I have been thinking quite a bit about technology, and its relationship to society. I used to be a firm believer, and a practitioner, of technology. After all, it is what I do, and I actually enjoying writing code and drawing diagrams to analyze a problem at hand and to illustrate my thinkings.
government knows more than we have imagined
However, while reading the book "Short history the Chinese Communism", I got a really deep impression that government, after all, is not as ignorant, as I, or many others, have imaged. This book, written in 1970s, has a quite good understanding of CCP's historical events, its path till the writing, its organization, its agenda, and its main players and who they are and what they do and have done. What makes it even more impressive is that data are collected from official channels, eg. gov publishing, party journals, which, in my previouly biased opinion, is so crooked and abused that nothing is worth noticing, let alone quoting. But author has made a clear case out of these, and have illustrated cleared and nicely how the party has formulated its strategies to get where it is. It certainly had a critical tone on many of the policies, especially it had zero illusion of its propaganda and the political objective these tools were used to achieve. Towards the mid reading, I could almost picture myself being a party chief or a country lead who thinks not of picture of individual's life, but an impact on a mass scale that effects will be counted in generations, and trial-and-error in lights of its being beneficial or necessary for many while some, well there will always be some edges cases don't you think?, who will lose and suffer — so it's life, so it's always the case, so if the number is small enough and I could sleep well without losing conscience, this will the price to pay. Too bad.
This feeling scares me! I start to understand how these people sitting on the top of a country/county/province will reason on a policy/decision. The impact is too remote, and their life are isolated from it so they are essentially operating a joy stick of a war game killing and all without feeling a pinch. Therefore, it is not that they are dark minded, well some of them are, but the system has prevented them from relating to the consequence of their decision. As if a feedback loop is cut, there is not enough information for them to think otherwise larr; I'm not giving them execues. But I do want to gain a better understanding of them instead of just despising them blankly.
So now back on this book. If it is available, someone in the government would read it → that means government's knowledge pool (in a general sense) has these bits → US has a really good understanding of CCP, and vice versa → a looked confusing decision made by either government is likely based on such knowledge pool while the mass (myself as one, so are all the Beijing taxi drivers) will only be baffled because we do not have access to that knowledge pool → since gov has an army of smart people (analysts and so on) to collect, to study these books and information, its knowledge pool is logically more comprehensive and richer than any individual's → its decision can not be dismissed lightly. Instead, these decisions are logical, strong, and careful, but the flaw lies in that decision makers are systematically shielded from negative impact of their own behaviors, thus making them fly blindly → decision will be irrational, random, harmful, arrogant, even ridiculous.
Therefore, the question is, how to give them a feedback loop?
I have been thinking over a lot about the line Siqi said that she is like mirror, merely reflecting the people around her. I actually wonder whether this is true to anybody ← don't we all be influenced (tinted or distilled) by our social environment? don't we all will adopt the behaviorial pattern, some necessary for a day-to-day survival, some just convenient (in this social circumstance)? don't we all learn from peer and others around us whose acts will inevitably impact our life (work & leisure) so we would have to react to them, thus involuntarily fall into the logical path that their behaviors have initiated?
This makes me feel that human, as individual or as a mass, is fatefully trapped in an ebb of force-and-counter-force, which is exactly why we constantly feel 人在江湖身不由己. Then, what about freedom of the mind? control of your own life/destiny? be what you want to be?... are these just illusions one gives to oneself? or the society/media/government/education has etched into your mind, just like these communist methods to preach their ideology to the young so to shape their belief? → this is a bleak picture, I think.
So, what's the role technology is playing? I mean, is it elevating us out of this trap, or is it deepening the trap, or just numbing us in a new way, like a new medicine that promises wonder, but ages later the generation will be laughing at it because it is made of nothing but harmless and useless dirt? One way or the other, what is the proof?
Proof that it is helping
There are plenty. Living standard is definitely much much higher than before, which was made only possible because of the development of technology — count any appliances you can't live without, iphone included. Well, one can also argue that the standard is measured by modern men, therefore looking from an ancient prospective, it is worse than then, not better ← well, it is a fair statement. After all, and adjective is up for debate (see mid night and euphemism). But even for those organic fever person, natural's benefit is only enjoyable if nature's disease doesn't kill you like they used to, for which we owe to advancement of medical knowledge, to biology, to methods/workflows/statistics/... that made these advancements happen. So for that, as long as you are actually reading this article, you are already an beneficiary of technology, and your living standard is a fruit of technology.
