Worrying and Thinking

Over the past few years, I’ve been worrying over a knot of problems that seem to defy any straightforward answers, including:

  • How can we use Google, Facebook, and Amazon’s services when we know they’re putting people out of work, centralising information, and often acting against our interest?
  • There are no more jobs for life, so why aren’t we fighting harder for improved social security?
  • How can we avoid being made miserable or broke by advertising?
  • What happens if we don’t have the time to properly think about what the good life consists of – or we don’t have the means to enact it?
  • Is it possible to resist, or even question, the total political dominance of capitalism and free market economics?
  • How can we possibly criticise massive corporations when we, as consumers and workers, feel complicit in their existence and operation?
  • What can any individual do to change any of this, when meaningful solidarity appears to have totally evaporated within many rich countries?

These are not the only problems in the world; they’re not even among top ten problems humanity faces. Nevertheless, I consider them to be serious problems and given that some people are better placed to address some problems than others, it’s worth thinking about them.

Neither are they wholly new problems. We’ve lived – unhappily – with overpowered corporations, fractured communities, and inadequate social security for decades and centuries. Yet they are affected by technology and culture, and so these problems require new kinds of solutions every generation.

I intend to spend the next few months writing about this, in a ‘thinking-out-loud’ kind of way. Many chapters of A History of the Future were about these problems. Spoiler: I don’t have any quick or easy solutions, but I do think that these worries are shared by many others who would dearly like to do something about them.

2 Replies to “Worrying and Thinking”

  1. Looking forward to it! Many of those issues seem to spring from collective action problems; social media makes it easier for people to say they support one thing or another but actual commitment is difficult to observe. So it may be that we are actually worried enough about these things to do something about it if only others would too (the Kickstarter model can partially solve for this), or it may be that we just like saying that we are worried about these things because no-one will force us to be consistent.

    One of the pieces in your book alluded to alternative solutions to the collective action problem (the piece on the televised political debate in the UK); I’m interested to see more in that vein.

    Big fan, obviously.

  2. Agreed – and I think that many recent internet startups have circumvented these problems by making very low-barrier-to-entry services. The problem is that they can feel rather weightless and lack commitment, like you say.

    Having said that, it’s not as if no-one goes to church any more, or no-one volunteers at charities. But I get the feeling that people don’t believe that’s the way to ‘change the world’ any more, when perhaps it might still be one of the least-worst ways.

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