c.       Replace passivity of TV with semblance of activity, creativity and choice

          d.       Keeping reality of true neighborly, communal responsibility away


6.       Electronically simulated phone operators

          a.       Get us accustom to dealing with facsimiles of people in our daily lives

          b.       Reality is being replaced with virtual reality

          c.       This is bad, even if efficient (which it isn’t)

7.       There is more to life than maximizing efficiency of daily transactions

          a.       Efficiency of daily life enhanced at expense of community


8.       Value of community:

          a.       Daily transactions between real people are one of the things that make life worth living

          b.       Real communities have an incredible subtlety and wealth of interactions

          c.       PS can’t duplicate their complexity or richness

9.       Consider:

          a.       Electronic bank machines as opposed to tellers

          b.       Electronic gas stations as opposed people who pump your gas or at least people you pay

          c.       But does one want to have subtle, complex and rich interactions when filling ones car with gas or getting money?

                    i.        Maybe we should?


10.     Almost every advance in tech brings more social disintegration

11.     Consider interactive video communication (e.g., Skype)

          a.       At least with the telephone, the lack of visual information, the disembodied voice was a constant reminder that this communication is between people who are actually–perhaps distressingly--distant from one another

          b.       Like a letter, call received in private from someone elsewhere

          c.       Add picture and sense of privacy and distance are disturbed

          d.       Replaced by illusion of proximity, a mockery of context

          e.       A step on road to PS

12.     Consider: Would people live so far apart if they did not have e-communication?

          a.       If not, it enhances separation of family and friends


13.     Internet and email are dangerous to community

14.     Internet suppose to be liberating force, and in some ways it is

          a.       Harder for repressive governments/powerful interest to hide news that goes against their interests

          b.       Free democratic exchange of ideas and creation of “global community?”

15.     Internet fosters a false sense of being part of a community of people working together for common good

          a.       But people hooked up on internet live in different landscapes, have different env. problems, their cultures are different

                    i.        And so can’t form true community?

          b.       While creating the “global community,” you will have been neglecting your neighbors

16.     No such thing as a “global community” (it is an oxymoron = a conjunction of contradictory words)

          a.       All community is local?

17.     Real community requires a measure of separation of one community from another, and personal boundaries that add strength and diversity to communities

          a.       Internet is making this harder and harder


18.     E-communication is addicting: Speed and simplicity of communicating electronically can be alluring and habit-forming


19.     E-communication leads to unreflective and poor judgment/valuations

          a.       Unreflective things can and will be said and responded to

                    i.        Unlike when writing a letter

          b.       Consider the kinds of things people say via email interactions

          c.       Is his idea that when communicating with people one is not face to face with--and so unable to get wealth and intricacies of social cues from the physical interaction-- one should be very slow and careful what one says.

          d.       In a proper, durable relationship many thoughts, after careful reflection, should be left unsaid

          e.       Careful reflection takes time and often privacy and we have stupidly got rid of these

          f.       If going to make valid judgments about things and people, must have information from all senses (and this can’t be conveyed in words or images on a monitor)

          g.       E.g., Electronically formed love affairs often fall apart once meet face to face

          h.       Mistake to hire someone without meeting them in person

                    i.        But e-communication may be useful way to narrow down list?


20.     Community building is hard work

          a.       No easy, glamorous way to be part of a community

          b.       Building it requires painstaking persistent effort and perpetual learning


21.     Ehrenfeld thinks the internet does not create real wealth and is economically and environmentally harmful

          a.       Creating transient efficiencies, destabilizing luxuries and quick profits of distant entrepreneurs

          b.       Exploitative; consumers rather than generators of wealth

          c.       Not creating necessary material goods and services

          d.       Only allow wealth to be rapidly shifted from place to place

          e.       Very resource consumptive: “Takes about l pound of coal to create, package and store, and move 2 megabytes of data”

                    i.        Eventually internet likely to fragment and contact


22.     Social reasons will lead to rejection of new systems of communication

23.     PS are thin, transient, and unsatisfying

          a.       Fun to play electronic games simultaneously with hundreds of partners in several dozen countries (e.g., World of Warcraft),

          b.       This fun does not sustain but the shallowest of existences

          c.       Loss of real human contact

          d.       Breakdown of defined boundaries of self and community


24.     Internet fosters loneliness

25.     Those who spend most time on Internet and e-communication are among the loneliest people in our society

          a.       Internet when used at home displace social contact:

                    i.        “More time spent on internet at home, less time spent with friends, family and social activities”

                    ii.       “In contrast Internet use at work has little effect on sociability”

          b.       On many college campuses, e-communications preventing development of meaningful, communal relationships

                    i.        Dorm lounges carved up for clusters of computers

                    ii.       Student unions declining as gathering places

                    iii.      Computer dorm rooms becoming high tech caves

                              (1)     “How do we build a sense of campus community if they don’t come out of their rooms?”

                    iv.      One student communicated by email with roommates even though sitting a few feet away

26.     PS seductive, but most will rediscover face to face friends and coworkers are superior to virtual ones


27.     Ehrenfeld thinks there are important positive values to the internet

          a.       Harder for repressive governments/powerful interest to hide news that goes against their interests

          b.       For infirm and handicapped, e-communication provides a life saving source of human contact

          c.       For anyone, the judicious use of internet is a wonderful and quick source of information

                    i.        Don’t confuse the value of Internet for providing information with its value as a substitute for community


Questions on Ehrenfeld, Becoming Good Ancestors: Pseudocommunities

1. What are three distinct negative effects Ehrenfeld identifies that have resulted from the television culture.
2. Give some examples of what Ehrenfeld calls “pseudocommunities” and explain why he labels them with this term.
3. Using examples, explain the tradeoff between efficiency of daily life and community.
4. Explain Ehrenfeld’s assessment of electronic communication. Do you agree with him?
5. Explain Ehrenfeld’s idea that the internet fosters loneliness.
6. What are some of the positive values Ehrenfeld sees in the internet?


