January 30, 2017

Your Steady Stream of Tech News Will Continue When Morale Improves

The Web always promised to bring people together. But just as simply, it can drive people apart, as geographical barriers or partial or full anonymity empowers people to say things or behave in ways they wouldn't in a direct setting.

Accelerated by the new reality of realtime streams where everyone has a megaphone and seemingly everyone is working to "go viral" and make the biggest noise leads to a constant cacophony of shouting on the issues of the day. And of late, as I outlined in my last post about Trump's looming $100 billion productivity crisis, just about every stream and news source is dominated by politics and the impact to people by political decisions.

For those opposed to the Trump team's way of thinking, the daily barrage of news and rumors can be fatiguing. Each morning can bring new horrors of gut-churning policy and more needing to escalate to fight back. This weekend's sparked crisis stemming from an ill thought out and very likely racist and illegal refugee travel ban saw rallies across the country and millions of dollars raised to flow into the coffers of charities aiming to help, like the ACLU. (I too donated, and my company has promised to set aside millions to help.)

As colleague Yonatan Zunger warns (and you absolutely must read his post), we will likely hit a wall of outrage fatigue. If there is a steady stream of controversial news that impacts us, or people we know, or people we are tangentially fond of, we will run into capacity limits to be angry and to be heard, as the calamities run into each other. But even if that occurs, that doesn't mean we can act as if nothing is happening at all.

I've already seen people yearn for the good old days when we could debate data portability, site aggregation, text editors, or even which mobile OS is the best. But at a time when people's lives are at risk, and foundations we expected to be stable are proving themselves unstable, having a row about the latest geek gadget seems out of place.

It's not that we didn't see this coming. Back in 2006, an ancient eleven years ago, I knew we would see the web accelerate people's disagreements. People want to flock to their tribes, where others agree with them, and the opposite side can seem evil, foolish or subhuman. Most of the time, they're not - even as their words are alarming and frightful. We knew when people had an opportunity to polarize one another and their beliefs, they would. And every study shows this - including our unprecedented divisions in government, globally, nationally and locally.

We can use the Web to rally together and raise funds and awareness for our causes, and we will. But while I'm excited to see the deep pocketed among us excitedly match donations, a great chunk of society is living paycheck to paycheck, and the access to discretionary funds to hold back the government, an institution that is designed to help them, is simply going to run out.

Until we reach some level of stability and understanding with one another, and are out of a crisis mode, you can expect the 'all politics all the time' streams to continue. Mild apologies.

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