Friday, December 22, 2006

Reflections in Time's mirror

So Time magazine's cover says that "You" (who, me?) are the "Person of the Year."

According to Time, each of us deserves the recognition because we are empowered by the medium I'm using right now to reach you...and that you can use to reach me.

We are empowered by our new webs of connection.

But the fact is that once we log off, it's back to reality, and reality these days is a dangerous place.

War, terrorism, global warming and, yes, nuclear annihilation. You know the list.

Look into Time's cover, which is a literally a mirror. There is a warning there. Our focus on self and cyberspace may threaten the future of the planet.

Certainly this medium motives, educates, informs, mobilizes and inspires. It forges friendships and creates new communities, of a sort.

But it also diverts, distorts, deceives, demeans, trivializes and addicts.

The Internet will be what we make it through our choices as individuals, and as a society. What we say and portray, and read and see in cyberspace increasingly will determine what we do in the world beyond the margins of Time magazine's cover and the frames of our computer screens.

Will the web, with all its power and allure, engage us in or disengage us from the work we need to do?

A couple nights ago, I was reminded of our vulnerability as I was reading Lewis Thomas' "Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Mahler's Ninth Symphony."

Thomas was a research pathologist, medical school dean, and astute essayist. His essays often illuminated the "big picture" by looking at small things, including cells, insects and words.

He died in 1993, an eon ago as technology shapes time.

One essay in "Late Night Thoughts..." (the book was a score at the Hillsdale Holiday Book Sale), offers this about the state of pre-Internet humanity:

"So far, we have learned how to be useful to each other only when we collect in small groups — families, circles of friends, once in a while (although still rarely) committees. The drive to be useful is encoded in our genes. But when we gather in very large numbers, as in the modern nation-state, we seem capable of levels of folly and self-destruction to be found nowhere else in all of Nature....As a species, taking all in all, we are still too young, too juvenile to be trusted."

Thomas wrote that 20 years ago, but his words resonate with the questions I'm asking: Have we, as a species, matured in two remarkable decades? Will the Internet make the difference? Will our social and technological evolution be joined in time to save us?

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