It’s easy to complain. And complaining has always been en mode. We tend to concentrate on negative aspects of our lives and gloss over the things that go well because when things are go well that’s just how they are supposed to go. People said that 2016 was a shitty year. People are already saying that 2017 is worse yet.
But you know what? There is a lot of good stuff happening too, especially when it comes to digital and technology.
Sure, Donald Trump turned out to be more of an insecure baby than we all imagined. Sure he’s rolling back decades of progress that we have made as a society. Sure Russians are hacking everybody and North Korea’s version of Donald Trump likes to believe that he can nuke America’s cities.
There were terrorist attacks across the world that squandered a large amount of worthy human lives. Places of worship in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria were destroyed. Earthquakes crushed hundreds in Iran and Mexico. Americans again did nothing as a rich shooter blasted hundreds in Vegas with modified assault weapons. Hurricanes pounded Caribbean islands and now an arctic blast has frozen half of North America.
If you keep reading the news without understanding the bigger picture, it’s easy to fall into the depths of despair. With social media and smartphones there are pictures from every disaster that make each one hit home so much harder. That is the reality that we live in today.
But it is not the whole reality. The whole reality reveals a much better picture, one that gets drowned out between the calls for leaders to resign and the disasters that grab people’s attention. Few news articles start with “[Insert Subject] has been gradually getting better.”
So I’d like to look at some of those things that have been getting better in the digital space, or things that have become catalysts for positive change, so that as we go into 2018 we can latch on to the hope that exists in our reality instead of sinking with the anchor of despair.
France Beat Fake News
The French presidential election this year had disquieting parallels to the American election of 2016. A right-wing candidate running on a platform of fear and xenophobia looked to disrupt the status quo and pull France back from the trends of globalisation and acceptance. This candidate abhors the European Union and her victory could have been the nail in the coffin that Brexit built towards a weakening and possible dissolution of an overwhelmingly successful supranational plan to avoid the catastrophes of recent wars in the 20th century.
The Russians, concerned more with destabilizing other countries than helping its own citizens, mounted a hacking campaign to find negative information about the centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron to use the same inflammatory techniques to boost Marine Le Pen to victory.
Macron’s team was ready. His digital squad created thousands of fake emails and fake documents to mislead hackers and make it impossible to tell what was real and what wasn’t. France’s moratorium on the press for the 24 hours before an election was respected by all news outlets and when hackers tried to disseminate falsely damning information, no one took the bait.
For those of you out there condemning social media for being an unregulated playground of bad influences, you are right, much needs to be done to control fake bots and false information. But France and Macron’s campaign showed that it is possible to overcome that threat quietly and effectively.
Hope is not lost.
Rampant sexual harassment has been a harsh reality for women hidden from the public eye by powerful men, non-disclosure agreements, and foggy definitions of what it actually is. Thanks to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it is hidden no more.
A movement arose and no one could look away as woman after woman posted their stories along with #MeToo to social networks. Suddenly it wasn’t just secretaries in powerful law firms or sales managers trying to close big deals; everyone has a sister, a mother, a friend, or coworker who has been harassed.
While many might take this as another reason to be depressed – and it certainly is depressing – this is also a potentially watershed moment towards undoing the undercover discrimination of women that is an endemic part of our social fabric. Like women’s movements before it, the #MeToo movement has broken off a part of the shackles that explain the gender inequality in our society.
If we are going to correct this problem and create safe and healthy relationships between the sexes, this had to come out. Abusers must be put in jail – or at least shamed publicly. And I believe that this is where the digital aspect of 2018 can be the most powerful. Any perpetrator of sexual harassment should be called out so that everyone can know how they behave. For companies, this means removing those people or facing the consequences of mass boycotts and plummeting support.
No company should harbor sexual offenders no matter how successful those individuals might be. Now, more than ever before, women can speak out and be heard. That’s another reason for hope.
Have a look at what Bitcoin did at the end of 2017:
Impressive – or a scam?
The real answer is, who knows? But one thing is for sure, Bitcoin represents one of the next evolutions of the Internet, where people are creating real value out of mathematical formulas. Instead of relying on governments to manage currencies, Bitcoin is the first true alternative for investment and commerce.
Why is this positive?
Because monetary and fiscal policies rely on governments and not just markets. As we can now attest after one year of Trump, sometimes there is no telling what a government will do. Plus, governments are subject to forces like lobbyists and populations that affect how money is created and controlled.
The blockchain technology that creates a public ledger for transactions of Bitcoin places the trust in the cryptocurrency in the hands of the public – and no one else. While others have still not found practically uses for blockchain technology, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a harbinger of what’s to come.
In a time when we have less and less faith in our institutions, the best answer to gaining trust is putting inner workings into the public domain à la blockchain. It’s hard to not have trust in something that is decentralized and has nothing to hide.
The Decline of Facebook
Facebook is in trouble. But it’s not from election rigging and fake news, or harassment or cyberbullying or hacks. Now that everyone is on Facebook it has become a muddled pool of crap that is driving away users to other social platforms. The algorithms churn up shitty content and the ads are so repetitive that it actually creates less desire to buy products.
People are spending less time on Facebook on average than they were 3 years ago.
Why is this a good thing?
Because for all the worrying about Facebook taking over the world (and it is still growing) the appeal of a mass platform that everyone is on just isn’t there. People prefer to dedicate their attention to smaller, niche networks. Facebook is turning into a layer of the internet, like cables or wifi, where people have an account, post major updates, use it to log in to other services, and drift away while they constantly check Instagram, WhatsApp, and Snapchat.
Facebook owns Instagram and WhatsApp, of course, and the business impact of Facebook will be felt for some time. But there appears to be a cut-off point where a digital platform just gets too big and therefore irrelevant for most of its users. That should be reason to have hope that despite how massive the reaches of some digital platforms can be, society is ultimately still in charge.
Winner of 2017: Amazon
What a year for Bezos and company. The Whole Foods acquisition, expansion of rapid delivery services around the world, smart locks that let delivery personnel drop your stuff inside your home, the push to launch Alexa in more countries and with more skills, and then casually destroying all records of sales during the 2017 holiday season….
Hats off to you Amazon.
Will they become the first trillion dollar company? It’s looking more and more likely and it could happen as soon as early next year. We are pushing into uncharted territory here, but at least for now, the impact on my life is entirely positive.
I love ordering my groceries on Prime Now and having them delivered on a Sunday evening at the time of my choosing. I love ordering books and choosing between new and used versions. I love ordering presents for my family in the states to be delivered directly to them without having to ship them from France. I love the idea of an everything store where I can buy in one click and have an assured service behind it.
Maybe you believe that Amazon is destroying smaller e-commerce business or putting pressure on other sectors by creating impossible standards that smaller players cannot match. Maybe Amazon turns out to be an evil machine bent on world conquest and subjugating all of us to its whims.
Possibly. But in 2018, it’s only going to get better.