Cat's Cradle

(living from everywhere)


Just a note to those who care about our tenuous grip on the possibilities of technology improving our world. It used to be an exciting day when we got access to a new piece of software. I’m not talking about the shrink wrap, or even the update with new features. The Blackberry didn’t exist as a platform for innovation; the harbinger was the mobile stirrings, the synchronization of email between corporate servers and then private services like gmail. I remember the jolt I got when I received a text message from Marc Benioff as I stood 30 seats down the row from him at his friend Neil Young’s Bridge Concert in MountainView. It felt like a nod to the new integration of physical space and digital proximity. It was the sound of worlds colliding, and the reality we’d soon be stress testing as the pandemic arrived. A wink and a nod to what was coming.

Today we call this living from everywhere, and part of that is the struggle we have with how it changes our perception of work, family boundaries, and the need to keep those dear to us safe and secure. The pluses appear to outweigh the minuses, right up until the unintended consequences kick in. But back when Twitter manifested itself, it seemed like a digital comedy club, or sitting around the coffee shop in college and soon after. Humor was always a way of cutting to the chase, using irony and attitude to define and develop what Kurt Vonnegut called the karass. Wikipedia describes a karass as: karass – A group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial linkages are not evident.1

God only knows how powerful this combination of surrealism and superficial can be, but Twitter’s origin story had all the trappings of magical thinking including the underlying insinuation that this was completely bogus in the end. It took Facebook to come along and prove that there was something to this social stuff, but the price to pay would surface sooner than later. Meanwhile, Twitter’s social graph festered in the damndest of places. It reminds me of the counterculture’s meme of the next Bob Dylan. Every year or so, another singer songwriter would get a writeup as the next Bob Dylan — John Prine, Loudon Wainwright, how about Steve Forbert. It was as much a putdown as anything, as though the new artist was not an originator but vaguely an acolyte. I took it as a failure of the media trying to backfill a weekly or monthly deadline. There is no next Beatles.

So far, the next Twitter is still Twitter. TikTok, Snapchat, you name it, it’s got more of a chance to make money reliably than the sifting sands of this snakepit of anger and 15 seconds of fame, but where’s the lurking zeitgeist of the humor that will rescue us for another delicious period of time. We have no idea. This is proven by the metaverse discussion, which dovetails with the web3 campaign, which suggests that because web2 created a bunch of centralized monsters, we need to disembowel the innovation cycle with a decentralized version, which conveniently breaks everything so we can start over. It may turn out to be this magical thinking we noted earlier, but with a new wrinkle of inevitability: so what, it’s still going to happen. It’s a new comedy paradigm: all setup and no punchline.

Testing our moorings in this hypothetical environment is not for civilians. The promise of technology was that innovation would outpace the limitations of processor speed and business models. Creative destruction of the atrophied previous paradigm shift? But what happens when you catch your breath and there’s a pause in the narrative? What if the collapse of democracy turns out to be the only thing that will preserve it? Why is it that we talk about the genius of the founding fathers but leave no room for the next generation?

As streaming media appears to slow down, who do we look for to state the thing we need to hear? You’re bingeable enough, Hillary? Our karass is ready for a calm nudge in the direction our horse rode in on. Our monsters operate in plain view, so how do we contain them. The politics have to catch up to the evil subplots. The testimony of Ms. Hutchinson in front of the television cameras was a beautiful thing. It recalled Alexander Butterfield’s careful acknowledgment of the existence of the Watergate tapes. as in “I was aware…” Who knows if they exist now became the question.

There are no good answers, only bad questions. We are the drones we’re looking for. Is it possible careful words can stem the onslaught against our creaking institutions? And so it goes.

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