May 2012

The Apocalypse will be crowdsourced

As "the cult of the social" pervades, complacency and complicity reign.

In 2004 in Dallas, Texas, a group of 200 high school students were given free Blackberries (I know, how last decade) in exchange for unfettered access to their personal lives. They happily complied, sharing everything from criminal and sexual activity to suicide ideation, via text message, e-mail and voice, with a group of researchers that were, at first, studying adolescent friendships. Quickly, however, they saw that they were looking at a change in the way that our youngest generations think about, and behave around, privacy. The tool was provided, and the students were complicit with the sharing.

Now, in 2012, there are over 900 billion users of Facebook, and a smattering of other social networking sites that operate with tetrabytes of user-generated data every day. Legal analysts show an exponential increase in the use of social networking records in the courtroom for everything from divorce settlements to criminal prosecutions. Employers in both the private and public sector are using social networking access to research and evaluate current and potential employees. Social media companies have provided the tools by which millions have freely publicized their personal information, often in easy-to-consume superficial slices of pictures, text, and video. Whether social media has created a culture of complicity within our society, or whether it was always there and social media allowed it to flourish, we are now a society in which our identities are as much a manifestation of our real life as our online imprint. Whether we think that’s OK or not, almost every one of us is complicit in it.

The march toward an open and equal society

It may sound like liberalism to some, but society moves

There is an inexorable march toward egalitarianism and openness in human societies, and never more so than now. Sure, it may not feel like it given the present climate of polarization and political partisanship in the U.S. However, data shows that we are living in the most liberalized and open society in history, and that our momentum toward that end of the spectrum is only increasing. Furthermore, whenever the status quo is significantly challenged, the pushback will be significant, particularly from the radical fringe.

Gallup polls show that on topics such as homosexuality and reproductive rights, Americans have become more liberal over time. As reported in Slate, in 1977 Americans were evenly split on the legality of homosexual sex, while today Americans are two-thirds in favor of the legality (more of the “keep the government out of the bedroom” mentality). On the topic of gay marriage, again, in 1996 the Americans opposed it 68 percent to 29 percent. Today it’s nearly even, for and against. On a longer timeline, minorities, and before that women, have slowly earned the same rights that white, landowning men have always enjoyed. Culturally, there may still be some distance to go before all people are given the same social considerations, but politically and legally we are marching toward a more liberalized and egalitarian state.

If Schools Are Factories, Students Are Widgets

An educational reform movement backed by big business dollars promotes spreadsheet culture in the classroom.

McDonald’s, Ford Motor Company, and Wells Fargo have been incredibly successful because they’ve built their companies around a corporate culture that demands efficiency, productivity, and growth. McDonald’s has also been the subject of numerous investigations into the quality (or lack thereof) of their food. Ford Motor Company nearly failed because they refused to change their business model away from reliance on large, gas-guzzling, over-priced automobiles, and had to be bailed out by U.S. taxpayers. Wells Fargo continues to be investigated for financial malfeasance, corruption, and has also received substantial government money in the wake of an economic meltdown they which they were complicit. This culture, in which emphasis on company performance trumps the wellbeing of the people they serve, is what the U.S. government would like to bring to our nation’s schools.

Stepping Off The Carousel

If the politicians and media won't stop spreading the political illness, the voters will have to.

This election year is going to be big. The Citizens United decision, which essentially opened the flodgates to special interest funding of political candidates and campaigns, was given a trial run in 2010 and is now calibrated and greased for 2012. Obama has already raised a staggering amount of money, and Mitt Romney's conservative fundraising machine is not hanging back. A recent study highlighted in The Washington Post, showed that nearly 50% of GOP campaign advertising has been negative this year. Compare that to just four years ago, when only 6% of GOP ads were designed to attack other candidates. Of course, the polarization of the parties is only likely to intensify as we crawl closer to November. For these reasons, it's more important than ever to guard oneself again partisan politicking and special-interest spin.