Technology: tipping the balance

Roger Cohen in the New York Times:

Something immense is happening as the world transitions to a hyperconnected state where, for many, the distinction between the real and virtual worlds has ceased to exist. All the trailing paraphernalia of states and borders and government-to-government palavers, not to mention privacy laws, look so 20th century.

The more I speak and write about “the future of the Internet,” the more I realize that I’m talking about the future of the human world. Cohen goes on to say “that technology and international relations are becoming interchangeable topics. There are many more networks in our future than treaties.”

Clueful, yes. Also interesting is the article’s mention of Google Ideas and Jared Cohen’s thinking

that technology is agnostic: It can be used in the cause of freedom — and has been to great effect from Tunis to Cairo — just as it can be used in the cause of repression. So how do you “tip the balance in favor of the net positive?”

There’s seven billion people in the world, population’s growing every day. We’ve been organized as nations, and more recently corporations have been taking power and authority for action (though they still work through legacy forms, i.e. legislatures that are influenced by various means, including contributions of money and personal persuasion). We see a tendency for people to want to have something we call “freedom,” though the meaning of that label, and its limits, are not always clear. Traditionally effective action has been associated with authority and leadership, and the nature and meaning of leadership in a democratized world is unclear. (Also the pervasive influence of corruption, and how it will play out if systems of authority are diminished, as we have more “freedom.”)

We live in exciting and “interesting” times, but we should be skeptical – and I appreciate Jared Cohen’s point about the uncertain potential in social technology. We should be exploring how to tip the balance.

From Jerusalem to Cordoba: music as common ground

It’s crazy time in the world at large, a time of social, political, and economic chaos and a questioning of fundamental assumptions we’ve made about how the world works and doesn’t work. You can blame the “interesting” difficulties we’re in on shortsighted politicians, greedy bankers and corporations, god-mad religious fundamentalists, exploding and fragmenting communications… and I’m sure those and others are aspects of the Trouble. But I think we have a deeper problem. We’ve lost our sense of the common ground of humanity, of the pattern that connects us all.

This is too often said and too easy to say: in a profound sense we are united at the core, but we lose the sense of unity, and see only what divides us. How can we feel this truth in our bones? How can we find a way past the significant and growing barrier and borders, the sense of separation that we feel?

Perhaps we can find the common ground through music, a form of communication that can be a common language and source of unity. “From Jerusalem to Cordoba,” a performance Scoop Sweeney and I are producing Friday night (7pm at St. David’s Church, Bethell Hall, 301 E. 8th Street in Austin) is a powerful musical performance by Catherine Braslavsky and Joseph Rowe that includes songs and forms associated with both Christian and Muslim mystical traditions. Behind the music, there is an understanding of the common ground of humanity. In this music, there is a possibility of peace, a sense of our shared source and reality.