Driving down the road today I saw a pickup truck. You know the type, slightly lifted, painted primer flat black, smoke stacks, flying down the highway, somehow offended that everyone else doesn’t treat the speed limit as a minimum. None of that was particularly interesting or unexpected on an Arizona freeway. What I found interesting was the USA flag flying from a pole mounted in the middle of the truck bed. The flag alone wouldn’t have caught my attention. We have our fair share of patriots who need to prove their love of country that way. I have nothing against them. No, what was interesting about this flag was that it was burning. Not actively on fire, per se, but the tail end of the flag was blackened and tattered as if the flames were close on the tail of the truck, and the intense heat was slowly burning the flag as they drove.
I don’t know what statement the truck’s driver was trying to make, and I don’t care really. It probably had something to do with Obama. What got me about it was likely unintended and yet was all the more enhanced by the behavior of the truck on the freeway. It was the symbolism that the country is racing forward with the flames almost catching up. The pure, “What the hell are you all doing going so god damned slow? Can’t you see we’re racing against the flames here?” attitude of the flag flying behind that particular truck. That captured something I’ve been feeling. It was visceral, and forgetting politics or whatever particular issue outrages you today, it encapsulated a rush of society. It was the generalized anxiety that we need to get to the next thing or the next place or else we’re all going to burn.
At least this guy could afford a better paint job.
I’m never one to advocate for anything to slow down. Quite the contrary I believe that technologically we’re headed up the logarithmic curve of accelerating innovation. Yet something about that image stuck in my head. Like the Millennium Falcon racing the flames of the exploding Death Star core in Jedi, we can’t afford to stop. It’s full throttle or die. How long can humans keep up? Is there an escape in sight, or is there no choice but drive on until we can’t?
As a country, is that age-old construct of nationalistic pride a viable thing in a global workforce and economy? Will corporations, new organisms that feed off the nations, take over as the old nations prove more and more to be impotent to the power of banks and consumer conglomerates that have grown too big to fail? Or will internet communities of melded minds surpass all by simply routing traffic around and through each and every one of them? What other structures of human creation are out there? In the IoT, the internet of things, how many nodes are needed before emergent characteristics of intelligent life come out of our billions of interconnected widgets? Will we band our minds together to form ever larger networks capable of higher order thought that none of us individually is capable? Will the AIs be able to take us there, or will they leave us behind to burn?
Those are the things I tend to think about when the topics of out-of-control acceleration and racing-against-time come to mind. More important than the questions though, is how we react to them.
Do we react out of fear? What does that look like? Is that lawsuits and lobbying for laws and trade agreements to protect our entrenched interests? Is it anger and resentment directed at politicians?
Do we react with sadness? Do we not even acknowledge the challenge in front of us? Just simply accept that were losing our jobs to automation, that someone else is getting rich because they deserved it more?
Perhaps we just react with apathetic or morbid curiosity, pulling off the road to watch it all burn.
Or perhaps we react out of hope. Is that the enthusiasm for the things not yet imaginable that we’ll be capable of doing within a few short years? Is that jumping into online communities to create and collaborate across borders?
Do we react with love? Nurturing the hopeful on their journeys, supporting the sad to get them back on their feet, and comforting the fearful to minimize their destructive tendencies?
The flag is still waving for now, and we’re burning down the freeway to an end that none of us can know. Eventually the flag will be gone, then the truck, then the driver, and yet something will still go on. What that is and what you do with that fact is up to each and every one of you.