“Historically, Americans have been better at living democracy than at understanding it. They consider it a birthright and a universal aspiration, not a rare form of government that for two millennia was dismissed as base, unstable, and potentially tyrannical. They are generally unaware that democracy in the West went from being considered an irredeemable regime in classical antiquity, to a potentially good one only in the nineteenth century, to the best form of government only after World War II, to the sole legitimate regime only in the past twenty-five years.”
As one social media executive said to me recently, with an audible sigh: “For one set, we can’t take enough down; for another set, we can’t leave up enough. One side thinks social media enabled populism, while the other thinks the opposite. There will be no fixing this.”
Kara Swisher, writing in the New York Times.
“In shifting the focus of regulation from reining in institutional and corporate malfeasance to perpetual electronic guidance of individuals, algorithmic regulation offers us a good-old technocratic utopia of politics without politics. Disagreement and conflict, under this model, are seen as unfortunate byproducts of the analog era – to be solved through data collection – and not as inevitable results of economic or ideological conflicts.”
Since Trump took office, America has lost much of its global standing. It is no longer considered a beacon of tolerance and democracy, and is seen as uninterested if not hostile to much of the rest of the world. A Gallup poll in early 2018 found that global confidence in U.S. leadership never has been lower, and China now stands in higher overall favor.
My anecdotal experience is consistent with this data. When I was in Nigeria last year, a cab driver in Lagos cackled to me that “Now America finally has a Nigerian president!”
If digital connectivity provided the spark, it ignited because the kindling was already everywhere. The way forward is not to cultivate nostalgia for the old-world information gatekeepers or for the idealism of the Arab Spring. It’s to figure out how our institutions, our checks and balances, and our societal safeguards should function in the 21st century—not just for digital technologies but for politics and the economy in general. This responsibility isn’t on Russia, or solely on Facebook or Google or Twitter. It’s on us.
“I think network effects are great, but in a sense they’re a little overrated. The problem with network effects is they unwind just as fast. And so they’re great while they last, but when they reverse, they reverse viciously. Go ask the MySpace guys how their network effect is going. Network effects can create a very strong position, for obvious reasons. But in another sense, it’s a very weak position to be in. Because if it cracks, you just unravel. I always worry when a company thinks the answer is just network effects. How durable are they?
Marc Andreessen in an interesting interview with Elad Gil.
”The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the “rat race” – the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”
”When a thousand people believe some made-up story for one month, that’s fake news. When a billion people believe it for a thousand years, that’s a religion, and we are admonished not to call it fake news in order not to hurt the feelings of the faithful (or incur their wrath).”
Yuval Noah Harari, Observer, 5 August 2018.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
“I like the number eight. When you turn it through 180 degrees, it becomes infinity.”
Hans Ulrich Obrist, quoted in the Financial Times, 4/5 August 2018.
LATER Clive Page emails to point out that the trick only works if you rotate 8 through 90 degrees! Which is embarrassing for the esteemed FT sub-editors, not to mention this blogger!
”Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity is the feeling that nothing is.”