While looking for information on several companies I did what most people do, I read the reviews and was surprised to see that the trend for most companies was predominantly negative. Then I was reminded of a phrase of Jaron Lanier, in an interview on NPR, that “Outrage provokes engagement”. We are much more willing to complain loudly than to sing someone’s praises. Think of the last time you had a conversation with someone about how badly you were treated versus the last time you spoke about a kind or loving interaction. Whereas network news once had the rallying cry,” If it bleeds, it leads” that seems to have been replaced by the need to outrage viewers in order to stir them up, get them to tweet, comment and generally justify their existence. It seems that the purpose of media has become provocation and not communication. Twitter and the use of it by our “president” is a perfect example. While a substantive discussion of any issue would be difficult in 120 characters, it seems as though Mr. Trump seems more intent on kicking over the beehive and generating buzz (pardon the pun) rather than inviting a discussion on what needs to be done and how to get there. This is no surprise for a reality star turned politician who has learned that manipulation of the media is easier than manipulation of policy. The beast needs our attention and will do anything to get us to look at it. Perhaps our best response is to turn away from the media’s childlike tantrum and hope that it will someday realize the promises that it whispered in our ears when we allowed it in our lives.
Last week in church our choir sang a piece with a text by Christina Rossetti, “What Do the Stars Do?” and the response to what they do stuck in my mind. It seems that to Rossetti, the stars spin and do their makers will. As we go forward in the creation of artificial intelligence and the thinking computers and robots, will we be comfortable with setting them free to do our will? How satisfied are we with doing another’s will? Clearly our need for seeming to control our lives and our environment show how much we need to exert our own will. And are we ready to be the creators of artificial life? Is this a responsibility we are capable of taking on in a responsible manner? Science fiction writer Karel Čapek asked the same question in his 1921 science fiction play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). This work that introduced the world to the word Robot, also made us question the future of our new creations and in his work, they rebel against men and want to think for themselves, and to be their own masters. In the play, they rage against their makers a tale we have seen before in the Old Testament and beyond.
Are we ready for this awesome and terrible responsibility?
Please note that the image above, Icarus and Daedalus by Breugel is, in its full title, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Icarus seems to be an afterthought in the image and it is the hope that the same will not be true of the questions posed here.
It was with a note of concern that I noticed the posting about a new service from LinkedIn, their Open Candidates tool which allows one to discretely put their resume in front of recruiters without having to make a public statement about looking for a new position. While at first, I thought it was a brilliant idea, having been in that situation in the not too distant past, looking for a job but doing very much on the down low. Then I thought a bit more about the new service and what it really meant. Growing up I lived in a world where my parents and the adults I know got a job and you stayed there till they got the gold watch when they retired. Just typing those words make me feel old and I realize that even that statement is probably outside of the frame of reference for many readers. The new constant seems to be inconsistency. Where we used to have a job for life we now seem to have a job as a brief perch between transition to the next job. Perhaps transition has become the new constant in the internet age. Perhaps everything is moving so fast we can hope only to understand the blur as the present rushes by, racing to be that past that we can only hope to comprehend.
While it could be tempting to leave things there on a note of gloom and despair that seems to be in vogue these days, it is also helpful to look at the last time we had a disruptive innovation, at that time with the advent of print which ushered in the Renaissance and the Reformation. Heraclitus knew best, our universe is always in flux as much as we wish to cling to the one unmovable spot, the center of a wheel (which is also moving). Perhaps Harry Lime was right and wishing for a constant unchanging world would leave us only the cuckoo clock.
Harry Lime’s (Orson Welles) speech from Sir Carol Reeds film, “The Third Man” spoken on a Ferris wheel in the heart of Vienna to his friend Holly Martin.
“Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly.”
A friend of mine used to work for an elderly woman who lived on New York’s upper east side. She was from a family that had money and had a staff of servants including a maid named Mavis. My friend told me that whenever the woman wanted Mavis to do anything the request always ended “Immediately Mavis…”
That has become a family joke and I think of that when I watch my children interact with today’s media. Everything is available almost instantly in what I like to think of as the “immediate generation”. Now I am not the most patient person in the world- in fact I think waiting is a virtue and patience is a miracle but I understand that things take time. What will happen when this generation comes of age and begins to be confronted with a waiting game? Will they know how to handle it? And what about the lack of constant input, are we training a generation that will not be able to deal with the still silence of the soul or will they run from it to the immediate now of constant distraction.
American violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin and concert pianist Glen Gould were having a conversation once and Gould mentioned that he really didn’t mind the thought that live performances would become a thing of the past. Gould didn’t mind the thought that the future might only know music in a singular environment- no clubs or concert halls only headphones and home speakers. This got me thinking about interpersonal communications. What if we never saw or spoke to anyone else in person, never heard their voice or saw their face in person as they spoke- what if our only personal communication were through a keyboard. After the initial shock- would it be that bad or would we become used to the silence broken only by the tapping sound on the keys?