Archives for posts with tag: the internet

As a species, I mean…

We’ve ‘invented’ mutual respect.
Based on it, we created the two institutions which allowed us to get where we are now. Democracy and free market capitalism.

I’ll make a short detour for those who are not ‘convinced’.

Democracy, the functional kind, starts from the premise that it is impossible for an individual to know everything. And that together we know much more than each of us. This being the reason for any democratic process starting with an intense discussion. Whoever has something to say, takes the stand and whoever is interested in the well being of the community pays attention. To learn where to cast their votes.

Free market capitalism starts, too, from the premise that it is impossible for an individual to know everything. That nobody, be it an individual or a group of people, might be smart enough to call all the economic shots needed for entire society to ‘feed itself’ on the long run.

These two fundamental institutions operate on the basis of mutual respect between those who live within them. The people exchange ideas and goods on the principle that the transactions are done voluntarily and in good faith. That deception is just an exception.

These two institutions made it possible for us to cooperate into building the present reality. We have developed enough technology that we are able to produce enough food for everybody.
We went to the moon
We have enough weapons to destroy the entire planet.
Each of us can communicate, almost instantly, with almost anyone on the planet.

And? What do we do in these conditions?
Although there still are many of us who are starving, we throw away food. For various reasons.
Most satellites are used (and) for military purposes.
Although we could not have ‘arrived’ if we hadn’t ‘invented’ mutual respect, we currently use information technology mainly to spread fake news and ‘consume’ pornography.

Is this really okay?
How much longer is this going to last?

About half of our manufactured goods come from China. From half-way around the world. A shipping container needs about a month to arrive to Rotterdam from Shanghai. While ordering the merchandise takes some five minutes over the internet.

Shanghai is in China. A country so far away that hourly wages are a fraction of those in Europe. Or in the US. That being the reason for so many of our manufactured goods coming from there.

China is a country so far away that it took more than a month for the rest of the world to find out that a pandemic was brewing in Wuhan.
China is a country so far away that the CDC expert embedded in China’s Disease Control Agency was deemed useless by the current American Administration.

China is a country close enough for the Chinese tourists to had been a staple for the Italian hospitality industry. “5.3 million overnight stays in 2018
China is a country far enough for an “official opening ceremony” to had been “held at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, a multicultural complex, in the Italian capital on Tuesday, at the presence of Italian Minister of Cultural Heritage, Activities and Tourism Dario Franceschini and Chinese Minister of Culture and Tourism Luo Shugang.”

The ceremony was held because “2020 has been designated the China-Italy year of culture and tourism, as the year marks the 50th anniversary of China-Italy diplomatic ties.
“Tuesday” was the 21st of January 2020.

The same day

  • United States confirms its first case in Washington state, a man who traveled to the Wuhan area.
  • China confirms two additional deaths, a sixty-six-year-old man and a forty-eight-year-old woman
  • New cases are announced in China, including in Beijing, Shenzhen, and Shanghai.
  • Chinese state media raises number of confirmed cases to 291 and confirms 15 medical workers in Wuhan have been diagnosed with pneumonia.
  • Hong Kong confirms its first case, a person in their thirties.
  • Taiwan confirms its first case, a woman in her fifties.

The above timeline was ‘borrowed’ – through the Internet, of course, yet another example for how close we are of eachother, from https://www.thinkglobalhealth.org/article/updated-timeline-coronavirus on 3/28/2020, 12:30 GMT
Which Internet pulls us together by pooling information/data while simultaneously rips us apart by feeding us a constant stream of fake news.

We are so close together that you can send/receive almost everything (from) almost everywhere.
We are so close together that everybody who has a smart phone can see their similarly equipped buddies halfway across the world.

We’re so far apart that we still have to make up our collective mind about which comes first. The Economy or the People.
We’re so far apart that we haven’t figured out yet that there’s no such thing as a running economy without enough able bodied and mentally sane people. To produce, transport, distribute and buy the things we need.
We’re so far apart that we haven’t yet figured out that the present number of people cannot survive – let alone maintain a decent living standard, without a running economy.

