Keeping Up In The 21st Century

by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, August 8, 2019

I’m reading a rather disturbing book, LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media by P. W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking. It’s disturbing for a number of reasons. First, it shows how completely out of touch I am. Second, it’s very relevant about today’s politics, problems, and conflicts, but makes me realize that I don’t have the tech skills I thought I had – and I’ve been working with computers since 1971. And it’s about a new stage in human communications that I might not be able to join or want to join. I might need to accept I’m too old and let a new stage of human consciousness pass me by.

It’s very difficult to explain why people need to read this book. But here’s a setup that might help. It’s my take on things but relates to what I learn from the book. It’s about the different stages of communications.

  1. Language. This gave us a tremendous boost compared to the other animals, and it’s probably why we’re sentient.
  2. Writing. Let us store knowledge and communicate at a distance.
  3. Printing. Let us mass-produce knowledge.
  4. Telegraph. Let us communicate over distances very fast. This was a tremendous boom for business, war, and journalism.
  5. Telephone. Faster two-way communication without codes.
  6. Radio. The beginning of mass communication. For example, LikeWar quotes Joseph Goebbels saying the Nazis couldn’t have gained power without radio.
  7. Television. More effective mass communication. Truly transformed society.
  8. Computers. They magnified our thinking power and speed.
  9. Networks. Created a world-wide digital nervous system.
  10. Social media. Mass communication with mass participation, or two-way mass communication. LikeWar is about how social media is transforming politics, crime, business, and war. One example LikeWar uses is ISIS, which used social media to overpower traditional national powers.

If you don’t have social media skills you’ll be left behind. Most people’s reactions will be, “Too bad, I don’t care about Facebook.” LikeWar provides significant evidence that all future political power will come from the people who can master social media. LikeWar showed how Trump gained his power with Twitter. Don’t dismiss that out of hand. Singer and Brooking make a powerful case for it being true.

I’m 67 and barely use social media. I blog, I keep up with family, friends, fellow hobbyists on Facebook, I use Twitter to keep up with news about science fiction. That’s essentially nothing. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. When I was growing up I watched the CBS News every night to follow the Vietnam War. The news was about 24-48 hours old. Some people today keep up with wars in real-time, watching people conduct war using the internet to outmaneuver people conducting war at television and print journalism speeds. LikeWar showed how ISIS used social media users worldwide as recruits in their local battles.

In other words, in any field of endeavor, any conflict, if you’re using print, radio, or television to keep up you’re way behind. We really are developing a global hive mind, and it involves new skills. I can use the excuse that I’m too old to chase that bus. But younger people or older folks who want to compete can’t. And I think that’s stressful. I think a lot of stress in our society is because we’re stratifying by the speed in which we can compete.

I’ll predict there will be a new class of Luddites, those people who choose not to race at social media speeds. But it means giving up power. We’ve had wealth inequality forever, and education inequality for hundreds of years, but what LikeWar envisions is a new kind of inequality. I’m not sure what percentage of the population will be able to keep up.

LikeWar

JWH

 

10 thoughts on “Keeping Up In The 21st Century”

  1. I setup a facebook account back when my children were living away, Western Canada, China, and Australia. My account was under an alias, and I only used the account to communicate with them and my wife. Over 5 years later they are still my only ‘friends’ in Facebook land. Of course that has only prompted the algorithm to remind me at regular intervals of all the ‘friends’ I do have, and all of what I’ve been missing since then LOL. I opened a Twitter account about 7 years ago to communicate specifically with a friend who was on a wedding cruise and have never used it again since. The same with Facebook, I’m told by the machine that I have probably lots to say, and that people are waiting to hear from me, more LOL.

    I’m 63, and it’s probably just my nature, but I don’t buy into the commercial enterprise that is social media. Most folks who use it understand this as well but are lured by their own nature into the network. My wife uses it extensively but curses it at the same time as a time waster and wants to cut the cord. However at the same time that would limit access to many friends and acquaintances who use these platforms almost exclusively to communicate. Oh the dilemma!

    The comfort I have is that e-mail and messaging are still an active means to communicate without dealing with the commercial aspect and all the advertising noise and silly memes.

    Our species has won the world based on our brains’ sophisticated ability to communicate. Our technology is simply an extension of that ability. The big difference now, as suggested in your post, is that the evolution of technology has given us the ability to search and receive information in real time. That this ongoing evolution will lead to greater inequality within societies.

