February 8, 2020
Shawn Colvin is a treasure--few people crystalize the 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, 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.