Gongol.com Archives: March 2024

Brian Gongol

March 20, 2024

News Buffeted about by change

Times of rapid technological and cultural developments have always been disorienting. Imagine being around for the first few decades of the 20th Century in America and witnessing the arrival of automobiles, powered flight, radio, and women's suffrage -- with a world war, to boot. We are naive if we think that our own experience with the whirlwind is entirely novel. ■ It is worth noting, though, that the last few decades have brought about a certain tempo of change that is unusual. The adoption curves for tools like smartphones and the dramatic realignment of public consensus on some once-contentious issues are much faster than their predecessors. The tempo of these changes is not self-evidently bad, but it is not inconsequential, either -- especially if it gives the appearance that more things are changing than truly is the case. ■ Perhaps we haven't reasoned yet with the consequences of our perpetual immersion in a culture awash in ephemeral things. Apps can appear or disappear from a phone without notice. Favorite television shows vanish from streaming services. Songs are pulled off of platforms when artists and licensees run into conflict. Amid planned obsolescence, value engineering, and tightening standards and regulations, even household appliances can end up changing almost as quickly as fashion apparel. ■ When circumstances seem so fleeting, it becomes harder for people to internalize the idea that choices have consequences. If it perpetually feels like even yesterday is a fleeting moment likely to be erased, then the long arc of history doesn't have much of a seat at the table. We see the evidence of how this mass amnesia creates bad incentives as voters and politicians decide to act on what feels good in the moment -- "vibes", some call it -- rather than acting on concepts like duty. ■ Abraham Lincoln implored Congress in 1862 to realize that "In times like the present men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and in eternity." That's a weighty expectation -- but is it wrong, even now?

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