I have been enthralled with the Internet for over 25 years, warts and all. I have found magic in its mysterious ways, but this week I found myself wanting to escape it. The events of this week — more killings, more outrage and more hatred — left me emotionally drained, wrung dry with a distaste in my mouth for everything. How did the social web become loose with its sociability? What triggered this downward spiral was perhaps the cynicism around Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to create an initiative that will put 99 percent of his wealth to work on initiatives that he and his wife, Priscilla, deem worthy of support.
What Mark wrote in his letter to his newly born daughter isn’t anything new — it is part of his stump speech, and he often talks about the topics he addressed. The only difference was that he had created a separate formal entity to help achieve those goals.
The uproar, drowned out the news of the birth of baby Max. I think it is a magical moment in every parent’s life and I suspect that got taken away from Mark and Priscilla. It was something that bothered me — a lot. And over what?
And if that wasn’t enough, the San Bernardino, California killings and the aftermath drained all the energy and last night I had to shut down everything and walk away from the Internet. I had dinner with a friend, we talked about Herbie Hancock and his biography, Possibilities. I went home — meditated, slowed my breath and brain and eventually went to sleep.
This morning, en route to New York, I started to reflect on what I had been feeling — the social Internet of today has become a very shouty place.
It is not surprising since the Internet is following the same trajectory of previous media networks – radio and cable.
Before technology made it possible, radio, television and cable networks were constrained by available bandwidth. Plentiful bandwidth led to more “airtime” which needed to be filled cheaply — first news, then talk radio and cable talk shows stepped in to fill the empty space. It turned into a competitive market — and the only way to get attention was by shouting, shocking or being extreme.
In other words excess airtime became an enabler of extremes. Moderate ideas, thoughts and voices have been drowned out. I fear the social Internet has done one better — it has created unlimited airtime and instead of talk show hosts, we are the shouters. No one is listening. We have invented a native mediatype that reflects this — tweetstorms. I turned off radio and cable because they lost their soul. Social web too seems to be going that way. I am already pruning my social media presence — stepping away from those whose extreme views create no room for other voices.
December 4, 2015, San Francisco.