Humanity can overcome technology

First posted on Huffington Post on 15 Feb 2012

Two days. Two media channels. Two writers.

Alain de Botton is an eminent philosopher who has written ‘How Proust Can Change Your Life’, ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ and ‘The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work’. Last week, he tweeted: ‘What used to happen to outrage before the net gave it a home?’

Charles Vallance is the V, some say the brains, of VCCP – anointed last week as ‘the most ‘in-demand’ shop’ (viz advertising  agency) in London. Last week, he published a column in Campaign magazine headed: ‘The web is stifling radicalism at a time when it is needed.’

Two clever geezers. What are they on about?

In their different ways, they both ask the same question. In case you have forgotten, de Botton asked: ‘What used to happen to outrage before the net gave it a home?’.

Vallance asked: ‘Where is the counterculture?’ and then, unconstrained by 140 characters, he developed his answer:

‘What is the punk of today or, even, the Thatcherism? Where are the Marmite and the polarity? The most recent counter movement … has been led by the geeks. While the internet has had a revolutionary impact on autocratic regimes, in the free world it seems to have had an opposite, almost sedative, effect. The incessant sharing and airing of ideas over Twitter, Facebook and blogs tends to dilute or mitigate against unorthodox viewpoints.

The result is that there is little incentive for radical expression or thinking … It feels that the whole news agenda is written to a giant algorithm, where people’s energies are spent disparaging each other rather than saying anything constructive or meaningful. The geeks have inherited the earth and, to date at least, no-one seems to have found what will replace this new opiate of the masses.’

I found all this deeply depressing. I don’t want to live in a world like this.

I like radicalism.

I like outrage.

I want people to stand up and be counted.

I’m not arguing against these brainy guys (who, at my school, we would have called geeks). Indeed, I fear they might be right. But are they? Is there a ray of hope? Can we overcome these geeks?

I think we can. It is called humanity.

In these fragmented times, where we have more connectivity, but more divergence, than ever before, it is harder than ever to stand out from the crowd; to break through the media morass; to lead, with conviction and with integrity, and change the world.

Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King and JFK did it. Nelson Mandela has done it. Yes, even The Iron Lady inspired change through the sheer force of her conviction and personality.

And, in this year of a Presidential Election in the United States, especially for those of us who witnessed his address (and great opening gag!) to the UK Parliament on 25 May last year, it is hard to imagine a world where Barack Obama will not be re-elected.

Over here, none of our leaders can touch Obama for the way he himself touches people. His charm, charisma and style are based on unimpeachable principles of honesty and moral integrity that not one of our lot can sniff at, let alone claim. America, be proud.

Whatever your politics, however much of a geek you are, you have to have faith that human beings can rise above technology and touch people with meaning and with soul.

For, if not, what is there to live for?

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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