looking for a new way, pt 1

I am rambling through a variety of media, looking for different ways to of thinking about the current state of things, since the world seems pretty bleak and, more importantly, limited in terms of our ability to respond, individually or collectively. First, I should really identify some of the factors responsible for this boxed in feeling.

The ossification of the internet is one such factor—the promise of the early internet was that ideas which challenged that status quo would have a greater chance of being heard, and assessed, and discussed, and anyone could, theoretically, join in the conversation. The internet was supposed to be a digital commons, an agora, and it was, for a while. Then the usual, capitalist thing happened: something that should be considered a public utility became viewed as a source of profit, and the bloodsuckers came. The tragedy of the commons is not that humans will simply deplete the resources of a shared space, but that a small group of bad actors will deplete these resources and move on, absent some kind of restrictions on allowing this to happen. This is what has happened to the internet, thanks to things like search engine optimization, which limits the reach of smaller voices (like this blog), the proliferation of bots, AI generated content, and host of other factors, all of which have had the effect of making the internet feel more like watching an endless infomercial, rather than participating in a conversation.

The grinding catastrophe that is climate change is another tragedy wearing down people’s ability to think of other possibilities, other ways of being. I grew up at the tail end of the Cold War being the great existential threat, and remember the surge of hopefulness that followed the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Climate change is even more monolithic, and more glacial (dark pun intended) in pace, so expecting some great event that might mark our emergence from its shadow seems even more unlikely. Add a pandemic to the mix, and, well, it is not hard to see how a general malaise has settled in.

I am glossing over so much here: how social media and cell phone tech have managed to short circuit most of our attention spans, let alone ability to read and process information, political balkanization and the rise of far right extremism—I could go on, and then I could point out all the man ways our world is so much better off than it was even just 30 years ago, but the knot I am trying to untie is the one that inhibits people from thinking about other ways to live and think about the world.

I can, of course find dozens of ready to wear alternate lifestyles available for purchase with a simple search query, and that, perhaps, is the heart of the problem.