Pleased to appear in an extended quotation in the much longer Pew Research piece on Feb. 18, 2021.
Experts Say the ‘New Normal’ in 2025 Will Be Far More Tech-Driven, Presenting More Big Challenges
A plurality of experts think sweeping societal change will make life worse for most people as greater inequality, rising authoritarianism and rampant misinformation take hold in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Still, a portion believe life will be better in a ‘tele-everything’ world where workplaces, health care and social activity improve
[. . .]
Christine Boese, a consultant and independent scholar, wrote, “Thanks to the horrors of COVID-19, as we sit in our homes and take stock of our personal economic situations, make hard decisions, suddenly what is absolutely essential becomes clear. It is a reset, and – despite the horrors – it was long, long overdue. …
“It is in difficult times when we see the seams and frayed edges of our thin veneer of civilization, the illusions of the fractured U.S. health care system and even the severe limits to much-touted electronic medical records innovations. In times like this, we don’t have to look so hard to separate technology hype from reality. We face failing infrastructure across the U.S. Other countries have systems that work, at all levels, while ours falters. Without this horrific stress test, we would not be able to see, let alone correct for, these fault lines. That thin veneer of civilization balances precariously on a consumption engine, and American culture is literally consuming itself, even as Rush Limbaugh suggests we need to adapt to this self-consumption ‘like the Donner Party did.’ As with most absurdities, it comes with its own irony: Like the Roman Empire, we make little ourselves and instead consume the cheaply produced, slavery-inducing trifles created elsewhere, as if it fills some kind of deep emptiness inside. The extremis of the COVID-19 situation glaringly exposes several things that had previously been invisible:
- The actual power of mass media, even as channels multiply and become diffuse. One channel, Fox News, has created an entire class of people who are actively putting themselves at risk of death or lifelong health problems. As someone with relatives who have fallen prey to this external programming, I can attest that no rhetoric, no persuasion, no methods currently known to me can penetrate this closed belief set. What we are living in right now makes Leni Riefenstahl look like a mere piker.
- The manipulative panoptic power of interactive social media in the hands of malevolent agents. When I began to do internet research in the 1990s, I speculated that the active and interactive power of user-directed and navigated media would lead to a more aware and awake populace, even if not fully democratized. What I did not anticipate (and I am currently studying now) is the power of dark UX patterns driven by algorithmic assumptions, whether accurate or not, and, very soon, a real Pandora’s box of AI-driven machine learning.
- How dangerously hollowed out the U.S. infrastructure is, from endemic underfunding of systems and anything that requires attention to detail below the surface to business-school ‘top-line’ summaries of a management layer that flies above anything that takes more than five minutes to scan. Newspapers and universities were hollowed out first, the agents that created and fostered critical thinkers. The gutting of public education was the third leg of that stool. Remove anything that might question the status quo, that engages in detailed work (even engineering!) or requires long-term planning. Boeing itself fell prey to something that, from the outside, looks like the Agile-ification of all work, which must, despite protestations by the manifesto’s philosophy, degenerate into surface-level patch work and the delivery of marginal improvements called ‘features.’
- Lastly, how deeply distorted the cultural fabric of American life has become, when, upon being forced to actually live in our homes for extended months on end rather than merely using them as places to sleep and consume things because our primary away-from-home activity was work, we discovered how much our homes lacked in all those ‘things’ we own that actually enrich our lives. As livelihoods were put perilously at risk, many of us came to realize what we were being expected to die for and discovered that that was as hollowed out as everything else, driven by a churn to consume as a red herring to keep us from noticing how thin our lives were becoming, even as we all, as a society at large, have consumed ourselves into larger and larger sizes.”