In the aftermath of the election, I keep waking up thinking “What do I do now?”
What can each of us individually do to impact the status quo?
For the last decade, we have turned to the social nets for this very activity.
For information. For engagement. For solace and support in the communities we form there.
This no longer appears to be working.
Possibly through the painful discordance of this year, the divisiveness of the conversations themselves, we are now more aware of the foibles of the social nets and their innate points of failure.
Their flatness. Their structural lack of nuance. The actuality that the analog/digital divide we herald so often as vestigial, is indeed not gone at all.
An interview with Albert Wegner on the ethical challenges of the networks, inspired me to approach the topic from a different point of view.
Understanding that while certainly the social nets are a digital reflection of our analog world, they are not a true mirror of it.
That we need to fess up to the fact that the very platforms we live on have a built-in numbness. A structural insensitivity that has left us somewhat churning as a culture.
On one hand, the nets are packed with rich media today, real-time broadcast infrastructures.
But they are really black and white, monotone, even tone deaf by nature.
When our limited gestures become the nature of language, then thought is constricted by the primitiveness of the medium itself. And maybe indeed this flatness is why the messages now sound so shrill and hard edged.
When you think of it, our nets are simply an amplifier. Simply a transport system.
No filters. No carryover of human poise. No innate values.
Just a marble shoot of weightless data, where volume is the quotient for fact.
It took this year, for me at least, to come to grips with this.
It took the ongoing in-your-face political Facebook ads. The endless, real-time push attacks and retorts that made both sides appear tasteless, grating and wrong.
An unpleasant and unproductive shit storm. A context gone wild. A medium unsuited to the very debate that brought us there.
I’ve blogged on how different 9/11 would have been in a wired world.
But in the aftermath of it 15 years ago, I spent every day in Union Square with large circles of people—expressing ourselves, arguing, hugging and working out a new gestalt of community in that unprecedented circumstance.
It helped in a way that many seem unable to find today.
And with all this connectivity at our fingertips, all these communities ready to be formed, the nets have really not worked to societies benefit this year. Rather than a medium for conversation and connection, they’ve become a platform for dispute and divisiveness.
I’m a tech geek by trade. A community builder. A populist for a better future infused with the reach and power of a connected world.
But I need to say that both the apologists for Trump and postings on my news feeds from good friends warning of a doomed world, equally sound wrong and off to me.
We all agree that these are very challenging times, but the very nature of the medium itself feels not up to the job at hand. Or in the least, not flexible enough to handle the nuance of debate that this requires.
It feels like good intent squished into some Twilight Zone plot making everything appear a bit sideways and wrong. A shouting match. Barkers on the street corners and bullies in the halls.
I find myself pining for longer-form blogs and podcasts. Gobbling up the New Yorker. Searching for nuance and banter between people.
Hanging out at Racines, my local winebar, often with friends. Talking and listening. Looking into peoples faces.
Not necessarily finding an actionable answer to the question–What do I do now? But experiencing the grounding effect of human touch.
We all know that it is so easy, almost tempting at times, to be a complete ass online. While in person, most of us are invariably emotionally correct even when politically we are on different sides of an idea.
And that emotional civility and correctness is a large step toward change that at some core level is absent on the networks today.
This post is a challenge to myself and my community to think this through.
We are certainly not going to abandon the social nets. Nor is face-to-face a scalable solution on its own.
We need to reinvigorate our social nets to be more human in scale. To be useful for debate. To connect more naturally to the real world.
To be more emotionally correct.
To be aware of the connections between who we are and what we think, and the very platforms we use to express ourselves.
I firmly believe that for most things of importance, the medium is inseparable from the message.
This medium sorely needs humanizing as it is surely not as good as we are as people, and that is simply not good enough.