Like often happens, humanity met the internet in the shape of a horseshoe. Those who first used it were the top good fellows in universities and military and the top bad guys in criminal rings. It went down to the point the most of us started using it in the nineties and at some point well into this century it reached the bottom where crocks and idiots got into it.
We live times of loud voices and bold stances. Times where the narcissist and the idiot find fertile ground to make themselves comfortable and every body around uncomfortable. These are times where those who see less and comprehend still less, strive with simplistic attitudes and weltanschauung.
Wars and catastrophic events bring in their aftermath the best of humankind together to mend those horrors. As soon as peace and order are reestablished, generations spawn that take goodness for granted and fall in a vicious circle of complacency. The sense of community slowly erodes. Fences are built. Mistrust falls over the people like thin dust in expanding waves. We begin to close into ourselves in reaction to this environment. We fall to the vices of becoming “we” against “them”. Dialogue will dry out to give way to words thrown as arrows, avoided or parried.
We become, day by day, a more fragile version of ourselves. More fearful. We see more threats. We become immersed in a slow but penetrating process of destruction of the “I, social” in spite of the “I, lone wolf”. Every time one abusive driver is on the road doing his shenanigans, everyone nearby raises a notch in their pool of discomfort. Every time a neighbor abuses shared space, everyone else looses a portion of their tolerance and willingness to cohabiting. Every time… small aggressions that stack and split us apart, not only apart from the aggressors but also apart from everybody around us; we are bathed in the dust of mistrust. One particle at a time.
Back in the first years of Apple, a paradigm change started a revolution. The term User Experience was coined. And with it all the complexity of a computer would be made invisible to the user in a turn of events that would give raise to the User Centered Design.
The User had only to bother pushing a button and a number of agents would take action to handle a complex amount of transactions between hardware and software to provide a response. In a sort of way, that was the end of computer programming for everyone. Nobody needed to bother doing that anymore.
But we are no longer just using computers. We are using computers to use the world. The obscured and complex code and engineering now engages with people, resources, civics, communities and ecosystems.
The success of this model—at the time confined to a personal computer—has in the last few years spilled out of it and in our society. The User has only to push a button and a number of people, together with hardware and software, are magically set in motion. Very likely not in a way we would consider as honorable, would be know of it.
A cook, a bicyclist, a warehouse worker, a cab driver, a courier, a growing list of people are becoming a piece of living hardware connected to a button in our smartphone. A list that one day may include us all, in a huge “Amazon Mechanical Turk” that may turn our society into a dystopian nightmare.
so why not voting to the party of Beppe Grillo in the next Italian elections? hypothesises the patron of my dearest luncheon place.
As regrettable as it is that some politicians would abuse the trust we place on them and fall to corruption, there are many others who do a good job. A democracy is not given, like oxygen in the air. A democracy needs a great deal of keeping. And yes, it can get worse. It can get way worse. Italy, with all its political corruption and problems, is a democracy in the EU. Many countries would give all they have to be in Italy’s place in the global politics.
We citizens with our rights and duties, have to now and then spare a thought on the delicate and yet strong balance of institutions that make up the political statu quo of our democracies. It is but for the ingenuity and effort of thousands of people and the legacy of other thousands that we have functioning countries to live in. That we are entitled to the rule of law. That we have roads and railroads, streets and street lighting, police and firefighters, hospitals and medical doctors, electricity, water and heating in our houses.
We have a great responsibility to care for what have been given to our generation, after centuries of fight and sacrifice, for each and every right we enjoy nowadays. Hence, yes, it can go way worse. It never was, and it is not today neither the time for complacency nor for voting questionable demagogues. We have already one too many of those in the world.
“Beppe Grillo, leader of the populist Five Star Movement in Italy, prides himself on his ridicule of the parliamentary system. Yet while his anti-establishment rhetoric sounds appealing, at heart it’s actually anti-democratic. And very similar to that of an infamous Italian from the past.”
In former times, the worst possible punishment a society could impose on an individual was being sentenced to invisibility. Ayla was thus sentenced by her clan in Jean Marie Auel’s “The clan of the cave bear“. Without the support of the cavemen society, life would normally meet an end for a social being as the Neanderthal were. Our strength lays in social interaction and thus our survival. It is hence no wonder that social isolation afflict us in a special irreflexive way today.
