Like a falling guillotine blade, stock markets around the world come crashing down, chopping off the head of the old economy. Something old is dying so that something new can emerge. It’s scary but in some ways it’s also a relief. It seemed like the old economy was turning us into obsessive, compulsive, out of control creatures we politely call “consumers”. Can anyone really say they’re surprised at what’s happening (anyone except Alan Greenspan who is “shocked” - like Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca who enters Rick’s Café and says, “I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!)?
For years I’ve been conflicted about being a consumer. Thirty years ago on Saturday Night Live Dan Aykroyd created a family called the Coneheads who were always “consuming mass quantities” of food, beer and cigarettes. The Coneheads were the personification of what we were becoming. Caught up in a consumer society, we had to keep buying and consuming more and more stuff to keep the economy going (even if it made us sick in the process). Maybe what we had was more like an addiction than an economy. Are these falling stock markets a wake up call?
Call me an idealist for thinking about what we can become and the role that technology could play in helping us get there. Years ago Ray Bradbury wrote a short story called “I Sing the Body Electric” and for me it’s always been an allegory about how technology can help us be who we want to be. In the story a robot called Grandma cares for three children whose mother has died. During a conversation one day she tells them: "Name the value you wish, tell me the Ideal you want, and I can see and collect and remember the good that will benefit you all. Tell me how you would like to be: kind, loving, considerate, well-balanced, humane… and let me run ahead on the path to do just that. In the darkness ahead turn me as a lamp in all directions. I can guide your feet."
In college I once used this quote to end a paper on database design and business intelligence systems. My professor thought I was being a bit over the top.
Stock markets are crashing on fears that global recession is at hand, yet in the process maybe we are waking up. The world itself is a stock market. It unfolds moment to moment (as it’s doing now) in bewildering and unpredictable ways and this is reported back to us in massive real-time flows of data, voice and video (like the information feeds coming out of a stock exchange). These real-time flows show what’s happening and they show the effects of our actions as we act.
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