According to various theories, history is cyclical.
Meaning that we keep doing more or less the same things – or ‘errors’, until we figure them out for what they are.
And then we do them again, under a different guise…

“In China, people must use identity documents for train travel. This rule works to prevent people with excessive debt from using high-speed trains, and limit the movement of religious minorities who have had identity documents confiscated and can wait years to get a valid passport.

While this is the first time Chinese officials have used glasses to implement facial-recognition, the technology is widely used by police. China is also currently building a system that will recognize any of its 1.3 billion citizens in three seconds.”

We’ve spent most of our previously mentioned history living in closely knit and relatively small communities.
We made huge ‘progress’ during that time.
The period had started when we had climbed down from our ancestral tree – or had been made by God, take your pick, and had ended – for most of us, anyway, when we had moved to what we presently call ‘cities’.

Win some, loose some.

Apparently, ‘city-slickers’ are more ‘advanced’ than their rural cousins.
More people living together allows for a deeper division of labour, hence a higher specialization. Productivity increases faster and accumulated knowledge becomes simultaneously deeper and wider.
Unfortunately, all these come at a cost. At first for the individuals and, ultimately, for the society at large.

Living in smallish, and necessarily closer knit, groups provides a lot of ‘natural’ social solidarity. Individuals feel that they belong somewhere and, by sheer necessity, give relatively much to the community. Effort as well as attention.
Lost in the city‘, individuals are simultaneously freer to experiment/innovate and also more prone to growing alienated. So alienated as to become a danger to themselves and/or to those living around them.

On the other hand, small communities, where everybody knows everybody else, necessarily generate a lot of social conformity.
Individuals enjoy a lot of (relative) security and psychological comfort but don’t have very much lee-way.
Innovation, technological as well as social, is slower in this circumstances.
It took us some 130,000 years to ‘invent’ speech, another 65,000 to ‘invent’ writing and then, after no more than 6 short millennia we invented the printing press.
Less than another 6 centuries later we have the Internet.

Writing was invented by the Assyrians – an ‘imperial’ people who lived in cities and who needed a ‘technology’ to keep track of taxes due on the commercial trades which sustained the whole civilization.
Basically the same thing was repeated in many other places. Ancient Egypt, Ancient China, etc.
Written records and favorable geography had allowed the imperial administrations to control relatively vast tracts of land, relatively huge amounts of people and marshal considerable resources to whatever goals considered worthy by those who controlled the flow of information.
Writing down ones thoughts/discoveries also made it possible for humankind to better store its knowledge about everything. ‘Hard copies’ travel better through time than oral traditions.

Until something went wrong.
We all know that all those ancient ‘imperiums’ had crumbled, despite having been the most advanced civilizations of their times.
Other, more nimble, competitors were able to outmaneuver the older behemoths.
Maybe because the old behemoths had exercised too much social control?
‘Written’ central administration was able to marshal enough resources for the ruler to be able to impose stiffer rules towards his own personal safety. The most immediate consequence being that increased social conformity stifled innovation and, hence, created the conditions for the others to catch up, outmaneuver and eventually leave the behemoths behind…

The printing press had a relatively smaller impact than the mere pen.
OK, information was more readily available to those who wished to learn – hence the boost in science and technology, but was ‘useless’ as a ‘coercive tool’. It doesn’t make much difference to someone who wants to control a system whether the information used to do such thing is hand written or ‘pressed’. The small number of ‘insiders’ need to keep that information under tight control so…

The latest ‘gizmo’, the internet, is a totally different development than the printing press.
While the latter is unidirectional – from the author to the wide public, the former goes both ways with equal ease.

Each of us can, almost instantly, become a ‘shooting star’ and, simultaneously, all of us can be monitored by whom ever has the necessary means.

As if we’ve backtracked to a ‘Global Village‘.
In more ways than one.

In a traditional village, everybody knows more or less everything there is to be known about everybody else.
In the Global Village everybody can learn considerable amounts of information about almost anybody worth following while those with enough means can learn almost everything about everybody. Then analyze that information to whatever depth they are able to.  And store it for as long as they find any use for it.

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