America and Western Europe have stagnated while China dives into its newfound riches.
Ethnic nationalism is on the rise while the liberal globalist elite does nothing to stem the tide, too occupied in complaining about the ‘deplorables’ on their devices while ordering more wine from Amazon and posting selfies on Instagram.
The myth that no two countries with McDonald’s refuse to fight each other appears to be just that. Realism is back, manifesting itself through the whims of protectionism.
Are we doomed to conflict?
Not necessarily. It is in these moments that pessimism and inventiveness coexist.
“We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason . . . On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”
We can get out of this rut. Doom and gloom is the end all for worrying times. Tribalism can be cured, as can the negative aspects of nationalism.
There is a good side to bad problems that expose a weakness in the international order. But instead of whining in our own filter bubbles, we can use the moment to cushion against discontent.
Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.” The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”
The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.” The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”
The whole process of nature is an integrated process of immense complexity, and it’s really impossible to tell whether anything that happens in it is good or bad — because you never know what will be the consequence of the misfortune; or, you never know what will be the consequences of good fortune.
‘Maybe’ we pick up clues as we go along, labeling situations as either misfortune or good fortune. But ‘maybe’ everything is the way it’s supposed to be: the yin can’t exist without the yang, the shadow depends on light, and vice versa.
The nature of experience proposes a game of chance: the future is too unpredictable to force an outcome so everything must be perceived as neutral.
We never know the consequences of any event other than the one we can emotionally control. Just try to keep a good outlook.
Said filmmaker Orson Welles in 1956: “I hate television. I hate it as much as peanuts. But I can’t stop eating peanuts.”
We’re at a crossroads with the internet: How can something be so good but bad for us at the same time?
Part of the problem is that we use computers and phones for everything. We depend on technology to act as our wallet, camera, work, and entertainment device. Everything converges into the smartphone, yet we use it less to talk and more to navigate our everyday lives.
The addictive trills of the rectangular glow are just beginning. Tech promises to become more pervasive. We will offload all our work into the unconscious but competent machines, from driving cars to learning languages. AI portends to obviate human labor.
So what are we to do once the robots do it all for us? The line between productivity and doing nothing will blur. Some of us will entertain ourselves into inanition; others will work with automation to keep developing the future.
Either way, we are compelled to become the Jetsons. As long as we stay interested, we can keep the wave of the future interesting.
It’s hard enough to cultivate awareness. We drown in our own ineptitude to sort and curate the noise. Spiraling out of control, we gravitate to the bite-sized headline.
Lacking interest in context, we are too impatient to go deeper. Like fast food, we consume information and move on, having forgotten what crap we engulfed.
The internet can make your brain swell so big that it squeezes out the need for interpretation. Nothing sticks nor lasts longer than a Twitter trend. Consuming less and understanding more seems to be the only antidote.
A return to trusted sources
In a time of chaos, those that provide structure and synthesis re-emerge. Trusted publications like The New York Times or Wall Street Journal become bulwarks of fact-checked news where we can believe what we read. Meanwhile, confidence in social media sources is sinking.
We can’t call ‘fake news’ to everything we disagree with. Such criticism undermines the credibility of opposing viewpoints that help weed out bias. Curation is still human and analytical; beware the bots.
The exhibitionist plays her role and lives up to the internet’s stage of expectations. Like robots, we feign surprise at the latest occurrence of routine deja vu.
We walk into our own cameras to take selfies while we move on camera recorded from CCTV above. Even the faintest nook can’t escape the ubiquitous photograph. The invisible fence amplifies a sea of caginess.
Inspection is self-inflicted
Says director Gus Hosein of Privacy International: “if the police wanted to know what was in your head in the 1800s, they would have to torture you. Now they can just find it out from your devices.”
The maw of Orwellian watchability is here, in our pockets and from above. The cameras render us into thoughtless lemmings of time.
Lifeguards deployed a drone to save two struggling teenage swimmers stranded in rough seas off the coast of Australia.
This is apparently the first time drone technology carrying a flotation device has rescued swimmers.
While drones are commonly known for selfies (i.e. dronies), Amazon deliveries, firing missiles, and spying but they can also do some good too. The company behind the technology, Little Ripper, developed the drones to monitor sharks for coastal safety.
The drone also recorded the entire event which you can see below.
Two teenage swimmers were rescued from a riptide when a drone deployed a life raft in what local officials called a "world first." pic.twitter.com/o8ICqJ65r6
One day we’re going to miss the powerful silence of the natural world, the way it smells and begs for an inquisition. That’s because “most people are on the world, not in it,” wrote the father of national parks John Muir.
In putting a “fence around nature,” we lock ourselves into a secluded wall of emotional current.
Nature nurtures, it humbles our deepest desires. Because we can’t control the skies, nor the mercurial blob of ourselves, we must give in to nature’s fickleness and beauty.
We’re going to be shocked when we wake up from digital’s second life and realize that becoming also means embracing the evolving whims of those things around us. We are overpowered by the Earth’s forces.
That’s how subtleties move along, transparent, through the chaos of abundant information for which the likes of Facebook and Twitter sell our eyeballs to the attention merchants.
As John Berger wrote in Ways of Seeing, “seeing comes before words.” Images overpower our digital world. Video maximizes these stitched images. People lose interest in thinking by themselves and using their imagination.
Said color photography pioneer William Eggleston: “Words and pictures don’t — they’re like two different animals. They don’t particularly like each other.”
Showing speaks louder than telling. One can intuit a concept quicker with a visual cue more so than a verbalized one.