A few years ago I came across a book, “The Illumination” by Kevin Brockmeier poses the question, what if our pain were the most beautiful thing about us. What if that which we seem to give little value were the source of our greatest beauty. This devaluation of a resource seems to be the story that many companies want to tell us about the data that we freely give them access our internet searches. Every search, shopping cart, web page we look at is regularly recorded, tracked and collated to give the meta-data that companies use to so that they can make data-based predictions about our behavior, our buying habits and sell us things before we know that we need them. All of this data comes from us and we give it freely but what if we didn’t? What if, as consumers, we realized the value of what we leave behind us in our data exhaust. As technology companies continue to try to find a way to monetize content what would happen if the sources of the data began to ask for their fair share of the pie. How would companies react when site users realize that our data exhaust is the most valuable thing about us and ask to be compensated for the diamonds we currently leave in the dust.
I often think of Galen better known as Galen of Pergamon, a prominent Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in the Roman Empire. While accomplished of all medical researchers of antiquity, might be a strange person to dwell, he influenced the development of various scientific disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, and neurology, as well as philosophy and logic. The problem was that as good as Galen was, his book was never updated for more current information. Centuries after Galen’s death, his book was taken as the book on medicine and when later scholars like Paracelsus disagreed with Galen, they were told that what they saw did not matter as it disagreed with Galen and Galen, they felt was truth hence, anything disagreeing with Galen was wrong. (There is a fascinating discussion of this in Daniel Boorstein’s, “The Discovers”, a book I highly recommend..)
This does not seem so far from the idea of alternate truths, and that today, with the internet one can find a source to back up whatever claim one makes. No matter how ludicrous a claim is made, it seems that someone can find some internet source to back it up. While, with Galen, it took years for the truth to will out, it now seems that we have a moving target in the realm of Alternate truth. Whereas with Galen, there was a finite monopoly on truth, the book was written and so his truth was determined. However today it seems that we have levels of truth, a tweet does not convey the truth but requires an interpretation and revision with a parade of soothsayers needed to discover the real meaning of the truth. Oddly enough, it seems that this was the initial objective of Galen.
In rehearsals for “La Traviata,” I remember thinking as a character walked in and began to sing an impassioned plea on behalf of his son, “Is he telling the truth?” How often do we assume that people are speaking the truth just because they say it is? This has never been more apparent than recent situations around our incumbent president and the manner in which the constant repetition of a statement seems to give it an air of truth no matter how insane it may seem. The frightening thing is that we seem to be able to find some corroborating evidence for whatever we believe on the internet. In a time when 44% of adults get their news from Facebook, these media effects go back to the age dreadfuls and even to the advent of print media itself. So while we should be rightfully concerned about this trend for our current politics, we should also know that it is not the first time this has happened. One could argue that this transubstantiation of truth and what is real is a large part of called the Reformation. In this age of disruptive innovation, we must be vigilant with what we hear and accept as truth, as Ronald Reagan famously quoted a Russian proverb, “Trust, but verify”. Seeking truth does not allow an immersion onto a reality of one’s own making but confronting the reality we share, a difficult task it seems in our ever personalized reality.
With a nod to David Mitchell, whos, the quote provided the title for this blog.
With recent events, I have found this post something that I needed to share once again. Please, no matter how you feel about recent events, we can not keep silent. Make your voice be heard and listen to those who are speaking, in fact based arguments. Now is not the time to be silent and to hide behind hashtags. We have too much to be thankful for and too much to lose.
Change is never easy and watching the news shows that change is necessary. The nature of this change struck me while listening to an NPR interview with the Aunt of the man killed in a police shooting in Minneapolis. She was weeping and crying saying how the police had taken something from her that she could never get back. While I was struck by her grief I was shocked by the way she added a hashtag to the conversation, not unlike the ones used by the black lives matter movement. While I do not argue with the validity of their outrage is a hashtag really the best way to vent our anger? Desmond Tutu once said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”; is a hashtag or a twitter post really an outlet for our rage? Is a social media post the warm cozy blanket we wrap ourselves in to pretend that we are feeling beings, part of a community of people for whom we have a moral obligation to treat humanely? If we are mad, shouldn’t we get mad, shout from our windows, take to the streets and demand to be heard not read and reposted? What will it come to before we realize that change is often not something that can be done from a comfortable chair? Has a revolution been replaced by the retweet?
Some years ago when we lived in Brooklyn, I delighted in the fact that our apartment was in between the revitalized and soon to be gentrified seventh avenue and the still un-gentrified Fifth avenue. I loved having the ability to go to Fifth avenue for a dollar store or to a bodega for dried candied ginger that I would never find on Seventh. This came to my mind when I saw more concern about the dark or deep web. These are websites that are either not accessible without specific browsers or search engines or not indexed by search engines. Many of these sites are used in drug sales, porn or for hackers and while I don’t condone the use of the web for illegal purposes I am fascinated to see how we wish to divide this part of our nature from the “light” or public web. We only want to think the best of our nature, to think we look only for the light and turn away from the dark. Have we not learned that we are two sides of one coin and that we need our darkness to see our light? Let our search be for truth which may take us through the darkness and through the light.
In my wild years it seemed like a good idea to study Economics. Needless to say this passion passed to less lucrative field, thought the ramifications of economic thought still crosses my mind. This happened recently when thinking of social media and the wealth of data that floods our consciousness every moment. It seems that these two ideas, social media and economic theory, are coming out of opposite corners in regard to our ideas of value and worth. Our economy teaches us to value things that are scarce- scarcity equals value but the idea of social media is completely opposite, excess is valued, how much quality content can you post. While these Janus faced concepts seem define our world and our relationship to it, it seems that we never stop to think about the ramifications of these ideas. People are confounded by the reality of social media, that the more quality content the better- where is the scarcity, where is the value? How is it that the scarcity we have valued has now, through the new social media, become of the least value. A Facebook page with little or no content wild fade into obscurity while one with a solid supply of quality posts will find an audience. Like content, we have so many people in the world we seem to take them as an exhaustible, expendable resource. When Chairman Mao was faced with the possibility of an atomic bomb being dropped on China he reportedly responded saying ” China has many people. They cannot be bombed out of existence. …….. The death of ten or twenty million people is nothing to be afraid of.” The most precious thing we have, our time on this earth we seem not to appreciate until we find ourselves confronted with the end of it.
We can only hope that in this time of readjusting ideas of worth and value we may take the lead from this new computer paradigm, that there is value in number and discover the value of the many and concern ourselves only with the scarcity of gratitude in our bounty.
I had the pleasure of showing my son Ridley Scott’s, “Blade Runner” a few weeks ago and while it was a pleasure to see the movie again, it brought up some interesting questions. As you may recall, the movie deals with Decker, Harrison Ford’s character must track down and “retire” human looking robots. At the end of the movie, Decker is “retiring” one of the robots (Ruger Hauer) who begins a stunning monologue lamenting how his experiences, his memories must die with him. It’s a beautiful and well known scene that got me thinking about memory, virtual and otherwise. What if we could download our experiences, our memories to a computer to be saved forever? All of our experiences saved forever and for anyone to take out and reexamine. Would we ever examine another’s life, take the time to sift through all the moments, to possibly find a diamond insight in the rough of time. Will we find ourselves in a Kardashian inspired nightmare, obsessed by watching someone else’s life that we lose sight of our own. Perhaps we might find respect for the miracle that is our own separate moment in time, available only to us and only shared by communal experience and those who care to hear the tale.
“EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”