One widespread mode of social isolation is what elderly experience as they pass the age when they are regarded as “customers”. In a capitalist economical system—as well as the communist implementation that history records (E. Fromm), an individual may be regarded as a customer as long as this individual will actively engage in economical activities by exchanging money for services and goods. As long as each of us is seen as a potential customer we do enjoy social awareness and we feel part of the whole. But as soon as we come to fit into the type of individual that is no more seen as a potential customer, society will loose interest on us, up to the point when we will feel socially isolated. It is often for this reason that people reaching their retirement age will feel anxiety and look for workarounds to still feel useful and part of the society.
It is unfortunate and a sign of our shortcomings as a society, that we let our elderly live their life in anxiety. Those people who built the world we are now living on. That created the basement of what things we are today ourselves building. We should be reminded that this fate is waiting for all of us “customers” too, unless we start doing something about it now.
There is an untapped potential in our elderly, waiting for us to channel it. Our mobile and modern lifestyle rendered them away from the traditional family environment, but our technology can bring them back where they always belonged for a very needed role that our children today, as much as ever, long and need in order to grow as whole persons.
Back in the nineties, unchecked by most, Google and Amazon started to be. At the turn of the century, Facebook and Twitter became the place to hang out for a new generation of people. Those were among the first companies who took the potential of internet and rethought the way we researched information, shop, kept in contact with each other and shared news. And this, on its own, became a breakthrough of innovation that changed the way we lived.
Yet a huge social change was about to occur, that no one would have imagined. Despised by most, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone in 2007. Shortly after, Samsung followed suit with Google’s Android OS. A paradigm change happened that expanded like a wildfire over the US and Europe and fueled those very same Google, Amazon, Facebook and Twitter who moved over their platforms to this new category of personal computers. And the world changed, for ever.
At a point, those internet companies became advertising moguls, the day after they became a political issue. An issue of such size that neither the young and talented Silicon Valley nor the political class in the capitals could even imagine how to tackle. The former because of lack of political knowledge and expertise, the later because of lack of understanding what those platforms were and meant.
Here we are, we people, navigating a world that suddenly blew up in size and complexity. Even if our political class is catching up, we are now living times of wilderness. Millions of people are devoting hours every day working for internet platforms without knowing it. By tagging pictures in Instagram, giving up our business network to LinkedIn, or giving out our most inner thoughts to Google search or our most private conversations to Facebook. We have given so much private information to Google and Facebook that they stopped being interested on harvesting any more of it.
Millions of people are confused with the late affluence of news outlets and lost their judgement about what to read, what is right and what is questionable. And dark agents are operating in social media targeting people one by one to change their perception of the reality.
What do I want? I want to be happy. Fair enough. To be happy I need things. Yet my ultimate purpose is to BE happy and not to HAVE things. So far so good.
To BE happy I need first and foremost a healthy body upon I can live. I can be happy in an unhealthy or mangled body but it is much harder. Thus I need to HAVE the first thing. If I am lucky enough to have been born in a healthy body, now I just need to keep it healthy. And if not, I have to learn to BE with what I got and try to improve it if possible. For all purposes, the body is the first and most important THING I need to BE happy.
To keep a healthy body I need once more to have things. Possibly the most urgent and important, I need to procure my body with good nutrients (not antibiotics-infested meet grown in a farm I do not dare even imagine if I want to keep myself in a state of ignorant bliss-sanity). To procure good nutrients to my body I need to either grow them myself or buy them with money. Hence now I need to HAVE land and/or money. Secondly, I need shelter; a healthy space, dry, illuminated, spacious enough and protected from cold or hot weather. I need a medical insurance. Ultimately, to be able to HAVE all of this, I practically need to HAVE money.
Unless I am born in a rich family, I need to become somebody if I want to be able to HAVE money. I need to become useful to the society and through my usefulness seek a way to acquire money. Hence my task to BE happy is usually surrogated primarily to becoming useful to the society. And here I may get already lost in the way and forget the purpose of the trip.
