June 26, 2003

The Revolution Will Not Be Idealized

Damn, my friend Adam Greenfield is in a dystopian mood today. He writes from Seoul, South Korea:

Show me a case where e-mail or blogs or smart mobs really and unambiguously did bring down a tyrant. Show me a situation in which even one high-school bully was put in their place with the aid of this technology, let alone the pathetic tinhorn strongmen that still ru(i)n so much of this pretty sphere... I mean on the macro scale. Is the planet as a whole detectably better-off in the wake of a decade of decentralized, low-cost-of-entry information availability? Are we better informed, less superstitious, more open-minded, more curious, stronger, less afraid? Do we make better choices?

Christ Adam, take a deep breath. I almost bought the new PDA with the "end tyranny" button, but Howard dean outbid me... Seriously though, this is important; revolutions do not solve problems, they transform problems. The French didn't just wake up one morning in the late 1700's and say "we have no king, life is perfect". Gutenberg didn't print out his first bible and then kick back and watch the world fix itself while making love to Helen of Troy. We live in an imperfect world. Perfectly imperfect some would say.

Life is good, life is bad, times are good, times are bad. You still have the power to set your own pace. And no you aren't going to end poverty by building a website or chatting on IM. But a scream in Calcutta can now be heard in East New York and that means something. Think of baseball, think of averages, improving the world is not about instant ending of tyranny, its about subtly tipping the balance. Its about crafting systems that encourage positive behavior. Its about solving problems slightly faster then you create them. And make no mistake, humans are spectacular at problem solving, but they also are quite skilled at making new messes. That's reality for you.

But if we can solve 2 problems while only creating one, we are improving the world. The results might not be as instant as Viagra, but odds are they will be far more satisfying. One step, deep breath, the world is filled with inexplicable beauty set against the nastiest tragedy and mixed into a poetic swirl. There are moments of perfection and moments of despair. Enjoy them all, its more fun then giving up...

Posted by Abe at June 26, 2003 05:20 PM


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