Age, Evil And A Better World

Age hit me the other day. To be precise it hit my right hamstring. It was cold and I got up too quickly. These were the words of old men, who I have mocked remorselessly over the years, coming from the mouth of a babe (here I mean it in the child sense); or one who use to be a babe. Now age gnaws at me in winter, an ever present reminder that after the heady immortality of youth, I grow old and wither on the vine.

Yet there are several great upsides to this changing of seasons. I get to wear tweed, spend a quiet night at home with a port and a good book, shunning the strobe lights and shoddy DJ’ing at the local club. I also have the privilege and delight of making comments like ‘for those of you old enough to remember…’. Or in the more jocular words of the inimitable Stephen Fry: ‘for those of my age, weight and shoe size’. Thankfully weight has not yet become an issue. Lamentably my weight remains as constant and low as my bank account. But I seem to be nesting in a sub argument. So let us return to age and its upside, remembrance.

Simon Schama wrote ‘history is a living instruction, or it is nothing. Not a spare time luxury, but a requirement of informed citizenship’. History, both recent and ancient, holds the key to who we are and is a powerful tool to explain why. Throughout the narrative of our world, there is the ever present aspect of evil. Evil has taken many shapes and many forms in its long and ignoble history. My father knows its most recent history well and fought it during the Second World War, when the hordes of Nazi ideology ran over the face of the earth. He, and millions like him, fought to make a ‘better’ world. But when he sees the massacre of civilians in ongoing wars, the bombing of markets and state sanctioned genocides, he does wonder if it made that much of a difference. But when he sees headlines like ‘5 Things Apple Must Do to Look Less Evil’ he knows it did make a difference.

That some people believe they are under oppressive censorship because their news app is at the mercy of ‘notoriously temperamental App Store reviewers’ it is a better world. For many censorship is being dragged from their home in the middle of the night and beaten to death.

That some believe the biggest problem is that App store rules are not published, causing developers to censor themselves, hurting innovation and generating conformity, it is a better world. For some unpublished rules make their very existence a crime. See police take them to a place of execution or force them to languish in prison for nothing more than having been brought into this world.

Life is far from perfect. But for some of us it is a far, far better place than it ever has been. We have the wonders of medical science to improve our physical being. We have nearly unbridled access to other peoples thoughts, lifting our consciousness to new heights. For some of us it is an amazing place. And if some of us labored as ceaselessly toward helping the lives of others as we spend complaining about our own lot. If we took as much responsibility as we do care. If we realized we are given gifts and resources not just for our own enrichment, but so that we have the power to help others. We stand a chance of creating a better world for all, not just for some.

In the final analysis does it matter if Apple is less ‘evil’ in the greater context of the world? For me it does, because it shows that in some sunny corner of the globe, triviality has vanquished genuine suffering. In such places it is a better world.

Is this what Warhol meant?

In 1968 the doyen of pop art, Andy Warhol, said: ‘In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.’ Broadly speaking there are two ways this statement can be read. That fame is fleeting or that everyone will get a piece of it. The rise of MyFace and SpaceTube seems to shift the emphasis to the everyone, as herds of individuals flock to sites so they can show the world just how many Mentos (or should that be Mentos’) they can shove up their nose. Where the prophecy breaks down is that the fame is not fleeting, far from it. The net makes permanent what should have long since faded from memory as a vaguely amusing party trick.

Make no mistake, that photo you edited last week of your mate, sticking his head on the torso of a porno star, thereby making him dance inappropriately with a goat, will float around cyberspace for eternity. While it is funny for your close circle of friends, it is less funny when his boss hops online to poke his wife (behave) and sees the image pop up in his ‘news feed’. Or maybe that is the amusing part of the joke, that people who don’t know the inside story get to laugh at someone else’s misfortune? It certainly seems to be if the popularity of ‘Funniest Home Videos’ or ‘Celebrity Truck Stop Pees’ is anything to go by. Joseph Conrad put his finger on this type of material when he wrote it was ‘Invariably written by fools for the reading of imbeciles’.

Where this type of celebrity breaks down is when the focus stops being someone else and starts being you. It does not take a bevy of underfunded university students or the stupefying weight of the Bureau of Statistics to remind us that where other people are concerned everything, and I do mean everything, is up for grabs, while in our own castle everything should be kept sub rosa. As ever hypocrisy knows no bounds.

The ‘boy wonder’ and co-founder of the most prolific social networking site discovered this when his brain child ran amuck, making public his most private photos. He may bleat that privacy is no longer a social norm, but the combined weight of all his programmers labored ceaselessly to tighten the privacy settings as a result. Unfortunately all the Kings horses and all the Kings men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

What this means for you and me, who have not yet had our 15 minutes of fame, is that we still have something of a choice. It is a choice that happens every time we pick a pervasive news feed from an article of genuine interest. It is a choice that happens when we insist every aspect of Nicole Kidman’s life be made public (after all she wanted to be famous) rather than simply enjoying the films she makes. It is a choice that happens when we hold up our friends to ridicule, but become angry and bitter when they do the same to us.

In short we are standing on the edge of a precipice. The new connectivity of the world is a glory to behold. The channels, one of which I am exploiting right now, allow us to be more than another pebble on the beach. They give us an opportunity to matter, not just to our family and friends but to the wider world. A world in which we, more than ever, struggle to find meaning.

Let us give to others what we crave for ourselves. The right to privacy while granting the right to a voice. If people have something interesting and relevant that they want to contribute, let them do so on their terms, have their 15 minutes the way they would like to have it. After all it is what you will want when you get your moment in the sun.

If we can’t create a society which not only allows a private and public life but encourages it, then stop the world because I want to get off.