February 8, 2020
Shawn Colvin is a treasure--few people crystalize beauty and the agony of futile alienation better than she does. A relentless optimist burdened by the tragic detritus of a life lived clearly on the fringe, she tosses out phrases like the one I stole for this headline as effortlessly as she can traverse her three-octave range. And every time she does, it hits a nerve of reflection for me.
This week, especially. In the past seven days, the following has happened;
Most importantly, we weren't angry.
But that's no longer the reality we live in. With unlimited wealth and access to instant "information," we've gone off the rails. The technology that was supposed to bring us together has Balkanized us into a multidimensional place of micro-tribal warfare where minute differences are seen as major transgressions. Vegan vs. omnivores, Alt Right vs every non-white. Dodger fans vs Giant fans. Our differences used to make us interesting, but now they can end up with lethal consequences. Loneliness is rampant as is a growing suicide rate across the US demographic spectrum. We wanted to shed the gatekeepers as an intellectual matter, but as a practical matter, the constraints to bad behavior are only as strong as we honor them. And in this demagogic, fear-based climate, all bets are off. We have avatars and pseudonyms that enable us to say things that no one would say under their real names or face-to-face.
So at the risk of contradicting a 25 year-long career of fostering, launching and promoting new technologies, I think we should shut it down. All of it. And if that's not possible, the cinch up Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple into the tightest regulatory scheme ever conceived. After all they're media without liability. They're the proverbial "Fire!" in the theater without acknowledging that their theaters hold billions of people. They've become cesspools of hatred and fraud without contrition or concern that what they do can have catastrophic impact on people's lives, their political systems and livelihoods.
When Roger Maris smacked number 61 over the fence, we lived in a world where everything was possible, no matter how humble your beginnings or who you were. The astounding technical capabilities we now have come at a terrible price. That of decency and spirit. Because at the end of it, technology has no goals other than self-actualization and maximization of efficiency. Apparently, neither do we.
It is impossible to process the torrent of cataclysmic events the past 24-48 hours and it just keeps coming:
Climate holocaust. A prelude to potential nuclear conflict. Corruption at the highest levels. Overthrow of our Constitution and rule of law. It's today's Four Horseman, tomorrow's will be different. Soul sick. Welcomed to the Roaring 20s.
Happy New Year!
Reporting live from the left end of the universe... About two years ago, I got recruited by a global tech company to come onboard to lead their worldwide consumer marketing effort. Flattered beyond belief, stunned such an amazing opportunity would be offered to someone clearly careening towards his dotage and presenting yet another wardrobe change in a life that can be best characterized as chameleonic, I considered the offer for about 45 seconds and moved up to Silicon Valley.
For the record, I knew the company well and as a consultant/brand guy, had done ton of business in the Valley for decades. Yet despite the successes and high level accesses these projects produced, never quite felt that I was part of it. You know, that statement I always get backwards: "Being in it, not of it." Or is it, "Being of it, not in it?" I chalked it up to geography, being from the dreaded SoCal working in blessed NorCal. Yes, there is a blood hatred for SoCal in the North, especially Hollywood. It's a fact. I never understood it and a few years ago, asked a veteran Silicon Valley CEO/VC to explain it to me. He said it like this (paraphrasing):
"Hollywood and Silicon Valley hate each other because ultimately, they're the same. In the Valley, two guys and Labrador work in garage, create some code, get financing, pound on a business to get to an IPO. They get to liquidity, divorce the wife, buy a boat. They'll wait a couple of years and do it again. In LA, two guys and Labrador write a script, recruit a director and a star, get financing, make the picture, make millions, divorce the wife and buy a boat. They wait a couple of years and do it again. One is academically sophisticated and covert. The other is culturally outlandish and overt. Problem is when they meet each other, they realize they're the same guys don't like what they see. The hyper-smart Valley guys think they're more pure because of the complexity of the work, but they really covet that Telsa and Panerai; the hip LA guys realize they're not cooler than the nerds in the Valley, just better dressed."
Interesting theory. Either way, the net is trillions of technology-shifting, culture-shaping dollars that flow like a torrent throughout the state of California, onto its bless-ed residents and into every nook and cranny of the civilized and soon-to-be-civilized world. With so much influence, raw capability and resources, one would expect that no problem on any scale would be insurmountable given proper focus. And you would be wrong. That because Californians for the most part, South and North, live in a cornucopia of complacency and choices without any need to sacrifice one scintilla of anything anyone has. In affluent CA, we firmly believe we have earned the right to be trivial.
Which is why at least in NorCal, it is almost impossible not to trip over someone's value system, no matter what you say or how benign your intent might be. For the record, you can find a lot of the same people in SoCal. Maybe it's geographic dispersal or people in LA have more of a sense of humor, it's just not the same. To wit:
Wear an Eddie Bauer jacket into a store in Los Gatos and you'll get the stink eye because 1) Eddie Bauer does not use environmentally pure materials and worse, 2) EB Corp. might have contributed to Trump's campaign. Up here it's Patagonia or nothing.
Ordering beef in a restaurant from a server who happens to be vegan can cause life-changing trauma--as my wife found out when she misread a caligraphied menu item The server almost went into convulsions when she heard the words, "I'll have the beef tartare" instead of the written "beet tartare." We weren't sure whether our Veganette was hospitalized or would return to our table.
It's doctrinaire that dogs are higher-level sentient beings sent from God to purify mankind. I love my dog, but I'm 100-percent certain she's not on a mission to save my soul.
Unlike every other city in the world where pedestrians are vigilant about traffic, pedestrians up here have no compunctions about creating multiple rear-end collisions by blithely stepping out into a crosswalk into active traffic. No, there aren't force fields that protect them or cars from banging into each other. When Kyle and Krissie step in front of moving traffic, they're complacent that because the law is on their side, nothing can happen to them, and because the laws of physics and the varied limitations of human reaction times are subservient to their God-given right to cross any street, any time..
It goes on and on, and it can be great fun to muse about interspecies issues like whether Pete the Duck in the Los Gatos antique store that posts the sign in the photo above has the right to discriminate against certain animals' access to retail, but the downside is deadly serious.
Our planet (and this state) is on fire and things are just beginning to literally heat up. We have emerging fascism in DC, and if not that, a concerted effort by the GOP to dismantle and delegitimize the rule of law and our Constitution. We are witnessing the biggest theft in human history in the transfer of public funds like Medicare and Social Security into an emerging US oligarchy. We have a president who is owned lock, stock and combover by a foreign enemy. This is not conspiracy theory, it's the leitmotif of the past three years. And yet the most socially aware, best educated, and most affluent people in the world are noisily engaged in smug purity tests. Depending upon who you talk to, depending on the location and context, "Go Pete" up here in the Valley could pertain as much to a duck as a potential presidential candidate. We need voices, coordinated, serious, unified and committed to overcome the inertia of the global holocaust that is potentially upon us. The days of worrying about where goose down comes from are a luxury we can't afford, especially when a good portion of the continent of Australia and 100s of million of animals and forested acres are perishing by the week in an out-of-control inferno. What happens when Silicon Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains have a month of +48C days and no rain for 9 months? Anyone worried now about Pete the Duck?