"Every civilization carries the seeds of its own destruction, and the same cycle shows in them all. The Republic is born, flourishes, decays into plutocracy, and is captured by the shoemaker whom the mercenaries and millionaires make into a king. The people invent their oppressors, and the oppressors serve the function for which they are invented." - Mark Twain
"If history teaches us anything, it is simply this: every revolution carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. And empires that rise, will one day fall." - Princess Irulan, Dune (Mini-series)
I have come to wonder if the seeds of our own destruction lie within this thing called the Interweb.
We - at least in the United States - have always been a people of technology. Within two years of the founding of the country, the cotton gin was patented by Eli Whitney - and before him, the polymath genius that was Benjamin Franklin brought us the Franklin Stove, bifocals, and the lightning rod . We believe in technology, believe in the benefits of technology, and indirectly believe in the Utopian aspects of technology.
But we are the point that technology has given us the Interweb. And suddenly, it seems, technology has threatened our own civilization. Why? Because we have apparently created a potential "bullet train" to civil war.
Ignore the ongoing rise of automation (which, for the record, is coming like it or not. We are literally on the cusp of changes that are going to directly impact the concept and practice of work for millions of people throughout the world - with, I am willing to bet, not so good outcomes for the most of them. Study the Luddites of 1811-1816 for more details). Ignore the millions of way technology is making us more efficient at waging war and killing each other. I am specifically speaking of the ability of the Interweb to completely divide us.
I heard of a poll from Reuters three days ago in which of ~6000 people polled, 16% had ended relationships because of the recent election. Think of that - about 1 in 6 people were no longer talking to someone, family or friends, because of something they ultimately had little control over. Yes, I know that the election was not solely run on the Interweb - but lots of words about it were put there.
And as I have ranted and raved, social media is doing us little favors in this arena. We now have the ability to drop "opinion bombs" wherever and whenever we like with no context, no discussion, no thought of how it will be received. In fact, I am increasingly convinced for a larger and larger portion of the population, they are doing intentionally to create as much ill will as they possibly can.
Technology now makes it possible to create lasting divisions more quickly and more deeply lasting than ever before. The problem is that we are only in the opening stages of this: at some point (historical pendulum and all) these same folks taking a certain amount of pleasure in sowing discord will suddenly start crying out for unity and the ever-elusive "end" to such talk. Only when we get there, I fear they will find that the casual words cast forth almost unthinkingly have become barriers which can no longer be climbed.
Technology is not the thing in and of itself that will destroy us. It is, however, the vehicle that we have created that will allow us to do it. Frankenstein's monster will have returned; how many will recognize him for that simple creature cobbled together with our own hands so long ago?