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.
Looking back is not something that we like to do here at the “Galaxy” but there are times when a past post comes back to make us stare it in the face like Marley’s ghost demanding an answer. Unfortunately this is the case with one of our posts, “Outsourcing Hatred” we finished by musing that one day possibly we would have machines that could hate people for us, outsourcing our hatred so that we could be free for nobler pursuits. While it would be pretty to think that is remained in the realm of science fiction, recently it was touted in the news that the algorithms have learned our biases and are using them to continue a vision of the world that, hopefully, many of us disagree with. It seems that algorithms are being used to grant or deny us opportunities based on prejudice built into our data. These algorithms don’t simply predict outcomes but cause them. When an algorithm takes the past record of success as the predictor of success, we get a future that greatly resembles our present and past, as sort of infinite ground hog day loop. In a world where the ruling class seems to have a vested interest in maintaining their grip on power, what could be better. But, if you have a vision of a tomorrow different than today, if you see something in the future greater than the present, we will have to wean ourselves from these silicon comforts and find value in each other and what we can do for and with each other or we will end up with a future that is a mirror on our past.
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.
Let’s cut to the chase, we know that technology changes society. The idea of disruptive innovation has been around for a while but while – that being that innovations disrupt markets is not carried over to the idea that technology also disrupts society seems to be glossed over as a cost of business. Yet as technology continues to change the parameters of our existence, it doesn’t seem to take into account the human cost which, as long as we cannot profit from it (yet) can either not be measured or be something to be concerned with. But how are we to go on when all the guideposts we were given have been bleached out by the ever-increasing glare of technology. We try to order our life by rituals by moments in time that we attach importance no longer seem to matter. Growing up we were taught that certain things were important, having dinner together as a family, a basic connection to one another, and a common agreement as to what was important. However, technology seems to have erased our past like footsteps in the sand. While my childhood weekends were spent outside riding my bike to a friends house, playing games with the neighborhood kids coming home only when the street lights came on at night.
Today, my kids spend their weekends in their rooms glued to their screens, watching life as opposed to living it. Friends are spoken to online, no need for face to face interactions. The ideas some of us may have been raised with have now become quaint museum pieces. A job isn’t something that you have for life, there is no 40-year watch on your retirement any more (I still have my grandfather’s watch given to him on his retirement) but it has become a transitory relationship, a landing point till something else comes along. Friends are not people but clicks on Facebook pages. Why experience something when we can see it from the safety of our room- as there are no new frontiers, at least we can watch the reruns of the old ones.
And yet, how are we to understand this recreated world when we find ourselves lost in a hall of mirrors, where all our maps have become obsolete. We cant raise our children to hope for a better life than what we had as everything is so different we don’t know what is to come. We dare not put a value on anything for the future may convert our diamonds into handfuls of dust. What else to explain this old white man rage, this shaking fist at a furious rate of change that could leave them in a cloud of irrelevance. Our octagenarian leaders sit wag their double chins at the marvels that the computer age has brought, both creating and destroying. Media brings us a constant barrage of dystopian messages only serve as a signal of the old orders distrust of the future and the loss of their value. Hopefully, that marking will too fall by the wayside like a bleached out road sign in the desert.
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.