Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Too Many Assholes

Cat Valente. Not familiar with her. A youngster. And a looker. She was a Hugo (that's an Oscar to the SF crowd) nominee for best novel "Palimpsest". She has also written a novel called "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making".

I've not read either, but I did peruse this story, and I found it interesting and engaging. Good visual imagery, and I'd say pretty clear-eyed and realistic portrayals of being human. She recognizes that we are still magical thinkers, superstitious, primitive, more rationalizing than rational, and that because of the contingencies of evolution, any attempt to make us rational species would be akin to psychic genocide. We would no longer be human. We would be... something else.

So, a fantasy writer, and currently guest blogger over a Charlie Stross's place. She recently wrote an essay involving Star Trek Deep Space Nine and made the following two observations about the Star Trek universe:
"Nobody uses social media, and nobody wastes time".
I left a comment on the second portion of her observation (which basically was "There are plenty of timewasters in Star Trek, but they all are superior beings") and it drowned without a ripple. I suspect the reason it sank under the waves so quickly is a result of the first part - being that people only pay attention to stuff in their own little worlds. Now, she does realize that Star Trek could not have foreseen -
"Twitter, email, text messages, Facebook, our blogs, Reddit, news feeds".
- and I know that, had these forms of communication been shown, they would have made for less dramatic TV. And really, that's what it is. But it is an element of folklore now. Like it or not, Star Trek is part of myths and legends now, or the modern version, or rather, the 20th century version.

However, I disagree with her conclusion as to where these supposedly new social media are taking us, which, according her:  
"We are a baby hivemind spinning our training wheels".
Maybe. Certainly possible. Or. Or. We may be witnessing the creation of a whole new crop of assholes. And rude, fatuous, and shallow assholes at that.

I'm not a big Nietzsche fan, in fact I think he suffered from softening of the brain fairly soon into this writing career, but all this new social media stuff reminds of something he wrote in "The Wanderer and his Shadow":
"Premises of the age of machines. The press, the machine, the railroad, the telegraph are the premises from which nobody has dared draw the conclusion for a thousand years".
 In other words, don't get cocky. It takes some time for the real consequences - intended or unintended - to resonate down through the ages. Why, the Victorian Internet still isn't done with us. And the fact of the matter is, this new distraction is not all that different from the old distractions that Nietzsche eyed with a hairy old eyeball.

And I do think that the new assholes - the twits that tweet, the blowhards that blog, the domesticated animals on Facebook, all pathetically desperate attention seekers - that use the new shit are not only out there, but the new shit seems to have been created by assholes. We find out that Steve Jobs was an ogre. And that Zuckerberg is psychopathic. Or at least a "backstabbing, conniving, and insensitive" asshole.  And what about Julian Assange? Isn't he pretty much of an imperious asshole?

Look I understand that history is just one string of stories about psychopaths, but can we never break the chain? What do we have to do to get the nice, smart, friendly people to come out on top? Or at least, make them the new normal. Do we need to start rewarding people to not be assholes?

I'm not the only one who is noticing this.  Corey Olds, of the Oakland Local, chalks it all up to:
"1) the easy creation of dot-com and social media enterprises by means of venture capital; 2) America’s ever-increasing neoteny--ever notice grown men or women who disgracefully retain all the behavior of children?; 3) the meltdown of any distinction between “high” and “low” culture--we live in a “degraded landscape of schlock and kitsch,” writes Fredric Jameson; and 4) the lack of insurmountable caste barriers requires the new, parvenu assholes like Zuckerberg and Denton to be forever fearful that they might slip back down whence they came and lose their imperial place".
Is there some way we can restructure this new social media to cancel this distressing trend? Isn't there some programmatic override, some parameters,  to preempt these motherfuckers? Isn't there some big red purge button for the intertubes, to, you know, shunt them all off into some digital quarantine zone, Sector A? For Asshole? Or Sector B? For Butthole?

Because it is starting to look like the same old shit all over again, but this time Cat Valente's global hive mind will just be a big giant asshole.

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