Social Change in the Digital Age
The interesting alignment of Super Bowl teams and newly implemented laws has spawned no shortage of humor about marijuana legalization and one’s prospects for making it to the NFL championship game. At the same time our president admits that weed is no worse for you than alcohol and the attorney general announces that they will now allow marijuana businesses to have access to banks.
Many of the people supporting legalization on libertarian grounds don’t actually want to smoke pot themselves. They just think the government has no business telling people they can’t. Civil liberties have gained a lot of traction in the last few years and with gay marriage picking up incredible momentum, it seems we are turning our thoughts to America’s ridiculous drug laws. In my 38 years I cannot remember a time where it felt like people were ready to just let people do their own thing more than today.
Gay marriage has seen much of its support come from people who simply don’t have the energy to meddle in people’s personal lives anymore.
At the same time that personal freedoms seem to be blooming there are serious concerns about the government’s spying capability. The NSA has developed robust surveillance programs since 9/11 and there are legitimate fears this capability can be used to harm Americans and yet citizens seem so numb to the threat to their privacy that they mostly ignore the problem. Bill Maher recently said,
My day would be much more ruined a dirty bomb going off than it would by the NSA knowing when I masturbate.
Why this attitude? Because in a world increasingly dominated by social media and digital interaction the urge to share has trumped the good sense to protect one’s personal life. Young people today are compulsively engaging in the very behaviors that would best enable an Orwellian government to control its population. In the next decade we are going to see the introduction of something that tech guru Robert Scoble calls ‘The Age of Context’. Scoble writes that five forces are converging to change our lives in dramatic ways: social media, mobile, data, sensors and location-based technology.
In the Age of Context we will be bombarded minute-by-minute with waves of data tailored specifically to our preferences, likes and needs. Our children are interacting with each other in unusual ways already as new social sites and apps burn bright and then seemingly just as quickly lose favor for something else. The line between real friend and person-who-I-know-on-the-internet is increasingly blurry for today’s kids. In our house our 15 year-old needs to be regularly reminded that the kid she sees in the hall at school and follows on Instagram is not her friend if they have never had an actual conversation.
Kids are leaving Facebook by the thousands and spreading out across new applications that are much more based in real-time.
As this gray area of almost-acquaintances becomes the place where more and more interaction takes place, especially for young people, there is room there for the unscrupulous to shape their minds. Imagine being bombarded all day with carefully crafted viral posts designed to push your political sympathies a few millimeters in the desired direction. As plugged-in as our children are, this is not science fiction.
All of this of course sounds like I am terrified of our technological future. To the contrary, I am thrilled by it and anxious to see what it holds. At the same time though it is important to realize that while the internet has played an important role in breaking down barriers to change, it can also be a place where we voluntarily surrender some of our older freedoms in exchange for the benefits of an interconnected society. I don’t raise these points to sound the warning bell, but only to point out how interesting our social fabric has become.
Mike Dwyer is a freelance writer in Louisville, KY. He writes about culture, the outdoors and whatever else strikes his fancy. His personal site can be found at www.mikedwyerwrites.com. He is also active on Facebook and Twitter. Mike is one of several Kentucky authors featured in the book This I Believe: Kentucky.