    When I observe the younger generations I see a mindset very much in the present. Less time spent on thinking about the future. In many ways this is simply their own survival strategy. Different from our own but at the same
    suited to the present effects of a constantly evolving technology.

    Inequality is a state of mind. If we have what we believe we need to survive than we are satisfied. If that in turn leads us to a fulfilling life, all the better. It’s when our individual expectations outstrip our capacity to compete is when frustration and confusion set’s in. The constant race to find the next pleasure consumes our limited resources and more often brings uncertainty than the real contentment we seek.

    1. I think there are many different uses of social media. Many are trivial, others are not. I’m sure scientists can use social media for doing science, and pastors can use it for tending their flock, but it’s when politicians or other groups seeking power use it to get what they want, it’s not trivial. We should worry about that. But that takes so much energy. It means keeping up and moving fast.

      I often think I’d like to move into a 55+ retirement community and shut off the net. Just let the world zoom on by. I’d have plenty of books, DVDs, CDs, magazines, etc. to keep me busy until I die. I’ve wondered what it would be like to get a mid-century house away from big cities, an antique car, switch back to LPs, and go 1950s retro. Maybe not even have a TV much less than the internet. Just slow way down. I remember once coming down from a psilocybin trip. For hours it felt like my mind was inside a hurricane, and coming down felt so serene. I wonder if that’s how it would feel if we dropped out the networked world. I’ve always thought Luddites and Amish were crazy for rejecting the modern world, now I don’t know.

      1. Sounds good, but I would need the entire neighborhood and the people to feel and live the same..I’d still want friends and contact and interaction with people.

  2. Hey, James…
    Excellent piece indeed.
    You wrote: “I can use the excuse that I’m too old to chase that bus.”
    Chief Joseph had said it this way:
    “…Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired. My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever. ”
    I used to, a long time ago, both love to hear those “old people” tell their stories of “back when I was your age” while, at exactly the same time, get so bored with their stories, again, of “back when”. One was the context of how “better” life had gotten, you know, “…back when I was a kid, we had to walk to school, uphill, in the snow, both ways….” It was always light and in good fun. The other context, however, was always dark, always a damning indictment on people. “Boy, you wouldn’t know what a hard day’s work really is. You brats of today got it made.” Both of those are courtesy of my old man.
    And then it was my turn. These days I tell my stories to anyone who makes the mistake of giving me just a couple of minutes of their time. I talk, I listen to their responses, but mostly I’m waiting. And it never fails, never. Not one person younger than forty ever fails to make the comparison of “back when” with the present, not one, ever. And now it is getting more common to hear younger people peppering their speech with “back when”.
    It is a simple conclusion: The first time you hear yourself talking about things, the “news,” or as Douglas Adams said it, “life, the universe, and everything,” and those words, “back when,” come out of your mouth, you are old. You realize that the world into which you were born no longer exists, it is gone, and you are part of what will soon be “ancient” history.
    So no, James, it isn’t an “…excuse that I’m too old to chase that bus.” That’s simply wisdom speaking.
    Maybe Queen said it best: “I’ve paid my dues, time after time, I’ve done my sentence, but committed no crime….”
    So Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Well, now it’s our turn.
    James, stay safe and be well.

    1. There are some upsides to getting old, and one of them is the perspective of time. Things do change. I walked to school by myself in the first grade, now they arrest parents for letting their kids walk around the block unattended. When I grew up it was illegal to carry a gun, now it’s not. My parents used to beat me with switches and belts, now they would be arrested. When I grew up jobs were listed in the newspaper “Men Wanted” and “Women Wanted” because society assumed women couldn’t do men’s work, and other work was women’s work.

      I think it’s fun to watch those changes. In fact, the only constant in reality is change. But evidently, getting old makes you tired of change. It’s still fun to bitch about. And I still claimed when I lived in New Jersey I had to walk to school for miles in the snow uphill both ways.

  3. No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no cell phone. My online footprint is very small. As we’ve found out with older technologies–cars, telephones, television, computers, etc.–there are costs to using them. Not just money, but physical and mental costs.

    1. That’s the good thing about the internet George, we can participate as much and as little as we like. But we have to be aware that the people using it the most might be shaping society the most too.

  4. Thanks for the recommendation, James. I just checked out the Kindle version from my library. I’m a little nervous about reading it, like do I really want to know how bad it is? Yeah, I do.

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