5 ianuarie 2014

Modernity + or -

In the Moscow's metro stations, my friend Francesco noticed something that he found strange. The large electric clock counted  down the minutes passed from the departure of the most recent train, instead of showing when the one will come. For me, the difference was somehow unnoticeable. In many respects, Moscow, as a whole, reminded me of early nineties Bucharest,  the time when I frequently used the very busy metro of the dirty Romanian capital city. Therefore the unusual display of meaningless figures was somehow natural. 

In the Bucharest's underground transportation system, they have the same habit. The time past from the last train might be useful in certain conditions, and would require deep knowledge about how often trains arrive at different times of the day. However, an user friendly information would be the usual indication of how much one has to wait until the next ride.

However, to provide such information two condition have to be met. First is to care for the passengers, that is to care for the customers who pay for the transportation service, and for the wages of those who provide it. Second is to be able to plan ahead. The later would enable simple estimates of how much time takes a train to travel from a station to another, depending on how many board at specific times of specific days... The former implies a certain respect for those that buy your service, and for yourself and the quality of your work.

Both of these are features of cultural modernity. A certain sociological tradition defines Eastern European postcommunist socities as pseudomodern (see for instance Sztompka's argument on fake modernity). I have argued 15 years ago (see the first volume from my book on pseumodern Romania) that this comes together with Katherine Werdery's observation that in the 80s and early 90s, Romania was a double-morale society, where people and instituton used to affirme one thing, just to show off, and to act in a different way, frequently promoting the opposite. The same symbolic background to be found in the blat economy (in Alena Ledeneva's terms) supports all this, providing the legitimacy, and the perpetuation of the system.

 Just to be clear, this is not about an abstract 'System', but about what people find normal. And in a fake modern world, planning and respecting the others are not part of the broad picture. The clocks in the metro stations, providing an information which lacks usefulness, are signs of such modernity....

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