The essence of this post is near and dear to me. Before I explain the details of it, I want to first say that it can easily come across as superfluous, fluffy, idealistic or "big-picture" philosophy, but I think the challenge and solution which I'll discuss is concrete. With that in mind, please take this with a deal of respect and careful consideration before jumping to conclusions.
The issue I speak of is one overarching issue that is an amalgamation of many issues: life as a working class citizen, the meaning of life, the future of our race, the search for pleasure, purpose and meaning. I believe contemplation of these issues is a right of every human being, granted equally and unequivocally.
You might ask why I give such credence to the idea of "freedom to ask these questions" – after all, everyone is free to do them, right? Friday night, you can go to the movies or you can sit back and ask the meaning of life – the choice is ultimately yours.
This is a very myopic view, because I think individuals are often used to doing or thinking in habitual ways. Some of this is personal preference, but I think much of it has to do with the way we shape our society. Sure, the option is there, but too often people are constantly struggling to just survive, make ends meet, and if they're lucky, find some time for simple pleasures.
Making time for such questions could be viewed in hostility, because everyone is so often operating on finite resources, they have to ration their time with extreme diligence.
How did we get here?
The current model, at least in America (where I reside), is that of, work, raise a family, consume, die. This cycle continues, and there is little space to breathe in terms of personal introspection. It is truly a shame that we have come so far in understanding, and technology, yet made precious little progress in the most important component to this progress: ourselves.
It seems to get worse when we obsess over our throughput, the idea that citizens are primarily to be functioning as consumers and producers, to keep the system going.
This obsession, in specific terms, comes from a sense of pride and nationalism. But I think now, much of it stems from fear; fear of losing quality of life, fear of looking like a failure, or fear of being judged by merit alone. These are all commonalities that I think every adult person has once in their life, if not very often. The problem here is that fostering, or even allowing such feelings to subside in the individual, and by extension, the populace, will produce a sort of "group misery" that is pervasive and paralyzing.
This kind of misery is psychologically ripe for anyone who wishes to control a large group to simply inject small doses of "pleasure", prescribed, of course by their own personal interests or ends.
Much of this fear has been brought on in the last decade or so, in a snowballing effect of financial debt, looming governmental regulation, corporatocracy that has become so incredibly perverse and without constraint, and of course a constantly growing police state and the trend towards a new kind of industrial complex, that of homeland security, and surveillance.
This political corruption, mass-scale grift, and industrial surveillance complex has thwarted growth in a dramatic fashion.
Government expenditures are wildly distorted towards distrustful and menacing technology, practices and megalomaniacal figureheads.
We spend more and more on sectors that needn't exist in the first place, slowly siphoning away funds from the innovation sectors we once had: general/higher education, science/engineering and space travel.
The population is so constantly bombarded, they have become numb to it, and the chance of escape seems so out of reach so as to make it seem like make-believe.
The truth is, this is not the case.
The individual, the you and I, the mother with kids, the teenage rebel who excels at computers, the angsty youth, the loud-mouth bigots... the ones you hate, the ones you respect – they're all embroiled in the same battles, both internally and externally.
The growing myopathy that is systemic in our population must be curbed, and we need to look at things from a broader perspective.
Where do we start?
In the midst of this turmoil, some wonderful technology and thought processes have emerged. Specifically, the trend of group/crowd-funding, and the use of technology to slowly give back power and freedom to the individual, to do more compelling and creative things, with little or no need for money or advanced knowledge.
The health system has utterly failed us. It is not a system of prevention, but rather maintenance and adjustment, at a very high cost. This stupendous failure has gotten worse and worse, and now health care is so outrageously expensive, people will go without it, or fly to other countries to have procedures done. What has the online community done? Created offshoots from the traditional (yet still new) crowd-funding models, where anyone can ask for funds to help with surgery, treatments and more.
Of course, the system itself needs to be turned on its head, but at least change is being made – and it's not being made by the government, but instead, completely autonomously – by the people!
This is one field I am very proud of. The idea that we can completely uproot industries, by creating and connecting tools is one of extreme promise. I believe the markets are absolutely ripe for innovation like this. It's only a matter of time before it bursts through the seams and we have even more powerful technology, from digital tools to physical ones. When supply chains, industrial operations and "business-as-usual" starts to buckle under the weight of its own bureaucracy, we will start to reap the real benefits. This is when the revolution really begins.
Coming full circle
Knowing this trend, I have more specific goals in mind. I am not a destructive rebel. Sure, I think feeling this way is completely justified, and anger and malevolence are merely the outcries of an oppressed population at this point.
My reason for not being this way is simple: it's not nearly as effective. Make no mistake, there is a war in this day and age, against the elitists and the working-class, the modern-day bourgeois and proletariat. We live in an age of distortion and illusion, but the change that must happen must happen from the inside out.
Let's step back again. First things first. The system is going to collapse in on itself with its current trajectory. This will likely have terrible side effects for everyone, some more than others, but a system of unbridled debt, war and mistrust, at the expense of a planet, an ecosystem that is collapsing because of myopic stupidity, mistrust and misanthropy by a handful of power players, cannot sustain itself. It is by definition, unsustainable.
The solution to all of this, I think, is that of economic change. We need to work together to make tools, tools that will help us do our jobs easier, better, more completely, more thoughtlessly, so that we can focus on the introspection and personal growth that was taken from us by an uncaring and infected government.
If this seems odd, out-of-place or nonsensical, then I invite you to take a look into the world of software engineering, a field I am currently part of.
Software engineers are by nature, very lazy. This is often viewed from the outside world as bad or disdainful, but any seasoned techie understands the importance of being lazy. It is by no means intellectually lazy, in fact quite the opposite. The idea that repetitive, boring tasks should be done ad nauseam by a PERSON is just plain... sick.
It is a blockheads view, it is old, a relic. "Work smarter, not harder" the adage proffered. But now what do we do? We chastise those who try to do that very thing. Yet many software gurus know better, and care less. In a world of finite energy, you can only allocate so much of your time to interests.
Anything that frees up more time for fun, should be pursued. We should be embracing this philosophy on a global scale. I sometimes think the passion with which many tech folks approach their field often empowers them to be apathetic towards hostile viewpoints. In short, they don't have to give a shit, because they know what they're doing.
Some folks are struggling to get by in their job – some people are not fans of change, and that's okay. Perhaps it is a skill to learn, or perhaps it is something to be accepted.
Regardless, the one thing that has stood out to me in comparison to other fields is the importance of TOOLS. Developers are constantly creating new tools to help each other achieve bigger and better things, to automate mundane tasks, to provide easy-to-use abstractions for lower-level thinking. The idea of community tools is an even bigger and more powerful concept that has an undeniably winning track record.
The vast majority of software in the world is open-source, a fact which escapes most people. The least innovative, and by extension, least growing company in software, at large scale, is Microsoft, a company who has grown only on the backs of others for most of its life, and produced precious little in the way of amazing new products. Not surprisingly, they are extremely conservative and all of their software is proprietary. It is lackluster, poorly performing and generally ill-conceived against the open-source counterparts.
The trend I am trying to point out can be summarized in a simple "equation": community + tool-building = the future.
The building of tools to help people do their job better, faster, more efficient, is the the crux of this entire piece. If everyone were to approach things like the Open-Source world, we would go gang-busters towards the dismantling of encroaching economic ruin, and make the power-players obsolete, by beating them at their own game. At the very least, we would allow ourselves time to spend on thinking bigger and better thoughts – at least, that's what I'd like believe.