What makes us human? A sociological perspective

One of the latest books I've been working my way through is the introductory sociology book Ten Questions: A Sociological Perspective by Joel Charon. In a time filled with political/social division and tension, I've found myself thinking a lot about community: how and why we form it, when it erodes, and how we can re-build it after it has been broken for so long. There's no doubt that we live in an era of instant gratification, where it seems that we often spend much more time building up our digital and social media selves than actual, personal connections. I've often wondered what the boundaries of this are--at some point, will we reject the way we've allowed social media to upend our lives? Will we feel that something is missing; perhaps something that ultimately makes us feel fulfilled and connected, and more human?

Reading the book Bowling Alone helped me in partially answering these questions. It reaffirmed an intuition I felt that we are, in fact, becoming more isolated as the way we spend our leisure time changes, and our conceptions of community shift. Charon's Ten Questions has helped me to fill in another missing puzzle piece by illustrating how sociology defines our humanness.

Sociology uses three separate aspects to define what it means to be human: use of symbols, self-hood, and mind. Each of these aspects contribute to an important part of what it means to be human, and how humans interact with the world. But as Charon astutely points out, none of these aspects can develop without socialization from others. It is through others that we are able to share symbols of communication and convey complex thoughts and feelings; it is also through others that we determine our sense of self. Without either of these two items, we wouldn't be able to develop the ability of mind (as Charon frames it, mind is human's ability to "point things out to themselves, manipulate the environment in their heads, imagine things that do not even exist in the physical world, consider options, etc.")

Thus, who we are, why we do things, why we think things, and how we communicate is all a result of our sociological interactions with others. So what happens when our society turns into one where individuals are increasingly isolated and alienated? I'll attempt an answer to this question next week as I progress through the book.

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