Saturday, 2 April 2011

The Lose of Ignorance

Deeply unbalanced "Rev" Terry Jones simply could not resist the temptation of destroying the Koran on a global forum, now he, the UN and NATO forces in Afghanistan face the consequences of our easy upload culture.

How a constantly connected world is taking away our ability to ignore certain people and facts, with extreme consequences.

Terry Jones if Gainesville Florida seems like the poster child for many of us who moved from the expanding track housing of converted rural to suburban America and moved to urban centers. Jone's absurdly small church is the typical brand of intolerance and self righteousness that some of us felt stalking the halls of High School in communities that were too small, too homogeneous, and too disconnected for our imaginations.

Back about 20 years ago when we packed up and moved from towns few people had ever heard of we could move in to communities of coffee shops, ethnic eateries, a foreign films. We could imagine that we had escaped and they could imaged they had kicked us out. But we could separate and in the end we could ignore.

One thing was always certain. They remain back where they were, isolated, provincial, and ignored. In the urban centers we immigrants of suburban growth gone wrong could engage the larger world. We were the ones who meet immigrants from various nations, who took vacations to other sides of the worlds, and who participated in the global culture.

Then came YouTube

Mr Jones has an obsession with the Koran that seems much deeper than his interest (if he has any) in the message of the Bible. Last year he was going to burn the work on 9-11 but backed away, likely when it was made clear to him the risks he would face to do so. But he simply could not walk away from it. His obsession with burning the Koran lead him and his tiny community of freaks had to carry out a trail and destruction of the Koran.

Probably idiotic pointless acts like this happen a great deal, but Jones and his "Dove" World Outreach Center see themselves on some kind of global mission to let the world know of their heroic efforts to burn the Koran. And with YouTube and a mobile phone it is now possible to public in to a global forum video footage of a few ignorant Islamophiles burning a Koran.

Think about the starting conditions. A small group of ignorant hate filled people in Florida. On the other side of the world another group of ignorant, though to be fair they don't have schools, and hate filled supporters of the Taliban who have also lived under NATO occupation for almost 10 years now. The two groups don't speak each others language, they don't have contact and neither would normally have the means to communicate with the other.

But one symbolic gesture in one node (the idiots in Florida) triggers another action, extreme violence in another node, resulting in deaths and millions of dollars of costs to NATO to secure itself.

So what is happening? Well a number of things about our world can not be ignored:
  • All the nodes, no matter how isolated are potentially connected. Any anyone with a motivation to get connected globally can.
  • Nodes can connect without effort which have no knowledge of each other and no means to understand each other in context. So connectivity rather than producing greater global understanding is actually more likely to feed misunderstanding.
  • A small event at any node can be easily copied around the world.
  • Mentally unbalanced acts in one node can become or result i mass political movements overnight in another.
That is to say that for all the benefits of a connected Internet culture, it has introduced an element of chaos in to our culture we never knew before.

A similar case is an event in Australia where a rather small 12 year old made the mistake of bullying a much larger, older boy. The older boy, normally not violent, suddenly had enough and gave the smaller boy quite a trashing.

Events like this are common enough. Teachers and school administrator try to deal with them in a context that protects the privacy of students and helps the learning experience. Many of us feel that bullies should be punished more, but the teachers can see the flow of bullying, the fact that the bully of one minute is the bullied of the next. They understand the complexity of the situation and struggle to come to terms with it.

But the nodes in the Internet don't want to take the time to understand what they are seeing. They relate to each other as if they were TV channels.

Today one student might video tape the entire event and post it on YouTube. That video goes viral. In this case the victim Casey Hynes and his family have made TV appearances and a mass of facebook fan pages emerge. Hynes's attacker and his family, seeing money changing hands, have since come out and given media appearances themselves and I understand they are now friends and working on a promotional tour. Suddenly something that was a tragic yet common event, and should have been limited, is a global event involving millions of people.

I don't care what Casey's father and sister are saying to Australian popular TV, this can be not good for the kid. No child should be drawn in to a global media circus like this. Also no father should learn about his son's life on YouTube, then give interviews about it on TV. This is not the feel good story of the year, its a pathetic tragedy of our age.

Our ability to contain events that happen at a node is now gone. We can talk about privacy all we want, but unless we are willing to live isolated inside of our homes not giving away our locations or identity we are stuck in a world of global everywhere. If we move about anywhere in our new world we are simply surrounded by potential news crews who can post any moment of our lives to a global network. Once in the global network our actions lose all context and therefore all meaning. We are changed from people in to brands or stereotypes.

And there is no putting the toothpaste back in the tube. What we need is a new moral code that respect the nature of our network society. Our respect for free speech must now take in to account the loss of meaning that happens to such speech in a rapid global distribution. We must begin to see that the images on YouTube, unlike the characters on TV or even reality TV, are rarely actors but actually humans sometimes caught in candid moments.

But even if we learn these things, the Internet will be as much a tool of global chaos and misunderstanding than of shared social understanding. Just as it can be used by Egyptians to make the world aware of their issues it can be used by local nut cases to send messages of provocation and hatred.

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