2013: Moralizing Technology, Cynical Uplift, and Outright Lies

2013 was the year technology was moralized, or rather technologists were called to answer for the moral consequences of their industry’s actions. True, many of said actions were taken by their employers and employers’ housing brokers and the city council leaders of now and past, who have and continue to cynically weigh economic development against the quality of life of the people who already live and work in that city. But a definable target remains a ripe target, no matter the precarity in which we all live, to varying degrees.

2013 was the year some of our hearts were broken by learning a horse bot tweeting lyrical nonsense and links to spam books was actually an “art” project by a couple of savvy marketing professionals. The year a reality show producer hoaxed an internet sensation by capitalizing upon holiday travel angst, general annoyance at entitlement, and predictably, misogyny. That the Republican’s war on science claimed women’s abortion rights in Texas, that murderous ideologues begot virtual, racially-tinged witch hunts, and the priveleged competed for self-aggrandizement or self-loathing.

To us, members of the media-addled, social-sick elite[1], these events prompted arguments over abstractions, debating who gets to define the meaning of reality, shape the rhetoric, and determine appropriate positioning. Our formative educations in critical theory and Clinton-era triangulation have served us well(?) to a point, that point ending at getting a goddammned thing done. We stare it down, turn away in horror, and search for the next outrage to distract us.

But truth and honesty and results do matter, despite the academic debate their abstractions fuel. They matter to the people who read the tweets, blog posts, magazine interviews, and take them at face value. To the people whose lifestyle is validated by characters on reality shows. To all of us who consume this content half-passively in the social professional digital net that suffuses our daily lives. To all of us who live in the world of ideas and code and networks and things on our screen, yet also live in the world of people and things.

In some small way, these tweets and posts and sensationalistic and/or earnest think pieces shape how we understand this ever-shifting world. And there is an aggregate impact, one I believe is increasingly corrosive.

Filtering the crap out has become a part-time job, a constant process of increasing ones’ literacy of a language and discourse that is constantly, simultaneously, evolving and devolving. Which is inevitable, considering the rate at which these things shift and mutate now, but this crowdsourced dive to the bottom only serves to make the worthwhile, meaningful, and painfully true all the more rare and precious.

[1]: “Elite” meaning two paychecks away from homelessness.