A response to today’s On The Media program (WNYC 2/4/11) on how social media is taking over our lives, pushed by perpetual growth driven giants like Google and Facebook, not to mention Apple.
Great program today, important subject.
Your conclusion that social media will now always be a global presence in our lives needs a major general exception. If you ask whether Google’s and Facebook’s goal of ultimate power over our choices might lead to ultimate corruption, the instability of succeeding at it becomes clear. Things that grow till their host dies, like cancer, don’t survive, as their “success” is killing their host.
Everything we admire in nature, though, actually starts its existence as a “little cancer”.
Every kind of new culture or organism starts life with a process of compound growth, starting with a temporary process of seeking ultimate power. That universal start-up processes works by using products from its first tiny bit of control of its environment to continually expand its control of its environment, exponentially.
That’s how every human individually begins life, as a single cell that multiplies to became trillions of cells, that explosively consume the resources of the womb at that alarmingly growing rate in just 9 months. That start from “growing like a cancer” only has the “effect of being a cancer” if it doesn’t change itself in mid-stream. The things we admire all do, turning a little switch inside, to change gears from exploding control to delicately fitting in. It may be mysterious, but allows their home environment and themselves to survive.
The basic problem with “capitalism” (defined as the endless “growth machine” we see) is that it’s “a cancer”. People try, but have a hard time seeing how it could change. Historically, people of other times also created growth societies and took them “over the edge” to collapsing the environments they were growing in, seemingly every other time they tried it. So, if our society has that same “tell-tale mark of the beast” that commits us to ever growing control over earth, it’ll have the usual result again. It would be just another example of how “highly successful people” create insolvable problems for themselves, to destroy their own environments and complex societies.
I’ve been closely studying this set of issues from various viewpoints for several decades. The big change marked by social media is just another stage in a larger sweep of change in how humans perceive reality. Human experience previously centered on living in “the physical world” is becoming one of living in “the information world” delivered by anonymous “media”. That really changes the nature of our social constructs of reality.
From very ancient times human perception of reality has been a matter of social agreement about our experiences. The giant leap we’re now taking, away from living in the “real world” to living in an “information world”, marks a great change in the material connection between what the realities people might come to agree on and their physical experience, with the latter no longer what connects us.
The shared experiences we come to agree on change from ones about things of nature we did not create, to agreeing on experiences of imagery we invent by ourselves. It might possibly seem like a “happy world” where life can be beautiful all the time, then.
It also provides a wide open invitation to fictional realities generally.
Whether orchestrated from behind the scenes by “mad capitalists”, or not, having our “social reality” become made only of self-affirming information, physically isolates us from the reality of our material existence. It’s an open invitation to a complete take-over by “magical thinking”.
Still, our vast new world of “magical thinking” does kind of feel “magical” at the moment. Whether it grows to kill its host or to mature to become the backbone of a deep new connection between humans and with the earth is the question. It could do that if our material existence becomes sustainable, but you really have to say we’re blowing it so far, as EVERYTHING seems built for the other plan. There is real cause to think we’re in trouble on that count.
As a physicist I developed a very cool new way to “connect the dots”, to know a few important things about how growing environmental systems are evolving, before they get there. You might aptly describe it as a way to see if “little cancers” will or won’t turn themselves into “stable partners”. In the physics of how self-organizing systems use energy, the question is whether they switch the energy of the “growth machine” they start-up from, to funding an exploration and participation in their new environment, instead of destroying it.
That sounds complicated, and it is, so you might prefer to skip that and just say, Oh GROW UP please!, instead.
That’s what it’s about, making that critical turn we all personally need to have made ourselves to now be reading this. We make that choice to change from an immature ever growing consumption of our host, to using the same resource for our learning to “get along” and invent a mature and skillful way to participate in our new world. You can read my Tweets as Shoudaknown and find more, various other pages of complications condensed into single lines.
Another conclusion I can’t escape, from carefully studying the question for so long, is that for hundreds of years there’s been a regular pattern of scientists doing good work trying to make this a subject one of general discussion. It seems to have always been actively discredited by the social media of their time. I think that’s clearly why you’ve probably never heard of it. So, today there’s a LOT of information on this “all bottled up” all over the place. Things “kept bottled up” do sometimes burst out, yes, but there’s also LOTS of evidence that the opposite is still dominant, of sparks of awareness still being actively extinguished.
Take the remarkably clear evidence today, of how the consensus world government and societal policy for maintaining prosperity is to continue the approach that is accelerating our depletion of all the earth’s available resources. Intending to have it produce the opposite result now and reduce impacts at the same time instead, the all but universally accepted strategy to grow the economies ever more efficiently.
That, of course, only speeds up the old process, assuring that
our depletion of the earth
will occur as fast as we’re technically able to do it.
It spells T.R.A.G.E.D.Y like “Hollywood” written out across the earth in super-sized billboard letters.
Among the just stunning parts of it is how our mass social movements “to save the earth”, as sincere in advocating their social values as they may be, have also served to suppress the discussion of what the real problem is. It’s really been as if the “face reality communities” had banned together to “entirely avoid reality”.
I’ve been a part of many of these social networks and certainly support their intent as I always have. I find it quite inescapable, though, that as a rule they are relying on sincerely heroic sounding “feel good” efforts that quite visibly have no effect. It’s genuinely as if our mistake is thinking that nature cares more about whether we feel good about what we are doing than anything else. Honestly, she doesn’t.
The belief that gaining more support for ineffectual efforts would help, doesn’t make them anything but even more ineffectual, of course. Nor does it correct the very real growing direct reverse effects, that go by unnoticed and unresponded to.
The consistent response is classic! It’s to no longer “shoot the messenger”, but now it’s to just discredit the evidence, politely saying to the messenger things like “Oh we don’t think that way”.
“dissing the data” is quiet effective
for evading questions about what’s steering our perfectly fine sounding social values, so very far off course.