After reading this article you will learn about the psychological challenges faced in a contemporary society.
The contemporary age has often been described as an age of anxiety. Present-day society, has on the one hand, reached heights of economic growth, technological advance and success. But along with this, we have also witnessed increasing tensions, conflicts, unhappiness and a lot of unproductive or even counterproductive behaviour on the other hand.
Writers like Karen Homey, Eric Fromm as well as authors like Reisman and Galbraith have pointed out that modern society, while it has been building up its advantages has also allowed itself to be caught as a prisoner due to its own actions, resulting in contradictory phenomena such as success accompanied with discontent, free choice with compulsion, togetherness with loneliness and intimacy with isolation.
Even though communication facilities have increased people seem to understand each other less and less. Prosperity has increased and so has poverty. Predictability has certainly increased with the parallel growth of uncertainty.
All these contradictions have led to the emergence of psychological problems such as perpetual anxiety, doubt, insecurity, etc. In his eloquent analysis of the position of man in contemporary society Erich Fromm brings out clearly what he calls the helplessness of modern man.
In his classic work on “The Lonely Crowd” David Reisman, in a characteristic manner, brings out the increasing feeling of loneliness and isolation in contemporary man in-spite of physical proximity to others. From a psychological point of view it has been shown that modern man has more needs, more frustrations, more conflicts, more demands, more contradictions and more of practically everything, excepting common sense.
While change and progress have been achieved, instability and uncertainty have been the by-products. Contemporary man often finds himself ‘busy doing nothing’. He has plenty of time to worry, but no time to do something about it.
All this means that anxiety, stress and conflict have become the concomitants of contemporary life. This has resulted in a condition now popularly known as alienation. Modern man does many things without knowing why; much of his behaviour is meaningless even to himself.
While he feels his actions to be meaningless, he finds it difficult to be at peace with himself or enjoy his leisure. Thus, meaningless action and a sense of restlessness, both contribute to a feeling of lack of authenticity. Modern man very often is not convinced about what he is doing or not doing. His own actions and inactions seem strange not only to others but to himself.
To quote Stanley Hall, perhaps out of context, “He has entered a new world and knows neither it nor himself.” He has freedom but only to conform. Unfortunately, all this is very different from what man expected to achieve through scientific progress, economic growth and technological advancement.
Thus, the experiences appear to be more shocking than consoling. While poverty and underdevelopment have their own natural and logical psychological problems, prosperity and affluence seem to bring in their own illogical consequences.
Such a situation has thrown up a number of challenges to psychologists, contemporary psychology is faced with the problem of to identifying and developing ways and means of correlating material progress with psychological gain.
The individual in contemporary society is always being driven by a sense of pressure, stress and conflict. It is today realized that developments in science and technology have to keep abreast of psychological growth and development. In this context, one can see the emergence of crucial roles for the psychologist to devise both individual and social strategies for minimizing anxiety, restlessness, listlessness and stress.
Such strategies belong to different levels of social organization, beginning from the family at one end to the entire society at the other end with other agencies like the school, work organization and community in between. The term psychosocial engineering has come to have definite meaning.
It implies an active role for behavioural scientists, particularly psychologists in designing ideal models of institutions and organizations and also evolving principles which would help to relate to these organizations and institutions so that all of them contribute to the maximization of the psychological resources of human beings and also ensure that they are used for the best possible purposes.
Psychological planning has become a necessary correlation of economic growth and planning. Unfortunately, psychologists so far have been working with smaller groups and limited organizations (microsystems) and have not made much of a contribution to the planning of larger groups or macro-systems.
The credit goes to B.F. Skinner who was the first psychologist to bring out the possibilities of psychological theory or behaviour theory contributing to cultural planning and shaping. The preoccupation of psychologists with problems such as social neuroses, social stress, etc. are indicative of the roles that will be emerging very decisively in the future for psychologists.
Such a role for the psychologist which involves psycho-social engineering certainly envisages necessity and the possibility of evolving a functional and meaningful system of psycho-technology and behavioural technology. It has been shown clearly that just as technology can plan for a machine system, behaviour technology can plan for a psycho-social system. The problem with psychologists seems to be that they only react and do not or cannot pro-act.