"Because they see the world and think about the world differently than you, that's challenging," says Page, author of "The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies." "But by hanging out with people different than you, you're likely to get more insights. Diverse teams tend to be more productive."
In other words, those in more diverse communities may do more bowling alone, but the creative tensions unleashed by those differences in the workplace may vault those same places to the cutting edge of the economy and of creative culture.
Page calls it the "diversity paradox." He thinks the contrasting positive and negative effects of diversity can coexist in communities, but "there's got to be a limit." If civic engagement falls off too far, he says, it's easy to imagine the positive effects of diversity beginning to wane as well. "That's what's unsettling about his findings," Page says of Putnam's new work. -- Michael Jonas, Boston Globe
What's unsettling about the way Page's findings seem to be deployed, in frustrated reaction to Putnam's bad news, is the utilitarian logic meant to 'compensate' for the downside of diversity. Yes, diverse un-communities may rot our inclination to interrelate even with our own kind. But look! Diversity makes us the hippest, most of-the-moment producers of identertainment in the world!
Think about it. We trade real communities and families, knitted within true social fabrics, for the ability to expertly produce the very services and service-platforms that opiate atomized individuals in virtual communities. I'm happy that Page recognizes the 'paradox' here (a gentle word for it). But community has lost out to commerce for long enough that the push into virtual community seems an inevitable market-driven compensation for the ongoing depletion of civic engagement. (Which, incidentally, would involve a further expansion and entrenchment of the prison class, and a concomitant reinforcement of prison niche culture, ever more energetically co-opted into the identertainment industry.)
By virtual communities, I don't just mean gold farming or second life. It's more than an internet thing. Niche affinity groups have been nationalized and globalized by television. The internet just scoots things along. When people say 'community' nowadays they primarily don't mean a local group, a geographically contiguous social network. (This is one of the few things hipsters in LA and NY have going for them.) They mean 'the gay community,' 'the medical community,' 'the evangelical community,' 'the black community,' and so on. Actual local networks are surely wrapped up in these virtual communities. But increasingly our relevant communities are manufactured, and self-consciously so.
This might all be innocuous enough if the upside of diversity, which we must work all the harder to perfect in order to 'save' diversity from its 'bigoted' detractors, did not involve active, top-down social engineering. But it does. The virtual communities of national niches are at least, as often as not, bottom-up phenomena. The virtual communities of the workplace are. The deadening effect of the workplace requires the cultivation of two sources of enchantment and excitement -- (a) corporate loyalty, meaning loyalty to the 'values' of the firm and to the worth of the services and service-platforms churned out, and (b) diversity for its own sake, complete with manufactured celebrations, official niche cultural events (each mysteriously involving food and booze), and team-building exercises. Of course none of these lessons can be applied outside of the workplace. But that's okay. Increasingly, that's the focal point of our socializations. The office is the community, and, increasingly, a false community falsely engineered.