The Roles of Specialization and Convenience

In ‘The consequences of Modernity’, Giddens writes there is a ‘direct connection between globalizing tendencies of modernization and the transformation of intimacy.’ (p114) While I agree that on the surface, this idea is quite plausible, I will demonstrate that a closer look will reveal these are uniquely separate concepts. Before we can illustrate these differences, we must fully identify these concepts and how he feels they are interwoven.

In dissecting Giddens’ writings, we must first define his choice of words, then come to terms with his concepts. He states that among the defined characteristics of globalizing tendencies are societies becoming increasingly dependent on abstract systems, symbolic tokens and expert systems. He explains these are systems which do not require the individual to understand the details of how the system works. Symbolic tokens he defines as objects or concepts indirectly used to provide utility to the individual but yet are insulated and disconnected to the system they are integrated with. Dependence on these symbolic tokens, Giddens concludes, is a unique consequence of modernity. I say it’s simply the value of convenience.

Next, Giddens defines the transformation of intimacy as building trust mechanisms. Trust mechanisms, he points out, are responsible for ‘breaking down old forms of community to the detriment of personal relations within it.’ (p114) Giddens cites Arnold Gehlen as he writes that because of large institutions, public life has increasingly become less involved and has turned ‘inward toward human subjectivity, where meaning and stability are sought in the inner self.’ (p115) His point is now complete, and he has, on the surface, made the connection between globalizing tendencies of modernization and the transformation of intimacy.

I would like to counter Giddens in such a way ‘to move the conversation in new directions’. (Harris p57) The relationship between abstract, expert systems, and symbolic tokens to both personal and trust mechanisms may seem at first to be intertwined, although I suggest they are only related superficially. When we look deeper at trust mechanisms and security, we find Giddens mentions but then overlooks economic specialization as well as the convenience they offer. My intention is to uncover these extremely valuable topics.

Specialization, a common economic principal, allows individuals to excel, or specialize, in activities they can perform better than others. In doing such, they can achieve higher payoffs (utility) than activities where their performance lacks. Among other things, specialization allows individuals the convenience of paying others to do the tasks they themselves would choose not to do. Specialization offers the individuals the convenience of not having to do everything themselves.

While Giddens illustrates that a consequence of modernity is reliance on expert systems, he overlooks that individuals may choose these expert systems as a matter of convenience. For example, they are aware that they can drive instead of taking an airplane, but they can purchase an airline ticket and get there faster. Symbolic tokens provide merely more convenience than exchanging live chickens or oxen at the ticket counter.

Specialization and convenience is responsible for building trust mechanisms, not the transformation of intimacy or globalization tendencies. Trust mechanisms grow into large institutions of convenience. Convenience frees up individuals to be more involved in their communities. Involvement fosters personal growth where meaning and stability are sought to improve the inner self, not hide there.