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.
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.
Brooks Stevens is one of my favorite people. The industrial designer and graphic designer and is also credited with coming up with the idea of planned obsolescence or “instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” In short the idea that whatever you have now is about to be replaced by something better, faster, sleeker and to put you ahead of the curve. It seems that now, everything has an expiration date, that nothing is exempt from extermination from the crushing march of progress. No better example of that can be seen in the problem with cybersecurity. As was recently reported in the BBC, the main problem with cybersecurity seems to be PEBKAC is, Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair. That’s you and
The story that Facebook had shut down computers that had begun to talk to each other and were creating their own language made me stop dead in my tracks. While the concept of computers learning and speaking their own language is amazing I was equally stunned by the fact we seem never to learn. We shut down the computers as they had begun to speak in a language that we could not understand but the computers could. It seems that no matter how much we think we know, we never learn the lesson, as Ian Malcolm states in Jurassic Park, “life finds a way“. We think we can master nature and make it do our bidding only to find that it has a will of its own. Even now we seem oblivious to the grating roar of waves slowly taking back our cities and coastline. It is easier to think global warming an alternate fact than to accept the consequences of our actions. As a child, if we ignore the problem we think it will go away or think that once the genie is out of the bottle we can control it and put it back whenever we choose. Anything we create at some point takes on a life of its own, a life which will find a way. Perhaps it’s time for us to acknowledge our creations and treat them like the new Adam and Eve that they have become.
While our Janus’ face is often turned to the future, it took a brief look back to an old Burger King ad when we heard the news of a study that showed that Robots could create twice as many jobs as they destroy. It seems a bit optimistic of the World Economic Forum which says while machines and computer algorithms could displace 75 million people it could create 133 million jobs. Of course, we realize that new technology always creates in its wake social unrest and disruption. The printing press as a prelude to the Reformation, newspapers to the rise of unions, television ushering in the era of civil rights and protests that launched the end of the Vietnam war and started woman’s rights movement. While all of these innovations both technological and social have made people’s lives better, there are always those who are caught beneath the wheel of progress. And while we have no doubt that the rising tide of progress will raise many boats, what happens to those whose skills don’t fit exactly in the last lifeboat. Perhaps, social media has brought reality into our lives with an immediacy that television couldn’t match that perhaps is calling us to forge a new more compassionate version of democracy. One in which the winners don’t always have it their way, as Burger King commercials used to say, a new world in which the high tide raises all boats, not just the ones of the rich or famous.
It has been disturbing to me to see the acceptance of the most informal of communications, texting, and tweeting, have become acceptable forms of communicating and I was hear that the French legal system said that the texting of a last will and testament has no legal value. Indeed, the court decreed that a texted will or texted changes to a will, had no value in a court of law. While there may be those that remember the outcry when Genesis frontman Phil Collins divorced his wife via fax, it seems that now we react more with what Conan O’Brian calls a horrorplause, the reaction in which the audience responds initially in disgust and shock to a joke and then gradually comes around and laughs and applauds. It seems with this media driven political arena we have embraced the horrorplause. We will be horrified by the statements of our political leaders only to come around and applaud and laugh as if the sitcom we had been watching had come to a close and the credits were about to roll. Perhaps the midseason elections will be the newest version of the midsummer replacement tv shows when we decide that what we are seeing is no longer interesting and that a change is no farther than a tweet or text away. People text or tweet condolences, or announcements of personal importance, but whatever happened to such a personal announcement being worthy of more than 140 characters, or at best 120 characters for the cherished retweet. Or perhaps, in our digital age popularity has become more important than sincerity.
I woke up with a start, thinking of the corner on the NW corner of LaSalle & Monroe in Chicago, which is the Datum point for the city, the point in which of known or assumed coordinates from which calculation or measurements may be taken. In this point the intersection is the point from which all heights in the city are measured a point of common departure. I thought of this early that morning after an evening of talking and arguing with people of different ages and experiences than me.
We struggled at times to find a common ground or more frequently a common frame of reference in our experience. While people my own age could laugh at a reference to Gilligan’s Island the Love Boat anyone a few years younger had no idea what we were talking about. With people say 5 or 10 years older they had references that we could not begin to understand. It occurred to me that with media increasing our appetite for content we seem to digest information so fast that each generation may have its own vocabulary and may end up living in a constant state of now. As the current situation of immigrant child detention at the US border brought up references to the Nazi Holocaust, there may be a time when a reference to the Obama administration will have as much resonance as the Norman Invasion.
Of course, you know the old story, to boil a frog, you don’t drop it into a pot of boiling water but put it in cool water and slowly turn up the temperature to boiling. The same seems true of the ongoing debates over privacy and net neutrality. Lulled into a false sense of security or blinded by naiveté, we allow corporations to mine who we are and what we choose to treat us like horses with blinders on, seeing only what they want us to see, and now we want to give them the ability to fast track the online content of their choice while allowing other content to linger in the slow lane. It seems odd that the same legal bodies, corporations, that created the financial crisis in the savings and loan and mortgage industry, not to mention the opioid crisis in this country now want to create a world where they control our access to information for their personal gain. In an economy where the bottom line is at best the shareholder (or more frequently the executives) payout, why should we think our best interests are a concern. The entire point of the internet seemed to be to allow everyone accesses to knowledge for the betterment of all. If we allow our access to the free flow of information to be restricted, we will be no better than frogs in warm bath water on the stove.
Detroit has a special place in my heart. While performing there I had a lot of downtime in my schedule and as the days turned colder, I found myself spending many of them in my smallish downtown hotel room. My own strange fascination with poetry lead me to read Shakespeare and later, Whitman s “Leaves of Grass”, out loud to myself in the quiet of my hotel room. My fruitful isolation was not unlike our current hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over the many ways that the internet will lead us all to be social misfits who can’t handle being with others in the world or worse. The same was said to be true of television, that it would lead us to become isolationists, unable to relate to one another or the world. We needn’t look too far into our collective imagery to find examples of people who hide in books to escape a world. It seems that in this instance our new media is just the opposite of the book, while the book is static, the internet is constantly presenting us with new vistas, real and imagined. With Google Earth, I can see places that I may never be able to see in person. I frequently chat with several friends with whom I have never met and only know each other through email. Is that friendship any less valuable or is this just another example of the glorification of a first world problem? We find ourselves more obsessed with inane tweets than the situations that caused them. As long as we allow this to happen, we are creating a greater isolation by turning away from the events of our world and focusing on the distribution of content. Perhaps we need to look at this new technology as the gift that it is and if we choose to, we can turn our eyes from the projections of the blue light on the cave walls. Indeed, we are truly all connected to one another and neither cell phones, or books or anything other media can ever change that. The true delusion is thinking that we are anything other than connected, to each other and to our environment. Perhaps all we really need to do is have faith in our ability to change our world, knowing that it takes more effort than a swipe of the finger.