Are we too gullible? Or, are we relearning how to communicate?

Internet and social media 2019

Are people too gullible?

On the surface, the answer is “yes.” We vote in the millions sometimes to elect and even reelect politicians who patently will say and do anything to get elected, clearly care more for themselves than those they had pledged to “help”, and routinely line their pockets at public expense. We vote against our own economic benefit and we tolerate legislation that helps the few over the many. And, we do this over and over again.

Why do we do this?

Research points at the corrosive effects on individuals and on society of Internet social media. Algorithm-driven thought bubbles push us into distinct groups suspicious of and sometimes violent toward those who think or worship or speak or look differently.

Sometimes, the world today seems to be unraveling; all the news is bad. No one can get along.

Is there a positive way forward? Is there any hope for the future?

Think of this–in the mid 1400’s, there were technological advances in moveable type printing and the Gutenberg Bible was produced. Suddenly (over the next 100-200 years), bibles and other printed works became available outside closely controlled monastic and scholarly collections for the first time. “Cheap bibles meant more readers and, ultimately, more debate over the meaning of God’s word.” It was a time of great social, cultural, and commercial change.

Fast forward 550 years–the 1990’s; the Internet becomes widely, publicly, commercially available. In step with that, satellite/cell phones become ubiquitous. Suddenly (in 10-15 years), literally everyone wherever they are–rich and poor–are connected to a network that takes them outside their immediate area. People can communicate across the globe.

In the past 25-30 years, our world has undergone almost unimaginable technological change–and the greatest of that has centered around how people can communicate, receive, and send information. What we are living through is the stuff of wild science fiction.

George Orwell’s1984 used to be a symbol of a distant, speculative technologically and politically repressive future … and now “1984” is a good 35 years in the past. We have and are living it; we are beyond “1984”, and it has turned out to be a much more complex, dangerous, and beneficial time.

Are we too gullible? Yes … but maybe because we are learning once again–as a society and, for the first time, as a world–to communicate with each other. The Internet and social media has almost swept away the habits and customs of past millennia. So now we have to learn how to do it effectively all over again.

And, we will … but, we are only about one generation into the process; the speed of technological change is much faster than the speed of human change. We will get there eventually; it may take another one to two generations and maybe more.

Unfortunately, this great “communication change” is occurring at the same time as climate change and ongoing technological change (including impending job automation). Any one of these means profound societal shift; all three at the same time brings great uncertainty, great stress, great risk, great danger … but also incredible opportunity and possible incredible benefit for the many.

(Kevin Engel, February 2, 2019)

Moveable type printed book