Students: You do not need to study the below for the final.



1.       Idea of obsolescence is a dominant, recurring theme in our lives and it is hurting us

          a.       We have a fear of being obsolete

          b.       And an irrational love of the “new”

2.       Obsolescence

          a.       Can’t adapt and compete in a changing world

                    i.        Dinosaurs (does not like this example)

          b.       An inevitable by product of developing technologies

          c.       Example: “Foot soldiers learned the hard way about obsolescence when they first did battle with men in iron chariots!”


3.       Obsolescence today

          a.        Not just recognition of the new, but absolute rejection of the old

          b.       Only way new can be validated is by denigrating everything that came before

          c.       If something or some group becomes obsolete, they are losers

          d.       If a thing is obsolete, it is beneath contempt and incapable of improvement

                    i.        E.g., Berry’s typewriter?

          e.       A destructive attitude that cuts us off from our past and devalues our soon to become obsolete present


4.       (Power of idea of) obsolescence created by corporate profit motive through use of advertising

          a.       “Fear of being obsolete is being carefully taught at this moment to countless consumers around the world, drummed home by media and reinforce by every level of education industry


5.       By labeling something obsolete we ignore important questions

          a.       Did it work?

          b.       Did it last or create conditions for own regeneration?

          c.       Was it beautiful?

          d.       Did it give pleasure?

          e.       Was it a critical link in a larger process?

          f.       Did it need to be replaced?

          g.       Is its replacement an improvement?

          h.       Its is possible we will need ii for survival in days ahead?


6.       To call something obsolete boasts an omniscience we don’t posses and a supremely dangerous refusal to look at the lasting scars our technology is gashing across our planet.



1.       Religion of progress versus commitment to slow social evolution as a way of life

          a.       Obsolescence and the new versus tradition?

          b.       Ehrenfeld supports the second


2.       Analogy social and biological evolution

          a.       Social evolution – evolution of institutional and communal relationships– is important like biological evolution

          b.       New connections and relationships among organized groups and individuals form slowly, accumulated result of countless small decisions and chance, like mutations and genetic recombination in bio evolution

          c.       Grossly dysfunctional relationships/connections are eliminated by fiat or common consent, like natural selection works on individual organisms

          d.       Some species, institutions, communities survive and prosper and some don’t

          e.       W/o social evolution no human system could work.


3.       Today strong and ruthless anti-evolutionary forces at play

          a.       Social evolution not allowed to run normal course

          b.       Frequent sudden disruptions of established relationships, customs and behaviors among people who work and live together

          c.       Cause: powerful inhuman forces of modern tech and economics


4.       Cataclysmic changes are bad for both biological and social evolution

          a.       Evolution requires a blend of change and stability

5.       Incessant reorganization –tool of both management and incidental consequences of mergers and takeovers of today’s business

          a.       Insecure manager can reorganize as a way of disrupting relationships that might allow employees the ability to question and evaluate manager’s decisions


6.       Dilbert: Change makes us stupider and is hard on people

          a.        “People hate change, and with good reasons. Change makes us stupider, relatively speaking. Change adds new information to the universe; information we don’t know...on the other hand, change is good for the people causing it; they understand the new information

          b.       Necessary change is okay

          c.       Change as a way of controlling others is not

          d.       Like a jazz group played together and aware of nuances of what others are doing, now forced to switch instruments and change places with other musicians


7.       Rapidity of electronic transactions replaced older ways of doing business also a force that opposed evolution

          a.       Social evolution is slow; much sower than frenetic, sound-bitten microsecond-conscious blur we exist in now

          b.       Takes a long time to get to know people, work with them effectively and smoothly

          c.       Learn what can and can’t do, what they like and don’t like, when can and can’t be trusted

          d.       In electronic world little time for social evolution


8.       Importance of slow decision making

          a.       Having time for reflection is not a luxury and is not dispensable

          b.       A decision seemed unambiguous when it was made may appear quite different after a night’s sleep

          c.       Rapid e-communications help promote bad choices and social disruption that follows


9.       Technology-fostered speed disrupts social evolution and fosters isolation

          a.       Hard to imagine how process of social evolution can function when people only connected by narrowest of information channels and workplace is fractured into collection of individually staffed home work stations and employees communication with each other by email, text and cell phones with occasional video


10.     Social evolution’s best products–lasting institutions durable friendships, stable communities, accumulated wisdom and gentle and productive cooperation–are among the highest achievements of our human existence

          a.       Incessant disruption, superficial contacts, and personal isolation making social evolution impossible

          b.       Need to reaffirm quality over false and deceptive claims of efficiency

Students: See questions above after the material on "Psuedocommunities." There will not be questions on the final on the other chapters of Ehrenfeld we read.