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This is why we can’t have nice things

March 18, 2018

I bike to work via the Stevens Creek Trail pretty much daily, except when it’s raining. The trail is used by lots of folks for commuting and exercise: walking, running, biking, even the odd rollerblader. It’s a sad commentary that even in Silicon Valley there are people that regularly (at least once a month) deface parts of the trail by spray painting on walls along the trail, or even on the trail itself. The city just as regularly paints over the graffiti, which in the end makes the defacement pointless: it’s going to be covered up before too long, so why do it? Every time I see a new defacement I think about the kind of person that’s willing to expend that pointless effort to reduce the quality of a public space for others. How either self-centered or antagonistic toward others do you have to be?

Living in Silicon Valley, I can’t help tie this back to the Internet. In the early days of the Internet there was a lot of (over-the-top) optimism about how the Internet would empower people, reduce inequality, increase transparency, and many other Good Things. And what did we get? Surveillance capitalism, conspiracy theories, and trolls. People on the Internet are still people. Is it really so surprising that just like some people would happily paint tags in a public space without regard to others, other people will happily insult and attack others online without regard to the impact of public discourse? The surprising thing is arguably how technology prognosticators assume that new technologies will somehow overcome human nature, despite all previous evidence to the contrary.

Every time I encounter a situation like this, where some individual takes an action that demonstrates how much they value themselves without regard to their impact on others, I think to myself that this is why we can’t have nice things. Because too many people in society are all about “me, me, me”, and damn the consequences. As a Gen-Xer, I only somewhat tongue-in-cheek blame the Baby Boomers. It’s the “Me Generation” carried to its logical conclusion. 

From → Musings

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