As a species, we are not very good at looking ahead. We have scientists, planners and philosophers that can shed light on our future, but in reality, we tend to respond to life on a needs must basis, kicking the can of the foreseeable down the road.
Take for example the World Wide Web. The freedom of the Web allowed new paradigms of human communication and expression to take place. Equally that very freedom led to massive amounts of unacceptable content, creation of the dark web for illicit purposes, and, rampant cyber fraud. Whether for legal or illicit purposes our own data resulted in us becoming commoditised.
We are seeing the same with social media. Despite the well-intentioned hopes of Messrs Zuckerberg, and other tech giants, to connect us with the rest of the world for a positive and shared human experience, in reality, social media has become a platform for some of the most negative aspects of humanity.
People are influenced to behave in ways that, without exposure to the Web, they probably wouldn’t have considered. We hear of teenage girls, committing suicide; young people defecting to foreign shores to fight for ideological causes, or having involvement in something that is risky, illegal or just plain tasteless.
Information is issued without context or understanding of how it may be viewed. When consumed through a device screen, as part of our reality, information can become bland, anodyne and in some cases positively dangerous amongst the young, the desperate, the misguided or just plain naïve.
In true closing the door after the horse has bolted style, we now hear politicians of all colours calling for the greater regulation. Anyone with half an ounce of insight could see the information super highway had innate dangers from its outset. The problem is we don't know what we don't know. Social evils are often tolerated for a long time, until systems are threatened, people die and society changes in ways that are of concern. Interventions are not thoughtful, but remedial, and our legislators, and others, instead of countenancing care for the population, are caught in a perverse game of catch-up.
Let's take our biggest challenge, the climate. It’s gratifying to see social media used to bring out the best in people; to allow young people to protest, but the problem needs to be unpicked. I wonder how many of those children are brought to school in gas guzzling 4x4s, by parents taking them overseas on a regular basis?
Commercially, there are 100 companies creating 80% of the pollution. The Government has taken EU guidance not to produce rolling roads, which could have detected lorries, many averaging just four miles per gallon, as well as the pollution they caused. Instead, Government appears to prefer to penalise the ordinary motorists who contribute just 10% of our pollution load. We are fiddling whilst Rome burns, often we are blaming the wrong people and guilting them into being part of the solution or taxing them excessively.
Can we really have the presence of mind to really forego our lifestyles for an issue? Or, is it better just to use social media to shout about changing the world without actually doing anything?
Worldwide, everyone is aware of the issues, but relatively few are prepared to take the pain of implementing, in some cases, very Draconian measures to correct what is wrong. These measure would require personal sacrifice, personal responsibility and thoughtfulness. It's no good running a hybrid, if your neighbour sits in the car with his diesel engine running. The term ‘inconvenient truths’ has been directly linked to climate change. There are many inconvenient roles and responsibilities in the fallout of addressing this.
Meat returning to being a luxury item rather than regular fare; shrinkage of markets; buying high quality well-made materials that last rather than a disposable items destined for land-fill. All of these engender some of the challenges ahead. Frankly, none of us are prepared to think about these outcomes, not even governments; lest it affect the markets; lest it affect those ruling elites who will survive whatever Armageddon we may face ultimately.
So, let's be touched by the children campaigning for change but recognise what really makes a difference. Personal responsibility suffused by those with the real means of control having an open heart over the bank balance.
My fear is that by the time we reach that level of realisation many species will have vanished from the planet and indeed our own may be in danger.
"Social evils are often tolerated for a long time, until systems are threatened, people die and society changes in ways that are of concern. "
Dr David Cliff, Managing Director of Gedanken
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