It’s like we have no idea what to spend our time on. In recent months, many seers, like Lessig, Barlow and others have asked why we’re not more exercised by the disappearance of America–details like civil rights, free speech, public domain media, freedom from unreasonable search & seizure, habeus corpus. You know, the stuff that mattered before the 2000 coup d’état.
The only possible explanation is that we’ve lost the collective ability to differentiate between what matters and what’s flashy. Today’s news tells us about the life-changing project that has possessed a group of bright people at GM working tirelessly around the clock for the last few months: spending millions to create a 1,000 horsepower V-16, $250,000 land yacht called the Cadillac Sixteen. As Alan Watts asked so long ago, Does it Matter?—Essays on Man’s Relation to Materiality.
We all know, of course, that it’s the height of folly to decry the spending of other people’s resources on foolish or unworthy projects. Like pornography, folly is in the eyes of the beholder. But it’s irresistible to contrast the unilateral cancellation of constitutional guarantees with the rise of managerial capitalism.
Then there’s this gem from the Consumer Electronics Show:
Boy Howdy! A megaton backlit display to rescue us from lives of quiet desperation!
Then there’s this Doc-baiting analysis:
Any time you hear consume and content twice each in the same paragraph, you can count on retribution from the seer of Santa Barbara.
So here I am, playing around with this lukewarm screed I started this morning on our collective failure to pay attention to what matters, and I get an email from Mitch saying, “Listen up now, I’m onto something big!”
Brains and Courage and Hearts, Oh My!
So, in the face of a clearly untenable assault on our privacy and anonymity, how shall we acquire the brains, courage and spirit to defend ourselves against this further assault on our personhood? Since we’re not doing well so far, let’s drop back and get the big picture.
The Industrial Age invented Mangerial Capitalism, whereby a tiny oligarchy has usurped most economic and political power, since management is the only capitalistic stakeholder with a coherent interest in how things are run. I suggest we’re on the tail end of that cycle.
The internet is accumulating protocols faster than managements are adding success theories du jour. Based on Doc’s Nobody Owns It, Everybody Can Use It, Anybody Can Improve It (NEA) model, the internet is like a 6 foot 14-year-old, testing its strength and reflexes, learning how to kick a field goal without falling down. This gangly wunderkind would be a lot more promising if it weren’t the first expression of its species. Without an Alpha Centauri talent scout here to reassure us that this is gonna work out just fine, we’re wodering if the current dinosaurs will continue to rule our swamp.
The answer’s in front of us, but not top-of-mind. Haven’t all of us worked in a big company and witnessed how incompetent it is at doing what it thinks it does well? Don’t we understand the glacial inability of Microsoft, “the world’s greatest software company”, to respond to problems with its raison d’etre, software code? Don’t we see how much better the LAMP applications (Linux, Apache, MySQL and Perl/PHP/Python) respond to issues as they arise? What are the missing element to transform all of us into open resources?
Put the Blame Ennui
Perhaps we’d understand how close we are to a solution if we remember how clumsy companies are. Trust me on this: companies are far more scared of us than we of them. It’s just that they’ve managed to camouflage the irritation we collectively feel about depending on them to allocate resources (Us) to extract resources from the Consumer Us. When we recognize and organize our voice speaking to ourselves, we’ll find it easier to take the small steps to finish the story we imagine but don’t know how to conclude.
Mitch is right to be alarmed. Let’s take up his challenge. Where are the issues-based tag structures to help us “roll up” our passionate web logs and comments into a coherent voice which we pledge to act upon in the voting booth?
In short, imagine something that takes us in the right direction, then make it more concrete until it amplifies all these voices. We just need a few more design studies.