As the debate goes on over allowing Huawei to use its technology in this country- people wondering if the Chinese company can be trusted with our data, would we be giving them a backdoor to share all our data with the Government of China. Strange that we would be so concerned that the Chinese government might mine our data, yet we blissfully donate our data to Facebook, Google et al. without the merest thought. Perhaps there is a sort of cyber racism going on here. We will allow wasps to feast on our data exhaust and grow fat and rich but good Episcopal God no- we won’t allow the Chinese to gain from our detritus. Are they not worthy to exploit people like everyone else? Perhaps our manifest destiny has run amok and on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the needs of Americans are above those from other nations.
As I write this, the final numbers are being tallied for Giving Tuesday, the international day of giving following Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Hopefully, this is more than just a marketing tool but an indication of a larger transformation in our society- a larger transformation of society. From Black Friday, a brick and mortar holiday and celebration that began in the 1960’s and meant the movement from red ink to black ink back when accounting records were kept by hand, and red ink indicated a loss, and black a profit. Now with our move from the physical to the electronic realm, we are met with cyber Monday. For this celebration of electronic commerce, we have Ellen Davis, senior vice president of research and strategic initiatives for the National Retail Federation to thank who coined the term in 2005.
The relative newcomer being Giving Tuesday which began in 2011 later getting the support of the 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation as a response to commercialization and consumerism in the post-Thanksgiving season. Asking people to give back and to be conscious of the good things they have and share their blessings. Maybe this is evidence of a progression or perhaps a return – a return to a mentality that we have not seen since perhaps the dark ages, the idea that we all depend on one another. Why the dark ages? Because one of the things that took us out of them was the invention of double book keeping in the 13th century in Venice. This allowed a way to manage lending money that has been driving our civilization for centuries. The Renaissance, the industrial revolution even the beginning of the computer age all driven by capital. With the advent of the web, we moved to a different coin, a currency of information. Hopefully, Giving Tuesday will be our next step, allowing us to see that the web that connects us is not electronic but our interdependent humanity, bonding us all together.
I was thinking of the Poi Dog Pondering song while looking at my phone. The lyric “love is everything and everything is a distraction” got me thinking about the object of my affection, my phone. In a recent conversation, Simon Sinek tells how when we get a message on our phone it releases dopamine in our brain, the pleasure chemical that becomes very addictive in the same way that alcohol or drugs affect our brain. More than just that (as if that wasn’t enough) this outward journey keeps us from a necessary inward journey, to find ourselves, to know our own inner peace, free of exterior stresses and interior stresses that can only come through practice and meditation. There is an old African proverb that says, “If there is no enemy within, the enenmy outside can do us no harm.” We allow ourselves to become so distracted by the demons outside that we think we can ignore the demons inside. They will always be there until we turn, face them and make peace with them. All the social media likes will never allow us to love ourselves.
I believe it was Cheap Trick that had the song with the lyric, “Surrender, but don’t give yourself away” but it seems like that is exactly what is happening as Facebook is going forward in its plans to create its own cryptocurrency for use across its platform and other partner platforms. While we are invited to surrender to a world of convenience and security we also seem to be on the brink of giving too much away. With the creation of a stand-alone currency seems to be running the risk of starting a stand-alone economy. With the global online economy now running almost seven trillion dollars imagine the power that a corporation could wield in world politics. With a current value of almost 2.3 billion, they could become powerful enough to begin to dictate financial policy in the same way Walmart dictates when it will receive certain merchandise to its loading dock. While we have seen the effective ways that savings and loans can regulate themselves into a $160 Billion dollar bailout, and later banks almost bankrupted the economy only to get a $700 billion bailout, what could possibly go wrong with a single industry dominating online currency and online transactions? Let us embrace our inner Alfred E Neuman- why worry? A rising economy lifts all boats even at the cost of flooding the low lying ports. So sit back, relax and enjoy the ever warming bathwater.
