People are scared.
When people are scared they think of the present — and themselves.
People are not scared because of any grand conspiracy theory you might be percolating. People are scared because the world is changing, fast. More importantly, it doesn’t look like the old ways will be in any way retainable.
There is no map for where we are headed.
Probably we parents shouldn’t concern ourselves too much that our children are focused on their screens, and not the world we created, nor that their heroes are those who tell them they are the heroes, despite any heroic acts. They do these things because they must believe in themselves — because they have lost faith in us. They are biding their time till they are in charge.
Which will happen very soon.
Which is probably why the sly Baby Boom generation, alive during the greatest run-up in wealth in human history, still spent all they had and sanctioned into law the taking of what others have. Those *trillions* in unfunded pensions and liabilities the rest of us are legally obligated to pay did not happen by accident. Boomers knew their time could not last, so might as well take while the taking is good.
With little on the table left for the rest of us, we are forced to concentrate on the now, our present needs, just as the forces of technology and demography eagerly build out the future. When you are deeply in debt, you aren’t really going to put unavailable money aside to combat such future problems as climate change, sectarian hate — or the repercussions of a 50-years-long failed war on poverty.
No surprise we turn to technology. Technology promises an escape hatch, a way to improve our lot for a reasonable price. The problem with technology, however, is that once started, it can’t be stopped. We mortals may take comfort in thinking we are in charge of our tools, but in fact, our technologies, parasitically latched to our biological imperative towards change, our very human bent toward shared experiences, all act like water, drip drip dripping without end, seeking out and finding any crack, washing away all that was before, whether we wish it so or not.
Technology is our water, covering the Earth, and without it, we die. We are now more dependent on it.
Question: Has technology taken a turn toward the dark side? If so, what will it take to bring it back toward the light?
We grew up in a world where technology empowered us, at least collectively. Now? Perhaps not. We took a breath, eyed the landscape, and choked on what we saw: reflections in the distance that appear to suggest that technology is no longer empowering us all, but only the very few.
And we are not among those so chosen.
Farhad Manjoo, who often glibly espouses the wondrousness of Apple and its pricey technology, surprised many when he stared out from his privileged Silicon Valley perch and stated: it’s no longer working.
Whatever happened to the tech industry’s grand, democratic visions of the future?
We are once again living in a go-go time for tech, but there are few signs that the most consequential fruits of the boom have reached the masses. Instead, the boom is characterized by a rise in so-called on-demand services aimed at the wealthy and the young.
He’s wrong, of course. Never have so many benefitted from so much technology that is so cheap and so accessible. A free global thinking machine — Google. A free global online community — Facebook. Free phone calls — Skype. A supercomputer in your pocket — iPhone. Agribusiness that feeds billions. Pharmaceuticals and vaccines that radically extend the life of nearly everyone on the planet.
Yet, I can’t mock Manjoo for his wrongness. Because that’s not the point. Rather, it’s about feeling scared, scared of the future, scared of all the uncertainty. Ours is the uncertaintest of times, and we are scared, and the scared seek out witches to burn, and walls to tear down, justified or not.
This is why a gossip columnist, Sam Biddle, who knows damn near nothing about technology — and less of Silicon Valley — can confidently proclaim that “Silicon Valley is a big fat lie.” He knows the masses require a villain.
When he writes that “no prior cohort of rich pricks have fooled themselves, and the rest of us, so thoroughly,” Biddle doesn’t just make plain his woeful lack of even recent American history. He makes plain that his ignorance isn’t relevant. Because knowing the past probably isn’t going to guide any of us successfully into the future.
Which brings me back to the Baby Boomers. It certainly seems as if they did very little to make our world better for those that followed them. It certainly seems as if they have cavalierly mortgaged our future to ensure a cozy present for themselves.
Would we not do the same if the opportunity presented itself?
Is comfortable irrelevance really enough for you?
Maybe the naysayers are correct. Maybe the present direction of technology is indeed crafting massive gains for a few while consigning all the rest of us to a middling, always on-call-but-rarely-needed hardscrabble existence. Perhaps this is what the future needs — our light. Perhaps that very hardscrabble life, that nagging, painful hunger in the belly, lashed across millions, maybe billions of people, is exactly what’s needed to alter the course of today’s technology, to push it toward something that benefits all — for generation after generation after generation.
We are the heroes because we are forced, like it or not, to act good and brave.
Yes, it sucks hard to be the grunts, fighting and dying for a better tomorrow. But real change doesn’t happen till the dogs of war are unleashed. Technology is not so easily contained, and its dark tentacles do not have compassion for those it displaces or destroys. To tame this beast will require the best of all of us.