As lost in my own Cloud-Cuckooland with my books as I am, I have to admire these types. And my envy of their success is quite great...
In general, I think the renegade Socratic Marxist sociologist Alvin Gouldner was right about the "New Class": it's made up of two parts, and this is from my memory of reading Gouldner:
- The old "humanist" intellectuals, and they probably go back to the literate priests who kept literacy for themselves. Today they include historians, theologians, poets, literary critics, most social "scientists," musicologists, philosophers...you get the drift. They tend to be politically liberal or "radical"and try to make cultural change through their use of various rhetorics, usually conducted through writing and verbal/oral skills. Their impact has become less and less politically powerful, especially during the Roaring 20th c.
- The more recent technical intelligentsia, who rose mightily since around 1600. These are the Geeks who use the language of mathematics. They're physical scientists (physicists, chemists, biologists) and technological innovators and maintainers of the technical infrastucture. Throw in doctors, lawyers, and engineers here. Certain types of high-level bureaucrats and C.E.Os who don't own stock in their own company too...They tend to be more conservative, but their impact on society has been radical. The Third Culture types have made a somewhat convivial bridge between the Two Cultures, but to my eyes they are still rooted in the technical intelligentsia.
Both groups have an overweening sense of entitlement, are jealous of their prerogatives, and, basically, the Platonic Philosopher King Complex holds in both courts. Both groups have together been wrestling with the Old Money class for cultural power. Think of the characters and values of, say, the National Association of Manufacturers, longtime backers of the Republican Party in the U.S.
The major difference, for Gouldner, between the two intellectual groups versus the Old Monied class is the former's insistence on CCD: the Culture of Critical Discourse, which means, among other aspects, that it doesn't matter if you're wearing jeans with holes in them, or you have tattoos, and and Rastafarian hair and it's well-known your father is a drug dealer: if you have a good idea and you're articulate, they will listen. Rational, critical, careful discourse knows nothing of Inherited Privilege. To dismiss any idea because it's not from a wealthy upper classman is the height of idiocy for the New Class. Good ideas can come from anywhere. (All of this a thumbnail sketch from Alvin Gouldner's fascinating and slim 1979 volume, The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class. )
One more thing that sticks out in my memory of this amazing book (time to read it again!) is this: despite the aforesaid overweening sense of its own entitlements, this New Class (both the old humanist and the new technical intellectuals together) is the best card History has dealt yet.
[Note: I'd give an Amazon link to the Gouldner book, but the prices were ridiculous! Get thee to your local library for it! For people interested in ideas about how intellectuals see themselves, this book is an absolute must-read.]
Regarding a moral stance toward dazzling electronic gadgetry and its social networking possibilities and what it all "does to" our nervous systems: I am like Marshall McLuhan, who personally preferred books and conversation to radio, TV, films, and...everything since. But unlike the Bard of Media Ecology, I love some of the stuff: some TV, a great many movies. I use a cell phone as a portable telephone booth and would rather not talk on it. I love compact discs, but they're on their way out, and I've never downloaded music from Internet, nor do I know how to do MP3s or podcasts.
The Internet would've blown McLuhan's mind, and in many ways MM is one of its Patron Saints. Internet has blown my mind, most assuredly. I don't Tweet or Facebook, although friends and family have urged me to do so. I love email. I could go on and on, but suffice: McLuhan is wildly and erroneously thought of as LIKING all the electronic media he famously wrote about, and nothing could be further from the truth. As Douglas Coupland writes in his recent book on MM, "He hated, loathed, abhorred it." The point is, McLuhan had a professionally amoral stance towards all of it. He thought a moral stance got in the way of understanding it, because in "probing" the new media, there were ideas to mine that, artfully, gave a sort of anthropological perspective on humans. And what did Marshall like more than ideas? (A: probably nothing.)
I'm more or less a piece with him on this. And I often wonder just how weird this "makes" me, because McLuhan was a very wonderfully weird guy. We have different politics, and I actually like-unto-love some of the 20th century media that (supposedly) is re-tribalizing us in the Global Village, whilst always beating a hasty retreat back to my books.
Back to the marvelous Geeks:
Here's the Wiki about the M.I.T. Media Lab.
Something recent (as of the above date) from the Media Lab that seems to argue for a Jonah Lehrer (-ish?) Fourth Culture going on there (10 mins):
Here's a video about the M.I.T. Media Lab (note the 8 other equally freaky science-fiction-y vids available after this one):