“Pawns in the game are not victims of chance”
Children’s Crusade, Sting
Note: This is a little off topic of my usual blog posts dealing with media and technology, but our society is at an important inflection point and I wanted to put some thoughts out there to generate a different type of conversation.
Events of the past quarter-century have re-defined the course of American politics, leading to seismic shifts in the very fabric of our society. Any modicum of accountability by individuals and businesses have in many cases been abandoned; politicians are elected not by the policies they claim to espouse but based upon social media trends driven by sound bites and high decibel vitriol and rhetoric; and entrepreneurs know that if their product/business fails, they are more than likely to see a soft landing via an acqui-hire versus having to deal with the very real lesson of failure. Even the much talked about but least understood millennial generation, who grew up with helicopter parents and participation trophies, expects to be “provided for” whether by the companies that employ them or the Government.
As a society we’ve hidden ourselves behind television sets and social media feeds. Forgetting that what we were seeing and actually participating in was just a show – an illusion made for public consumption but never meant to be taken literally. Unfortunately the illusion has become reality and the effects of this will be far-reaching and long lasting.
As a parent I can’t help worrying about my son’s generation – those old enough to start understanding what kind of world they are entering into but still young enough not to have participated in what can be considered to be the potential collapsing of our republic.
I’m now calling this generation: Armageddon’s Children.
While that may be overly dramatic, I think the generational moniker is very apt. We bear the brunt of the blame for this, but I also believe three key constituencies have helped “lead the conversation” in getting us to where we are today. This is not an indictment or an attempt to troll on any of these groups, but they have wielded undeniable influence over our society and these issues bear looking into.
Media: As someone who’s worked in media for the better part of two decades, our media is a shell of it’s former self. From sound bites, sensationalistic stories and questionable fact checking, to pundits/anchors/authors striving to make themselves more important than the story itself – today’s media and journalism is almost entirely geared towards driving increased viewership, page views and ad impressions. Effectively turning the Fourth Estate into one of the four horseman of the apocalypse.
As Dave Pell stated in his recent post on Medium titled A Picture is Worth a Thousand Trolls:
“The rage we see coming from the professionals on television and the Internet is part of a grand messaging scheme intended to increase interest in the campaign, drive turnout, and deliver money into the pockets of everyone from the operatives to the cable networks. But something went wrong. The viewers stopped realizing they were watching a show. They acted like they were watching reality TV (if reality TV were real). When the pundits went home and dropped their arguments … the viewers went online to carry on the rage. What was faux for the pundits was entirely real for the viewers.”
It’s become a vicious cycle, but we can and must do better.
Venture Capital: This one is a bit more difficult. Venture Capital (and other sources of investment capital) supplies the fuel that our economy (and thus our society) runs on. Where we’ve run into trouble time after time is the herd mentality that is pervasive not only among this investor class, but by in large, their portfolio companies as well.
Case in point: Google was one of the early companies to provide significant benefits to its employees, primarily as a means to keep them happy and most importantly productive. What started out as generous free food, parking, etc., grew to include daycare, laundry service, free shuttles, massages and free fitness and gym classes to name just a few.
What people forget or simply don’t realize is that Google was literally printing cash. As it got closer to filing for its IPO, it needed to reduce its cash flow to better manage expectations on Wall Street. While there are many ways a company can reduce its cash flows, Google chose to lavish some of this on the employees that have helped make Google the exceptional company that it is.
However, what was once the domain of extremely successful companies like Google, became table stakes for companies of all sizes. Rather than attracting talent with a ground breaking new product and exciting vision, potential employees were now expecting generous packages and lavish benefits that rivaled mighty Google. Soon, start-ups were leasing and building out office space that Fortune 500 companies would have trouble justifying on their balance sheets. All aided and abetted by the increasing sums of money being poured into companies who were told to grow at all costs – many of which never had a viable product or business to begin with. How else could a 10 person team with no product land a $40 million Series A from one of the Valley’s most prominent investors?
This distortion of reality and the social dislocation it has created, while scoffed at six months ago by the seers of Sand Hill Road, is now causing them real concern. The problem is that the effects of this bubble bursting won’t just be financial, but societal as well.
Politics: I could easily sum this section up and just say: TRUMP. But that would be too simplistic. The history of the United States is one of implosions and explosions of the differing political parties, and the current state of affairs is no different at its core, but significantly different at the edge.
For those on the left finding joy in the absolute shit-storm of the 2016 Republican presidential contest, they should recall the Democratic Convention of 1924 where the most powerful voting block of the DNC was in fact the Ku Klux Klan. Fist fights, disorder, religious and racial bigotry were rampant – kinda sounds like Florida earlier this week!
Well it’s one thing for this to happen in 1924, but in 2016, a small brush fire quickly turns into a conflagration, fanned in large part by the massive influence of social media which along with our national news organizations, has the power to amplify BOTH hope and hate. So far the latter is winning out over the former.
It’s never been more important for us to realize once again that we are just watching a show – one designed to increase interest, drive turnout, and deliver money into the pockets of everyone from political operatives to the cable networks. If we don’t, it bodes ill for our democracy, and we are seeing it played out in real time before our eyes.
Which brings me back to my son’s generation.
As we gravitate towards this political/societal apocalypse, where our choices will likely be between a bigoted megalomaniac and a career politician under criminal investigation, people are finally starting to ask: What is wrong with the world? Well, I think Ayn Rand summed it up best in the following two quotes from John Galt in Atlas Shrugged:
“You have sacrificed justice to mercy. You have sacrificed independence to unity. You have sacrificed reason to faith. You have sacrificed wealth to need. You have sacrificed self-esteem to self-denial. You have sacrificed happiness to duty.”
“Are you seeking to know what is wrong with the world? All the disasters that have wrecked your world, came from your leaders’ attempt to evade the fact that A is A. All the secret evil you dread to face within you and all the pain you have ever endured, came from your own attempt to evade the fact that A is A.”
While pondering this stream of consciousness, whether you agree with me or not, ask yourself: Are we really leaving the world in a better place for our children? Do we really want the next generation to be known as Armageddon’s Children? The answer should be self evident.