While largely about training horses, Allan Hamilton’s “Lead with your Heart” had some startling ideas about how we relate to new technology and the internet. It seems that in Hamilton’s mind, horse’s behavior is related to the fact that, in the wild, they are essentially prey. While a horse could easily trample us, it has over thousands of years seen itself as an animal of prey. Our approach to the horse must be as one who is non-threatening, moving in slowly and respecting the space of the animal, learning how to gently show our dominance of the animal with the respect it deserves. The thought that our behavior is, in a way, determined if we are predators or prey seems to have affected how we see ourselves on the internet and in social media. We frequently speak of internet predators that prey on children or the unsuspecting, uninitiated and yet, even knowing this, we seem unable to be aware and change our behavior. Each day brings more news of cyber-attack to businesses, but instead of taking action, many hide the problem and try to cover up the issue. In the wild, humans have the rare place of being both prey and predator. We can be killed and eaten as much as we can fight for survival. Somehow in the electronic frontier, we have dropped this ability to fight back, to realize that we are not babes in the woods but noble animals who deserve to be approached with respect.
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.
It has been interesting watching the ever-growing value of a bitcoin and it causes me to pause and consider what it is about them we find so alluring. In a nod to previous precious commodities, bitcoins are not generated but are mined like gold, which as you may know was the backing for US currency until President Nixon took us off the gold standard in 1971. So we think of this cryptocurrency as we do gold or other precious metals or at least use language to give it that allure. Earlier, President Eisenhower passed a law that stated “In God, We Trust” in 1957 must appear on all currency. It seems that this is another step in the long, withdrawing roar, moving from belief to belief. Recently, in an interview, an expert in cryptocurrency said that people are putting their money and hope in bitcoin due to its ever-changing code- supposedly unbreakable and secure- more secure than government-backed securities or gold. It seems we have found a new impenetrable mystery in which to place our faith. While we move from God to Gold to code, I am reminded of a line from Lori Andersons “O Superman”
‘Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice
And when justice is gone, there’s always force
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!
Perhaps, today, when God is gone and Gold is gone, there is always code.
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.
I am a big fan of Ernie Kovacs an amazing pioneer in Television who really shook up the visual medium of early television and make people look at in a whole new light. I am thinking about Ernie and all the other pioneers who have played with the boundaries of any medium Picasso, Schoenberg, James Joyce, Rod Serling even the recordings of Ken Nordine or Nichols and May. I wonder what will we do with this new medium of social media that we have created. What new horizons are we waiting to be explored and what creative outlet will we find with all this senseless technology or have we lost the ability to have fun? Where is the court jester of this electronic Camelot?
Recently, the news has been filled with the FDA’s approval of a drug that carries within it a small sensor that documents that the pill has been taken. Essentially the pill, once taken, would be sent to a patch worn by the pill taker and then the data would be sent to one’s cell phone, announcing that the medication had been taken. While it would take between thirty minutes and two hours for the pill to report that it had been taken it still has the ability to transmit information. While at this time it would only be the fact that the pill has been taken but what about other information that it could transmit. While it may seem silly now, what if it could transmit our location so that marketers could target marketing to our us possibly based on what we had eaten or if it has been a while since we ate.
By tracking our location we could be inviting big brother to know our every move. What if this pill also created a trackable response in us perhaps it makes us hungry or ill after a certain period of time and only a certain product would relieve the hunger or pain. While it may seem crazy, it wasn’t too long ago when we found that cigarette companies were knowingly creating products that could kill us but still went ahead and added addictive chemicals to increase their addictive nature and their bottom line. While I believe technology can be a great tool, we seem to have the habit of dropping it into the wrong hands and then being shocked when we find we have let ourselves be taken advantage of by those we believe to have our best interests at heart. Surely we can’t be naive forever.
If I remember correctly, in the closing lines of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson wrote, “we hold these truths to be self-evident”. Now, while the quote goes on, I find it interesting this idea of somethings Self-evidence; the idea that something is known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof. It seems self-evident that people have rights though we may argue as to the breadth and depth of those rights and that machines, as non-human, non-feeling entities do not. This notion was challenged when I saw an article in the BBC about the appearance of a woman robot in Riyadh Saudi Arabia at the Future Investment Initiative conference. Sophia, as she is known, was given Saudi citizenship but she was allowed to appear without the traditional headscarf and abaya, the cloak that Saudi women are obliged to wear in public. Of course, social media pundits leapt to their keyboards noting that not only had this electronic “woman” not only been granted citizenship but had rights that Saudi women only dream of. Here was a woman speaking alone on a stage where under the Saudi Guardianship system every woman must be accompanied by a male companion who has authority to act on her behalf. It seems as if Saudi Arabia had become the Manor Farm for the day where all women were equal except that those women who were silicon-based were more equal than those of a mere carbon base.
While it may seem laughable now, it is not impossible to imagine that we could create a world in which computers would have more rights than some or maybe even all people. We seem to delight in ways that we can segregate and remove ourselves from those who we deem somehow different or less than us but now we seem to have taken that talent to a whole new level. We could create machines to look down on us- maybe outsource our racism so that we would be free to pursue more noble goals? While it may seem absurd, there are some of us who remember when the idea of an actor as president was a punchline and not a reality.