Proof that it is not working
Technology is speeding up information flow, information storage, and information creation. My perception is that a vast amount of one-time data are being created due to convenience of technology. They do contain information; but that information will be permanently locked in itself that they will never be used → in other words, if we measure a life span of information from its creation to its demise, I would dare to guess that 99.99999% of all data that are being created today will be less than a day, an hour, an instant (can I find a study on this topic!?). When was a last time you flip through that selfie from yesterday, or last year's birthday party, or of your ex-? It was generated, stored (probably multiple copies on the Internet), and forgotten. Period. This feels like those sad stuff animals. But the rate of these information, especially the ones in digital form, is unprecedently higher than anything human has experienced up to the last 15 years!
So, do we really know what we are doing?
acceleration of generation crowding-out
One thing I have been witnessing is that an acceleration of younger generation pushing out those who are less than even 10 years senior to them ← what I called "China's youth culture". In other words, the life span of a person's social contribution is under a mounting pressure — it's manifest in China that 00s is pushing out 90s, and 90s was obsoleting 80s, and so forth. Each generation feels a shortening window for them to be a contributor as worker bees, which in its reality sense means you will be viewed as too old to find a job. A common reasoning is that wealth has been rising, thus making leisure a more acceptable life style than a working bee ← after all, who wants to work if one can get a comfortable life without it!?
But the "Grow old better" by Jared Diamond has another point — the Internet is now a repository of human knowledge. It enables the young with access to information that were previously unattainable unless you were privileged (priest) and old enough (elders in a tribe). Btw, they also operate those devices much better than older generations. Therefore, they should legitimately feel empowered and on par with senior peers. The competitive advantage of an older generation lies in their experience ← gained by internalizing these information and by practicing them (and failed more times over time). But then, how many in that generation holds up to that!? Few. Most people are not only lazy thinker, but lazy practitioner → they hear, but hearing is not listening. Therefore, new crops in their 20s are not only equipped with the same information, but are hungrier (socially), cheaper (financially), healthier, and can be over-worked without breaking down or revolution.
As a captalist, whom would you pick?
can information lead to democracy?
Another hope of technology is that information transparency brings accountability, thus leaning towards democracy. It can be said that Arab Spring and many others were exactly that. But then, there is the GFW which we can conveniently blame for its backwardness.
But how about many poor/developing countries/continent whose population has access to Youtube, but remained to be war plagued, struggling with basic human needs!? Cambodia doesn't ban Youtube. But even those who own a phone are busy making ends meet, and thoughts of self-education via these only resources have to be secondary at best.
And among rich countries, information is not too little, but too much. Many of them are manufactured, manipulated, false, are skewing mass opinion under the cover of data analysis, AI, or simply, technology. If wealth of information is causal to a good society, then it is not showing its effect. Facebook falls into a fiasco of Cambridge Analytics. Is it really wrong to piece together a social profile of a voter in technology so to influence his/her vote? After all, didn't users give Facebook those data at the first place? and to ask them draw a line within which their data CAN be used, are they capable to describe, explain, let alone enforce!?
I used to think there is an arm race between computer technology (cloud computing comes to mind) and evils like the GFW. I know for sure technology side will win. But I was also thinking a free information flow is good for everybody, and will bring enlightenment, reasoning, you know, all the good stuff. But I am becoming more and more pessimistic about this view now.
The goal can be achieved:
- Access to information.
- Information is factual.
- Reader will read this information.
- S/he will internalize it (understands its meaning/intention).
- S/he can learn from it.
... the more I'm writing down this list, the more I feel there is no hope. The condition chain will break down as early as #2!
I don't know. Technology is the best thing we know so far. It's not a wonder pill, not even a happy pill. It's a method better than none. Maybe just focus on getting #1 done, and let human carry his own fate from that point on.
God bless us all.
— by Feng Xia