As I’m writing this, my son is downstairs watching YouTube videos. When we have dinner, he’ll stream music on an iPad, typing song titles into the app’s search box either from memory or from a list we’ve written down (at his insistence) on paper. He’ll eat while stimming, except for when he takes a dance break.
There’s no app, drug, or device that’s going to transform my son or his interactions with others. And that’s just fine. He’s doing great and anyone who chooses to listen, who chooses to put in a little work, can meet him where he is.
I have a job to do. If I were constantly worried about death, I couldn’t function. After a while, if your life is more or less constantly in peril, you come to a point where you accept the possibility philosophically. I must face the fact, as all others in positions of leadership must do, that America today is an extremely sick nation, and that something could well happen to me at any time. I feel, though, that my cause is so right, so moral, that if I should lose my life, in some way it would aid the cause.
40 years from now, the first Walkman was released. Crazy.
The first model of the first-generation Walkman personal stereos. Contrary to those inside and outside the company who claimed that “without a recording function, it won’t sell,” it became a huge success, proposing new lifestyles which became popular around the world.
The recordings that burned up in the Universal fire — like the songs that are blasting from car windows on the street outside your home, like all the records that you or I or anyone else has ever heard — represent a wonderment that we have come to take for granted. For most of human history, every word spoken, every song sung, was by definition ephemeral: Air vibrated and sound traveled in and out of earshot, never to be heard again. But technology gave humanity the means to catch sounds, to transform a soprano’s warble, a violin’s trill, Chuck Berry’s blaring guitar, into something permanent and repeatable, a sonic artifact to which listeners can return again and again.
It’s easy to say that the technology companies can do better. They can, and should. But ultimately, that’s not the problem. The problem is the media ecosystem they have created. The only surprise is that anyone would still be surprised that social media produce this tragic abyss, for this is what social media is supposed to do—what it was designed to do: to spread the images and messages that accelerate interest, without check, and absent concern for their consequences. It’s worth remembering that “viral” spread once referred to contagious disease, not to images and ideas. As long as technology platforms drive the spread of global information, they can’t help but carry it like a plague.