I’ve been watching the events unfolding in the US political scene with a sort of dread fascination and thinking about the role technology has played in this. While it is good to see technology companies responding in some way to the madness of Donald Trump, the timing is so suspect that it creates more mistrust than faith in my mind. FB et al are jumping in the convenient direction – all this cancelling should have been done 2, if not 4 years ago. But then, is a for-profit company obliged to have a moral imperative, high-minded mission statements notwithstanding?
The far-right and far-left have always been at the forefront of anti-intellectualism in all countries. In an increasingly polarized world, since FB, Twitter, and others are identified as technology companies rather than media companies, these shenanigans further erode the trust in technology to build a better world for everyone and in fact further the “fake news” narrative instead of setting tech as a custodian of empowerment.
I’ve read a few histories of the first world war and one of the things that most commentators observe is that much of the carnage resulted (at least partly) because the scale and destructive power of the weapons far outstripped the communication capabilities at the disposal of the commanders. Huge attacks would be launched without the ability to properly manage the information.
To me, our current scenario feels like the exact reverse of this. The internet has allowed us to communicate and spread information/propaganda on a global scale, but I do not think that human beings have the mental/emotional capability to deal with it. Nor do we have the structural frameworks to navigate this mess of data. Our collective fictions like society, country, etc that have helped us grow as a species so far are being pulled in so many directions that they are beginning to mean completely different things for different people, effectively making them meaningless as a unifying force.
Perhaps the solution is to not connect everyone on the planet. A smaller world, connected by more individual choices and technology which supports individuals rather than scale. And at the root of it all, the basic idea of loving a person for themselves, not because they are part of our favourite collective.