By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
If you’ve seen a movie or a television series lately, you’ve probably run into the latest all-purpose media villain.
There was a time when the designated bad-guy wore a black hat, or spoke with a thick accent or had an alliance with some secretive dark forces.
In the 2020s we know, or at least Hollywood knows, who the real villains of our time are; those high-tech wizards who create and control those devices we all know and love. And hate.
Move fast and break things – what could go wrong?
The “evil genius” has been the mainstay of popular entertainment for decades, if not generations.
It’s not that we don’t trust people who are light years smarter than we are – and we don’t – but we, at some subliminal level seem to agree that people that smart must be evil and certainly up to no good.
The current cast of entrepreneurs/tech nerds seems determined to confirm our preconceived notions – they, and their irresistible devices seem specifically intended and designed to bring out the worst of themselves – and us.
Consider, if you dare, how most of us interact with social media, for example.
First, most of us don’t know how to deal with rumors and wild accusations.
In most cases, rumors that confirm our biases are believed – or at least accepted – and spread among millions of people.
And most of us, on a personal level, have adopted the ultimate evasion of many bloggers and talk show hosts with their almost sincere claim of “I’m just asking questions”.
Second, most of us are inclined to only communicate with people and formats that we already agree with, and thanks to social media, we can mute, un-follow, and block everybody else.
Third, online discussions quickly descend into screen shots of angry mobs.
Once we step into that social media zone, we tend to forget that the people behind screens are actually real people and not just avatars.
And many of them, up to that point, were valued friends or family members.
And fourth, it has become really hard for us to change our opinions.
Because of the speed and immediacy of social media, we are forced to jump to conclusions and write sharp opinions in 140 characters about complex world affairs.
And once we do that, it lives forever on the internet – and for some reason, maybe even no reason, we feel compelled to defend some statement we, or someone we “follow’” has made.
As an aside, it is certainly an indicator of the “sheeple” we have become as we see how “following” someone or having a high number of “followers” has become a key measure of our value and worth.
Finally—and most would say the most critical—today, our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, and shrill and shallow comments over deep conversations.
It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.
Listening to others and respectfully accepting, and not necessarily agreeing with statements and opinions is nearly impossible on these forums and have become something of a lost art.
Thanks to social media and our ever-intrusive devices, we have literally become not just different individuals but an entirely different – and, for many, an unrecognizable society.
It’s technology after all, not business or government, that’s the real driving force behind large-scale societal shifts – and, of course, those barely noticeable shifts in how we think about ourselves (and our precious opinions) and how we treat others.
Consider, as an obvious, but often over looked reality, those “digital natives” who have grown up with social media and handheld devices everywhere. What is the possibility for students to develop their own ideas, identities, and political affiliations outside of the all-seeing-eye of Facebook and any other social media format. Whether this is even any longer possible is an open question.
Aldous Huxley’s assertion (in his novel Brave New World) was that technology would lead to passivity. His assumption was that our obsession with mind-numbing entertainments and distractions – and our inability to see anything beyond them – would ultimately rot our democracy.
And this is exactly what many of us see happening.
From disruptions and threats to our political processes to broken friendships to wealth inequality on a scale few could have imagined, these tech bros have indeed “moved fast and broken things”.
To what end and at what cost, we will be unravelling for years.
Who makes the rules?
At their most basic, the larger Amazon, Google, Apple, Facebook and a few others get, the more their rules—rather than any particular nation’s—can come to be regarded as the most important regulations governing commerce and daily life.
But digital perfection – and control – do not make us better people, and will certainly not bring out the best in our systems and traditions.
We are more than “users” – and certainly more than the cyber version of a captive audience.
Declaring our independence
There is, to some degree at least, an escape.
I have friends who commit to a “media fast” – a break from social media. A month, a week, even a day or two now and then, will break the spell.
We could study; this “media fast” could be when we read the wisdom of those who came before us. The solidity of words on a printed page is itself a reprieve from the flickering screen. Find a good book and lose yourself – and find yourself – for a few hours
We could try old-fashioned hospitality. This just means treating those around you with kindness; it can also mean breaking bread and renewing relationships with friends.
We could even try renewal by taking one day a week to turn away from daily cares (and screens) and appreciate the natural beauty around us.
In other words, in contrast to those who would profit from our distraction, move slowly and fix things.
There might a good reason we see those who make money by ruining our economy, our political system and our relationships – and our weekends, as villains.