In his latest book, “Thank You for Being Late,” New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman attempted to answer the question every American seems to be asking of our current political state: how did we get here?
Friedman says it all started in 2007. This was the year the iPhone was released, solar power became huge, Google bought YouTube, Twitter was started, big data came on the scene and cloud-based services became widely available. 2007 is the year Friedman describes as the single most transformative year of technology since the development of the Gutenberg Press.
And because of 2008, everybody missed it.
Today, these technologies continue to rapidly develop, while the social and cultural acceptance of them lags behind. This has created a large delta of cultural adaption, which has left much of the public confused and scared.
Friedman pointed out that this is not solely an American phenomenon. He says other world leaders, such as Putin and Netanyahu, have also surfed the current wave of deep, social resentment. The public has selected these figures because they identify with them, and in turn, the leaders make promises to protect the public from this rapidly changing world.
But these forces of discomfort are not just changing our world, they’re reshaping our workplaces, communities, ethics and politics.
In America specifically, Friedman said Trump’s wall, accidentally or not, is very symbolic of this idea, as the wall can literally stop the winds of change from sweeping across our borders and bringing anymore discomfort with them.
But America has already changed. Politics have become entertainment, and vice versa. Friedman believes Trump has mastered speaking messages of the past, through channels of the future. He has leveraged social media to gain attention, and even speaks in short, staccato sentences that aggregate (frequently incorrect) soundbites and pieces of news. No one can take their eyes off of him, because no one knows what will happen next. Somehow, this man has gone viral in every sense of the word.
Trump’s entrance has created a completely new political character, whipping up support no one thought imaginable. And he knows it. Trump once made a statement that, even if he were to shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Ave., he wouldn’t lose support.
Friedman attributes this to the profound senses of homelessness, and stagnancy felt by the American public. For which, you guessed it, our disassociation with the explosion of technology is partly to blame.
But Friedman says if we begin to turn artificial intelligence into intelligence assistants, assistance and algorithms, we can begin to better adapt to it. As we grow more comfortable in this space, it’s increasingly important that we understand how to govern it. In a digital world, individuals are super empowered, and each of our decisions directly impacts someone else.
Rather than coasting on societal cautions that lead us to protect ourselves out of fear, we need to begin embracing the fact that we are all at a pivotal point for not only our society, but for our species. To make this a productive transition, Friedman says we need to remember our values and realize that to make this change, it’ll take more than a village - it’ll take a planet.
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