Now that I have and can keep a healthy body, and if I didn’t get lost on the way, I need to figure out what do I want to do with it that would enable me to BE happy. I need now a purpose. But the purpose would be meaningless if it would only become the act of HAVING things. I need to BECOME someone. And here again I can easily get once more lost. And I haven’t yet started walking my path to happiness.
In the advent of an efficient global network of transportation and ubiquitous communications, we have experienced an unprecedented explosion of abundance and choice. My father remembers, as he was living in Spain under Franco, that little more than one paper and two TV channels were all what was. The offer of products and services was neither more diverse than that.
But for all these possibilities, we often have a very narrow field of choice. Be that we cannot cope with such diversity or that external circumstances dwindle our choices. We often find ourselves like canoeing down a river: rather following the stream, with but little drifts left or right.
Recently I decided to grow a beard and soon came the point when I had to buy a beard trimmer. It is in such cases—when I have to reach out of my usual market scope—that I realise how difficult it is to choose. When you do not even know if such things are still sold in brick-and-mortar shops and naively start navigating the Internet. Which, to start with, means navigating the subset of internet within the bubble of influence of Amazon. It wasn’t without will that I found a local maker—in these days this would extend to mean anywhere within my country. Yet if I wouldn’t have made a point of it, I would have ended buying a product from Panasonic, Samsung or similar makers that populate the most search results.
At last I still slipped in my awareness and ended up buying the thing through an internet shop, although finding a retailer in my neighborhood was two clicks away. I am sorry, dear retailer. I regret it now. I hope you are still there the next time I need something. And I regret the most if any part of my money ended at Amazon. That devouring monstrosity of a company who owns the majority of office space in Seattle.
It is startling how narrow the choice of a car becomes for the average—and not so average—german. Or what choices we realistically have when we want to buy a new smartphone in a market dominated by two or three companies that stand like palm trees in a desert—here the desertification was of the making of those companies though. How difficult is to find local groceries, or better said, how easy has become to find groceries that, despite their short age, have seen more of the world that we will probably see in our lives.
There is a danger in the comfort of not exercising will when we buy products. Slowly but constantly we are giving power to a few individuals, who despite not being elected politicians, they are amassing more factual power by the day. Every product we buy has become a small ballot. And those ballots we still call ballots, are only damning our best people, our politicians we entrust our future, to play a x-iteration of Doom: a dark dungeon plagued with powerful villains and no real chance of success. Hence it should not surprise us when one day not too far, we have to question if democracy, as we know it since Greece invented it long ago, is still workable. Or maybe we have to understand that in Democracy 2.0 every purchase is a ballot.
We are already seeing this coming.
After first impressions you may not easily tell apart someone who is self confident from someoneelse who is just enamoured of herself.
The self confident is someone who knows what she wants and believes in her intelligence and intuition. Yet she has all her antennae very well extended and receptive to inputs that would eventually shatter some of her assumptions, and consequently rearranges her amended view of the world.
The self infatuated is pretty set up. For her there are two kind of people: those who see things the right way and share her views, and those who are too lost to see the truth and are thus unpredictable, dangerous and better kept in close check.
For thousands of years, species lived in earth exposed to what nature and evolution did bring to the plate. So many combinations of atoms into molecules populated this planet. Until humankind learned to handle those pesky atoms and started exploring new combinations.
Unimaginable sorts of materials, chemicals, and even living entities started to come out of our laboratories. Combinations than never were, now are.
We only do not know how our bodies, and most importantly our brains work. And how those new combinations will react with our organs. Yet the pace of technological advances and new combinations of atoms that become part of our world grows every day at always faster rate.
We have learned to fear radioactivity, yet radioactivity has been present in our world since the very beginning. We even believe we feel uneasy in the neighborhood of a nuclear power plant. At the same time we embrace new materials, chemicals and drugs. We sit for hours in vehicles made of large bits of plastic that exhude organic components in the air, we use ever more effective pesticides and ingest ever newer drugs with the hope they will make us feel better.
At last all ends up entering our bodies. And the bodies of those other few species that we have not yet wiped out.