While driving to work the other morning and listening to Strauss Marches, I was reminded of a conversation with Richard Pearlman, a well know opera director, we were discussed an operetta I was singing at the time. I remember him saying, this is a subtle aria, you need to dig deep and mine for each small emotional change and make the most of each of these moments. With a world of information at our fingertips, perhaps like singing that operetta aria, we need to be like miners. We have a whole world of information at our fingertips and yet we are happy to feast on the low hanging fruit. We are willing to believe what ever we read and not be bothered with digging a bit deeper into the story, the claim or even the photograph. We gnash our teeth in outrage when we think that some foreign power might be influencing our elections and yet we are reticent to take on the responsibility to investigate these claims. We claim to want gold but are unwilling to dig beneath the surface seeming happy with our treasure trove of fools gold. As we have said before, media is plural but truth is singular. Let us also remember that wisdom is also plural and if we search for truth, we may gather wisdom along the way.
With the advent of a new year and a new decade, it is not unusual to look to the future as a sort of crystal ball to hope to divine what a future may hold. In that spirit, we at the Galaxy have our own hopes for this new decade and the media world that we now live in.
We hope that as our namesake said, Media is an extension of the human body and it is our hope that as we begin to connect with this new media, that we begin to see beyond the things that make us similar and embrace our differences. As in the body, we have two hands, but we don’t detest one for being different than the other. We don’t cast aspersions on our foot for its inability to hold a spoon or write our name and yet, we would not be able to stand or walk long without it. In short, we hope that in this year of hopefully clearer vision, we see that our differences are strengths and this amazing tool of media can be used to show us all the wondrous diversity of our world and its people and not become a tool for beating everyone into a world of vanilla similarity. May this be the year that we stop acting like sheep and realize that we are lions in media and the economy. Companies thrive off our blind compliance, allowing our information to be mined and then sold back to us as a rare jewel, may consumers understand that we are not victims of the economy but the masters and if we want to get peoples attention, just be mindful of what we buy and when. Want to get the worlds attention, stop buying gas one day a week- see how companies react. May this year and this decade be the beginning of a wider vision of ourselves and media, as a tool to see ourselves in all our individual flawed brilliance.
While we used to think death was final but now even James Dean can return from the grave to appear as a third string role in a third rate movie. It seems that in our new electronic age, even death won’t stand in our way. Not only can James Dean return from the grave, Beethoven can return to finish his Tenth symphony with the help of AI and now the silicon elites are looking at ways to if not live forever live even longer than we believe we can now. The thing is, what happens when we no longer have any barriers to push up against. What if there is no end? If we know that tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow is always there, why should we seize the day?
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.
A few years ago, I was working at at company that made promotional items and got a call from a client who was looking for an pen to match their brand color, a pantone color. Having not worked there long I asked one of my associates if it was possible for us to search our online cataloge in that way. “oh, no” I was told “we cant do anything like that” All of the data was obviously in a database, in our computer and all known information. The thing lacking was either the skill or the desire to make the most of the resources that are easily available.
It seems that in many cases we are more interested in maintianing the status quo or our comfort zone than exploring what is possible and profitable. A recent article mentioned that banks outdated approach to IT could lead to their demise as they are unable to cope with disruptive technology. If you are standing on a slowly revolving disk, you need to keep moving slightly to keep staring at the same spot. Technology is making changes faster and that perimage our lives more and more every day. We need to let go of our desire for the status quo and understand that change is the order of the day and as the rate of change accelerates, we have to learn to cope or be swept away by the tide of innovation.
While it has been noted here and elsewhere that there seems to be a movement to do away with people in the workplace and perhaps in general, the boldest faced example of this was seen recently in the Wall Street Journal article, “Everyone Hates Customer Service. This Is Why.” It seems that companies have started crunching data and using artificial intelligence to determine exactly how angry a customer has to be to hang up on a customer service call and finding a to step in just before that happens. While working to save a customer has seemed to be good business all along, now the point seems to be to push them off until they get to a breaking point before you take action to try to redeem the relationship. It seems almost unfathomable that this strategy would be suggested or even endorsed in any other situation. How would you feel if your boss decided he was going to abuse you until you were ready to quit and only then to decide to take any redemptive action. Would you accept this from coworkers or even your wife?
When we learn, when will we remember that companies are there to serve us, that we are not their servants? Since when do we have an obligation to a corporation that sells us goods or services? Is their obligation to us not greater than their obligation to them- are they not there to serve us? And yet we have become so desensitized to our own power, we cower in fear only hoping that they will continue to provide us internet, phone service, and even government. We can’t help ourselves from giving up our data so that we can be turned into force-fed veal dining on our own waste. Have we no dignity left? What is our purpose here- do our lives have a value other than an immediate material gain- and not even for ourselves but for those so engorged on money and power that they either don’t see or don’t care the effect of their gluttony?