While washing dishes after dinner, I was surprised to hear Conway Twitty singing “Long Black Train”. Now you might be of a generation similar to mine, thought of Conway Twitty as a punchline to a joke or some late night commercial for someone who had sold more records in England than the Beatles but I was surprised how much he sounded like a young Elvis. He invoked that same Elvis mystic and actually was a really good singer and not just that guy from the late night commercials. It got me thinking about the idea of cultural quality or how far we have come from the idea of high culture and low culture. The idea of the interaction of these was best explored by Carlo Ginzburg in his article, “Morelli, Freud And Sherlock Holmes: Clues And Scientific Method” at which he details the interaction between high culture and low culture. While Ginzberg is looking backward, Janus faced we look forward at how this relationship seems to be dissolving in our time. It seems that with the advent of new media the line between high and low is either blurred or so totally obscured that we have no idea of what culture is anymore. Is rap culture or the cry of an unheard population- or is that a cultural appropriation of a voice of dissent and rage. While some seem to be focusing in what makes us different, our culture seems to want to make us all the same. Anyone can take up any motto or slogan and embrace it as their own. A few years ago there was a commercial where a white businessman, who when asked by his white male secretary what he had to do today, replied, “another day of fighting the oppression of the man” to which the secretary replies sheepishly, “Sir, you are the Man”. The effect may be drowned out by the silent screams of a generation fighting the power of the man laid low in the streets fighting for their civil or human rights. Maybe, we have lost all perspective when drinking from this fire hose of media. History may have become a world of fairy tales and lies. Retreating from a world that is too much with us, late and soon, we find ourselves in a cocoon of constant now. Our power of perspectives has been overwhelmed by a waterfall of information, too much too soon, which has laid waste to our powers to hear properly with an ear out of tune, to know the difference between a King and a punchline.
It was with a certain pleasure I read John Chen’s excellent article, “The Simple Solution To The Technology Trust Crisis” and its suggestions as to how to resolve the issue that people don’t trust the technology that they seem to rely on every day. He suggests that we must own our data and be allowed to be responsible for the monetization or non-monetization of our data, our choices and by extension ourselves, something we have been saying here. It got me thinking of having drinks with a lovely girl from South Africa while in college. She was African and delighted in telling me how in Apartheid South Africa, I would be thought of as less than white, with my olive skin and dark curly hair, that I would fall somewhere on the scale of quadroon, or octoroon. The dictionary reminds that quadroon refers to one who In the 19th century was a person who was one-quarter black and three-quarters white. In other words, a quadroon had one grandparent of African descent. The dictionary goes on to declare that the term is deeply offensive and obsolete.
While that is a charming thought, perhaps the future will see a return of that type of classification for our relation to our digital assets, perhaps we will allow the big tech companies to own our digital personality- digital slaves. Perhaps we will find this term useful to declare how much of ourselves belongs to us and how much is owned by Google, Facebook or Amazon. Author Kashmir Hill, tried to remove herself from the snarl of big tech only to find that she was unable to live without its convenience. Perhaps we are already fast asleep, and the oozy weeds about us twist as we give the only power have, the power to make choices for ourselves, away. Maybe, for us to even think of ourselves as complete owners of our data, our choices and by extension ourselves is only make-believe.
There are few stories that capture my attention more than those involving the mirepoix of Technology stories, Robots, Japan and velociraptor. You can imagine my delight when we saw the story of Japanese robots being fired for not being human enough. It seems that a hotel in Japan had fired most of its human workers, replacing them with robots only to find that the robots were not human enough to replace the human workers that they had replaced. The robot maids and bellhop lacked a human touch and often malfunctioned though it does seem like the velociraptor concierges did seem to be a departure from this plan. The entire situation though brings up the question, what is it that we really want from these robotic aids? This confusion seems inherent in the situation in this hotel, where the concierges were robots made up to look like the aforementioned velociraptors. Do we really want cheaper humans as Wal-Mart seems to think, replacing the people who used to mop the floors with robots, or do we want comical C3PO’s that speak in a charming British accent and add some comic relief to our day-to-day routine? And what about race, do we want our robots all to be white and male or should they be modeled after the Kardashians- (or would that be redundant) in a generic idea of western beauty or would we accept a rainbow of robots in various colours and shapes? In short, are we creating something in the image of a self like us or are we striving toward a future populated by a self-better than who we are?