A Man and His Tools
Donald Trump at the helm is a scary thought for a lot of people. For them, at first this essay may make things seem a little scarier. Donald Trump taking the de facto position as the most powerful man in the world is a lot like Biff Tanner in the alternative 1985 from Back to the Future; that is to say, volatile. Why that is the case will be made clear; but stay strong and read on because may you will be in position to help.
Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that you are in the middle of an incredible period of human evolution. Most times, when you are in the middle of something it’s really difficult to see how the thing you’re in is changing. It’s sort of like when it took you a couple years to notice that your husband gained 20 lbs after getting that PS3; and when you did notice, it hit you all at once. In terms of human social and cultural evolution we’ve had our PS3 for only a couple weeks now and our pants are already starting to get a little snug in the waste. The driver of the change in our case, like the PS3, is technology; and as tends to be the case with something new that’s meant to add value to your life, the results aren’t supposed to be (and certainly don’t have to be) bad. In fact the results should be good for all of us. Unfortunately getting those good results will take maximizing all that is good about humanity and minimizing all that isn’t. Expecting us to do that with an erratic, often times irrational narcissist at the helm is about as likely as expecting a guy that has never worked out in his life to lose weight after he gets addicted to PS3 ; not that it won’t happen, it’s just very unlikely.
You’ve heard a lot about social media changing the way we connect but do a little thought experiment and try to think the trajectory of all the change. You’ll start to get the sense that you might be a little overwhelmed by what folks from the future might be doing. Luckily there’s no time machine…you’re going to go through it one step at a time; and if you embrace the evolution you’ll get along just fine. But know that whoever we are on the other side of this change is completely in human hands. There is no manual that will guide us through this. We the people, all of us, are in control of the impact of the new communication tools will have and, well, we could royally screw things up.
In his book, The Rational Optimist, Matt Ridley argues that “markets” are the dominant source of human evolution. Technology creates specialization and that allows us to do what we do and that gets us money to buy things and more folks can do what they do and the beat goes on — progress as natural result of the tools we create. Accept we aint never had a tool like social media. Never before has just about every human had access to just about all available human information; and I don’t find shame in saying we’re going to need a little guidance to use our tools the right way. That guidance will come from our leaders: our thought leaders, our cultural leaders our political leaders…and yes that has to include the president of the United Sates.
Trouble is, our President uses the tool to appeal to the darker side of who we are. Generally speaking our president’s tweets do not represent humanities loftier ideals. Even if there are a few that did (there are…seriously), there are enough that don’t that we’ll never talk about the one’s that do. Of course it’s not just 45. We’ve all seen a lot of ugliness in the socialsphere and it might be difficult to get a child to understand the dangers in the ugliness when they need look no further than POTUS to say “it worked out pretty good for him”. No matter what you tell a kid, they can always tell you that it may be in their best interests to do like POTUS (after all he’s POTUS) rather than listen to you.
The new tools we have are incredibly powerful. Like a communications satellite that falls into the hands of a Bond villain they can destroy the world even while their purpose is to unite. Tools like that require leadership that comes from a thoughtful, compassionate place. Very smart, selfless people who truly want the best for everyone in their charge must be the stewards to guide us; as those among us try to grapple with the problem of holding on to our humanity in this storm of evolution.
Now try that thought experiment again and think about what happens in the future if the person at the helm isn’t using our most powerful human tools for good but rather showing us how to use them to be assholes. That’s going to be bad. Big League bad.