With the successful rollout of iPhone 6 (more than 10 million sold in the first week) the tech industry has scored another in a line of successes. With it comes all the hype and hoopla as the new “messenger” is used by the masses to communicate, be entertained and obtain information. In 1964, Marshal McLuhan famously wrote that “The medium is the message.” He meant that information would be twisted and managed depending on the way it was delivered.
Politicians have embraced the new technologies even as they strive to strangle them with privacy restrictions and obtrusive behavior. But the message will not change. There will continue to be obfuscation by politicians and authorities who will quickly mould the new technology into useful sound bites to keep the wheels of government greased. And the state of the world today offers great distractions from which government and politicians can run their misdirections.
Governments , law enforcement, politicians and regulatory agencies applaud distractions and embrace and covet sports events. One need only witness the mania surrounding the bidding and awarding of events like the Olympics and FIFA World Cup. Events like these are used by countries to send the message that all is well in the country. Meanwhile life as usual goes on for its citizens and crackdowns, abuses and other practices continue unabated.
The football World Cup was grandly staged in Brazil, attended by millions and viewed by billions on TV. What was absent was the social media commotion over the squalor and poverty that exists in Brazil for much of its populace- not to mention the billions of dollars which were diverted from quality of life projects in the country.
The Sochi Winter Olympic Games were trumpeted by the Russian hosts while, as is now apparent, they plotted the invasion and annexation of the Crimea and parts of the Ukraine. Qatar is scheduled to host the World Cup in 2022 not only in the most oppressive weather but also amid human rights abuses and suppression of dissent. Yet the world is silent. Where is the outcry from social media, or the dissent?
It is stifled by the ubiquitous flag-waving and rampant nationalism that these events are designed to foment. Circa 100 AD, the Roman poet, Juvenal, decried the lack of public spirited involvement and the recognition by Roman rulers to placate the masses by dispensing free wheat and holding many entertainment events. It was called “panem et circenses “- literally, give them bread and games – and all be well. People’s attention will be diverted from the failings of governments and the actions of its leaders if given token attention. Politicians of today employ similar tactics.
Today, social media is used by terrorists to recruit and send messages to the world. Most recently, gruesome beheadings at the hands of ISIS were quickly relayed around the world by ever-improving devices. Depictions of other atrocities are transmitted daily. Governments use these events to further justify spying programs and mass data collection of information from innocent citizens under the guise of national security.
ISIS was allowed to organize and grow because the US pulled out of Iraq prematurely and refrained from aiding the rebels in Syria. Social media was noticeably absent at these times, largely due to government crackdowns and suppression and the rampant poverty engendered by it. But also because social media and its aficionados are too preoccupied with the latest gadget to be concerned with content.
These days, politicians insinuate themselves into all sorts of situations to distract the public from their failings. President Barack Obama, for example, feels it necessary to comment on domestic abuse incidents by professional football players and constantly interferes in local police matters where race is involved. They want to direct a national dialogue on whether a football’s team name is offensive to American Indians.
Meanwhile great crises in the world receive only cursory attention. And Obama remains feckless and ineffective. World leaders are scrambling to drop bombs on ISIS, knowing full well that bombs alone are futile. Bombs make for good images. More aggressive military action is required. But bombs, like bread, make people feel good- like something is being done. Countries can’t line up fast enough to be counted in the “circuses” of bombs contest.
While all this is going on the public continues to be distracted my more gadgetry and games- fiddling away the future into a digital demise. We give governments and politicians a free pass to not address the real issues of the day. Take the American national debt for example. At almost $18 trillion and growing, it is the single most dangerous threat to the American way of life and, in fact a threat to the world as a whole. Yet politicians don’t want to associate with it.
Election cycles come and go while the problem is kicked down the road. It is time for the media, starting with social media to use the ever-improving technology now available to sound the alarm as another election cycle looms. Let’s no longer be distracted by “bread and games.”
Please note that this is an op-ed article by Stan Ward, and views expressed in it are his alone.