24 December 2005

What a Strange Year

What a strange year it has been. If you believe in God – as in a God who sends messages, signs and harbingers in phenomena of nature – it would seem as if He is none too pleased with the goings on here in this corner of the universe. Beginning the year with tsunami floods, reprising those with hurricane floods, disastrous earthquakes that devastated some of the most poverty-stricken people on the planet, plagues of diseases that increasingly defy treatment, miscellaneous pestilence, famine, fiery heat in the summer... As I said, He is none too pleased.

If you do not believe in God, or if you believe in a God who adopts a more “hands-off” management policy (as it were) yet nonetheless allows humankind to make its own mistakes if we collectively choose to do so, all of the above must still give one pause. In the free will department, despite the fact that the total number of armed conflicts, as well as the total number of people who die at the hands of their fellow wo/man, have both declined, the most powerful nation on earth continues to behave like a good, old fashioned oligarchical, totalitarian state of the 20th century, both within its borders and around the world. As some commentators have noted, first went international treaties, then the Geneva Convention, and now the constitution. Imagine – a country at war with an elusive enemy, until the leader of that country says otherwise, with said leader effectively having almost total power. And only 21 years late.

Yet, I am an optimist. My optimism stems from a standpoint that some may describe as technological determinism, yet those who would do so do not understand the subtleties of Marshall McLuhan’s work, nor my own application of his insights. The electric age of the last century, whose pinnacle was exemplified by the dominance of the television screen, was not the completion of McLuhan’s vision that he shared in his work Understanding Media. McLuhan was not thinking of the television we know when he described his “tele-vision” (get it?). Our television enables a mind-numbing, intensely focused vision of the world that, in turn, creates an environment of which I lament. It is an environment in which the cult of celebrity permeates not only pop culture, but business, politics and policy. It is an environment in which an “I’m Okay Jack, and to Hell With You” attitude becomes a credo. It is a psycho-social environment that exists in almost perfect conflict with the biological environment that gives it life. Unlike Neil Postman, I do not believe we are “amusing ourselves to death.” Rather, it seems to me that many people’s awareness and ability to relate to one another in a way other than that modelled by television content is actively under attack, and in some has been completely destroyed.

My optimism originates in the environmental effects created by today’s dominant technologies of instantaneous, multi-way communication – the UCaPP (ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate) effects of which I often speak and write. A UCaPP environment affect not only those who are wired or “wirelessed,” but also those who are indirectly connected at a secondary or tertiary or even quaternary level. The technologically-enabled network of connections, interpersonal dynamics and relationships creates an active awareness of the total environmental effects in each of us, so long as we each are willing to become aware. The effects of this evolving and emergent awareness is already being felt in cultural aspects of many societies, observable through the resistant ripple effects occurring in the reflexive, characteristically 20th century reactions of corporate leaders and politicians. Over time, such awareness will begin to change the other structural foundations of our society: politics, business, education. But it will take time and yet several generations of people who have been socialized and acculturated into this new environment to overcome a century of old practices with new technology. I consider myself fortunate indeed to be alive at a time in which both old and new generations coexist, and I can observe the transition. Such is a rare occurrence in the course of human history. With awareness and conscious effort, the transition will occur in a way that we can collectively manage with deliberation and resolve. That, I think, should define our resolution for the coming year: To work together to create a world in which we will all want to live.

To all my readers, friends and those who will become readers and friends in the future, I wish a happy and joyous holiday season, and a healthy, prosperous new year. And to us all, I wish satisfaction, fulfilment, and most of all, peace.
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