Threads of History, Wires of Demise

Storytelling in the New Millennium

We relate our stories through word of mouth.  We capture our stories in writing. When we have a particularly compelling story, we might go to the trouble of laboring over a book, developing a storyboard into a screenplay or a pilot, or even putting it to music in the form of an opera or a musical play.  In contrast, today we have so many “live feeds” that video cameras are now capturing extemporaneously unfolding stories which may inadvertently (and often intentionally) gain wide distribution through social media.  The gap between composed narrative and happenstance is a fertile ground for exploitation.

Regardless of origin, the story embodies a dynamic between individual attitudes and knowledge, personal decisions, social interactions, and in many cases, a larger body such as the state, an army, a gang, a school district, the medical establishment, or what have you.  The essential elements and composition are all still the same: some recognizable context grounded cultural assumptions of the reader/listener/watcher, a progress of events, some “surprise” or other emotional experience, and a conclusion (or lack thereof.) A story is a story is a story.

Technical Digression

Postulate: In this information age, all stories can be reduced to a mathematical expression of a sequence of human (and even animal) interactions.  The premise is that behaviors and interactions can be modeled using standardized words… a lexicon of behavioral vectors.

Has anyone actually done this?  I am sure that the major internet companies have.  What do you think a social network is, anyway?  Think about what happens when you click on that “share”, “plus 1” or “like” button.  You are feeding an algorithm that is modeling your behavior, along with everyone else’s.

(Setting aside the technical domain for the moment.)

Back to the Story

In this way, all human stories (whether fictional or factual) weave a fabric of human experience from the threads of history.  The stories we make up today through popular books, music, plays, and movies seem to me to be mostly re-hashing and recasting tales from the past.  There really doesn’t seem to be much innovation or foment in storytelling.

This phenomenon strikes me essentially as an attempt to repackage the canonical tales for consumption by our new society, which receives experiences much differently than any before us.  Recently I’ve seen the heavy commentary regarding the “millennial generation” as essentially being self-absorbed, to use a milder form of the many criticisms that have been leveled against this very technically fortunate, very socially unfortunate cohort. But this is an artifact of the environment of our rearing… heavily machine-driven, fragmented, and tenuous as it is.

Because information technology has simultaneously democratized information (witness wikis, blogging) and thoroughly balkanized knowledge (walled gardens, big data, artificial intelligence) we are living in a time where humankind is losing control of our narrative. In principle, this has always been the case… the victors write the history. The state controls the message. The schools propagate the banal rhetoric and the approved truths.  But now, we have trans-national, essentially anonymous, completely unsupervised entities controlling massive amounts of information.  This is unprecedented, unplanned, and… pretty unnoticed at this point.  The impact is unpredictable.  But I will give it a shot below.

Also, people forget. We rely on entertainment, commemoration, and social rituals as a form of collective memory, as a counter-weight to this institutionalization of our history.

We need stories to remind us of our mistakes, and what we have learned.

But – do people realize that there is now this other major force involved in the narrative?

Big Blind Eye

Who among us sees that we now have multiple massive, corporate-controlled and machine-driven shadow intelligences growing in our midst?  Do we realize that they are processing our every online move?  Sanjeev Aggarwal in EE Times VLSI1271 cropped 183x180 Do we remember that these machines are being continuously tuned and tweaked to find new ways to extract money from our livelihoods?

Everybody is a little paranoid, and perhaps me a bit more than most.  But still, it gives one pause.

Theory: Mechanization of society through computerized interactions institutionalizes social deficits. Machines only serve to enrich the owners of the machines, enabling the exploitation of everyone else.  This occurs on the personal level, and thus by extension on a larger scale, at the social sphere.

Prediction: If left unattended, commercial activity will demoralize society to the least common denominator of behavior and interaction. The higher forms of art will wither and die. Eventually some future generation will recognize that human value can only be created, recognized, and sustained in direct personal relations with another, or through production and exchange of handcrafted goods, without the involvement of machines.


Do you see this?

Am I crazy?

If you agree… what will you do to counteract this trend, and preserve human history?

Published in: on May 4, 2016 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Very well put together

Very well put together

For those of a software bent, interested in optimal team performance.

Published in: on January 18, 2014 at 9:11 pm  Leave a Comment  

Duxbury Election 2009 – Change, but for the better?

Today I learned that slogans can be powerful – and empty.

Local politics is a strange animal.   Today, about 3000 people voted in Duxbury and the 12-year incumbent Selectman was defeated by a 24 vote margin.  Beyond the obvious fact that individual votes do really count at the local level,  lies a more subtle reality that a motivated, but narrow interest group can have a major impact.

So now in 2009, Duxbury will deal with the consequences of a newly galvanized constituency “barging in” on what was heretofore a cozy and collegial political process.  It seems that a majority formed around the idea that this comfortable and stable government wasn’t getting the job done to their satisfaction.  It’s truly unfortunate that Duxbury’s current longest-serving elected offical had to suffer the brunt of the voter’s angst.

“It’s time for a change” was the slogan that carried the day.  We all know the undeniable  truth – that change happens from within.   When an outside force is injected, does that mean change is really happening from within?

Change is traumatic.  …Alas, trauma is not conducive to constructive growth.

Let’s hope that the newest member of Duxbury’s Board of Selectmen can play on the team and execute a constructive way forward for our town in this difficult time.  With only three selectmen at the helm, every move made reverberates strongly.

Published in: on March 29, 2009 at 5:19 am  Leave a Comment