There is an old joke told by Woody Allen, “A guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says, hey doc, my brother’s crazy! He thinks he’s a chicken. Then the doc says why don’t you turn him in? Then the guy says, I would but I need the eggs.” This joke seems to highlight our growing dependency on social media. As much as we seem to demonize people looking at their phones everywhere, in lines, while driving, at the dinner table- it seems that no place is safe. It seems this electronic narcissism has taken over our consciousness and has invited a response asking us to be mindful of our screen time with the Bored and Brilliant program launched by the Note to Self NPR radio program. It seems that the only true response to the galloping monopoly of our face time is to turn away completely as Allan Curtis suggests. As much as we protest this media creep, perhaps we have to either do without the eggs or admit our powerlessness before our new media god.
As the Christmas season fades into memory, my sons delight with his new PS4 continues but with some reservations. It seems that with his favorite video game when purchased, gives a certain level of play and access but for all the bells and whistles- playing on line with friends and other upgrades, you need to purchase a membership package, monthly, quarterly or yearly. While he is disappointed, the game still has its allure, it stands as an example of today’s move toward monetization of relationships. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago when you purchased a game and you had full access though there may have been a membership or club that you could join you basically had full access. Today it seems purchase is not the end result but the beginning of a slow financial drip to keep us engaged as long as possible. Not only games but web services among others have also run to this strategy. While LinkedIn is free, I am constantly swatting away the notices that, for a small fee, I can access the premium service which offers services that used to be offered as a part of the free service. Many other services are revising their free offerings and moving formerly free perks behind the velvet rope of membership or access fees. While companies eagerly swallow up our data exhaust to refine their marketing to us, we are asked to pay for what was once was in the free realm. We seem to be on our way to the monetization of everything, where every transaction comes with a price. With the defeat of net neutrality that seems to be more and more the norm- you can help yourself, but don’t take too much or you have to pay. God bless the child who’s got their own (bank account).
While looking for information on several companies I did what most people do, I read the reviews and was surprised to see that the trend for most companies was predominantly negative. Then I was reminded of a phrase of Jaron Lanier, in an interview on NPR, that “Outrage provokes engagement”. We are much more willing to complain loudly than to sing someone’s praises. Think of the last time you had a conversation with someone about how badly you were treated versus the last time you spoke about a kind or loving interaction. Whereas network news once had the rallying cry,” If it bleeds, it leads” that seems to have been replaced by the need to outrage viewers in order to stir them up, get them to tweet, comment and generally justify their existence. It seems that the purpose of media has become provocation and not communication. Twitter and the use of it by our “president” is a perfect example. While a substantive discussion of any issue would be difficult in 120 characters, it seems as though Mr. Trump seems more intent on kicking over the beehive and generating buzz (pardon the pun) rather than inviting a discussion on what needs to be done and how to get there. This is no surprise for a reality star turned politician who has learned that manipulation of the media is easier than manipulation of policy. The beast needs our attention and will do anything to get us to look at it. Perhaps our best response is to turn away from the media’s childlike tantrum and hope that it will someday realize the promises that it whispered in our ears when we allowed it in our lives.
As my friend and mentor, Father Charlie is fond of reminding me, the saying isn’t, “The truth shall set you free” but that “The truth shall make you whole”. That idea of the power of Truth or truth is something that kept coming back to me as I read, Marcus Wohlsen’s “Biopunk, DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life” for as fascinating and disturbing as the idea of the next great step forward in biological science would not come from a pharmaceutical company or a university but from people “hacking” biology in their own kitchens, garages and, in one case, walk-in closets. If information is the same as truth then perhaps it really will make us whole. It seems that there is an entire network of DIY scientist hacks working in such complex fields as gene splicing, genetic testing and more. It seems that our next major innovation in medicine may not come from the university or the major drug company but from people creating a cancer drug in their kitchen. As we give people greater and greater access to information, hopefully, we also liberate their imagination and ability to create a world vaster than what we have known. We have all heard the story of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak creating Apple in their garage and transforming the world. Who will be the next Edward Jenner or Antonie van Leeuwenhoek who creates the next wonder drug or engineer the next stage of human development? As Shaw said, youth is wasted on the young and perhaps our resources are squandered on the large institutions that have more interest in maintaining their own status quo than reshaping the world and the way we live in it. Honestly, how does a pink ribbon cure breast cancer or is simply raising our awareness of it all that we care to do? We can be aware of ethnic cleansing in the world but a ribbon or pin will not change that reality. Perhaps our current paradigm is supporting the truth but our information share will make us whole. If ever there were a time for free flow of information it seems it must happen now lest we are left strong in symbolism and weak in action. I believe it is our action that will make us whole.