Would love to spread some holiday cheer at this time of year, but that would be seriously delusional. Perhaps mankind has always lived at the brink of disaster. After all, that's when we seem to be at our best, most magnanimous and creative. But given the seemingly hourly emergence of worldwide cataclysmic events the past few weeks, one can't help but be at least gloomy, if not outright terrified.
We're at a definite pivot point where the ties that bind are unknotted, and common decency and community values are replaced by a hollow mindlessness. Ignorance, and the fear and rage it produces, have been unleashed on every living species (there are 50% fewer of them than there were in the 70s). Somehow, we slog through, unconscious of the garbage (literal and otherwise) we spew, and the very clear consequences that are being visited upon us every waking minute.
For a decade or more, I've been thinking that the explosion in digital technology is far more profound than creating new ways to work and entertain ourselves. I've often thought it is was a biological adaptation to climate change--a deep response to an increasingly hostile biological environment that would demand that we would need to be less physical, less consumptive and connected differently than ever before. Just as birds know when and where to fly to avoid a harsh winter, we somehow know that in order for us to survive the increasingly toxic environment we're creating for ourselves we need to morph into something different.
Setting singularity aside, we seem to be on our way. The Internet took about 10 years to reach global critical mass. By comparison, simpler improvements in technology like color television took 35 years to reach 70% US adoption and CD's took about 30 years to replace vinyl. Think about it. The internet was and still can be a complicated, expensive and unsatisfactory experience. In its initial days, you needed a PC, dedicated modem phone line, an ISP subscription, all for a balky pseudo-static TV-lite experience that continually crashed. No way this would have survived as a pure commercial gadget or new entertainment technology unless something deeper was operating. As crappy an experience as CompuServe and AOL were, they and others like them, stormed the globe like wildfire. Why?
My take is that the Internet is the antibody to an increasing virulent and toxic natural world. The internet eliminates physicality--just ask printers, book publishers, musical instrument makers, bricks and mortar retailers, bankers, you name it. It eliminates geographical distance. Companies in the US compete for contracts in Brazil with companies in Romania and Taiwan. The web distributes and flattens expertise. Everyone knows everything--or can find out within a couple of clicks. There is no premium for exclusivity, because if something can be digitized, it's no longer yours, it's everyone's. Including your privacy and your most intimate moments. Finally, it's an ongoing, perpetual process--we're archiving ourselves 24/7 with every key stroke, with AI making the machine smarter, more pervasive and determinative.
Again, why? Because we know on a profoundly deep subconscious level that without profound change, human life (and tragically, our plant and animal friends) are not viable in their current state. I can think of no better explanation for the inexplicable times we're living in. The emergence of shrieking nationalism and religious zealotry is on the fight side of the pendulum; the rapid adoption of text messaging, Instagram and new digital vocabularies that are replacing body language and the written word are on the flight side. I'm admittedly freewheeling and academically way over my skis here, but the trend is compelling and hard to miss.
If history is any predictor, this wrenching change ultimately will be breathtakingly rapid and likely deadly. Institutions will fall, economies fail and be rethought, populations redistributed. The interstitial period between where we are now and what will ultimately be viable for mankind is likely to be bloody and unstable. It's happening right now. If the US Government's recent climate report is at all accurate, we have about 20 years before things really hit the fan, with no consensus or political will to begin to effectively tackle the myriad challenges we're facing. Which leaves us with the Trump Circus, Kardashians, kitten videos and the Darwin Awards--of which all of us seem to be viable, yet unwitting contestants. Happy New Year!