Updated: Mar 25
“Never have lives less lived been more chronicled.”
Michelangelo spent four years painting the Sistine Ceiling, much of that time on his back a hundred feet above the floor. But what he created was something more a part of Heaven—a testament to the human spirit when it soars beyond itself towards the sublime. His works by their very existence show that we’re more than our baser selves, and we can, as lowly human beings, aspire to the transcendent.
Enter the 21st century and Mark Zuckerberg. His little college dorm-room project, Facebook, is now worth billions, perhaps trillions. And to say it's changed the world would be an understatement. But beyond this, what did he actually create? What are Facebook and Twitter, Instagram and YouTube other than glorified templates? Blank slates upon which other people create? Places where the entirety of its content is provided by someone else. Yet the heads of these Big Tech monoliths reap the rewards. I'm not sure if Michelangelo would understand such a thing—that someone can become rich as Croesus by creating what amounts to a blank sheet of paper.
This is an historic anomaly, as in the old days, our magnates and tycoons actually created things themselves. For example, Howard Hughes, one of the first billionaires. Hughes' creativity was protean. From making movies, to risking his life in setting world aviation records, from designing and building airplanes, to creating companies (still extant) from military to medicine. In his mind, he might see something like Facebook as risibly lazy and small-minded. After all, being an egoist, how can one take credit for something one didn't do? Without its content, Facebook and the other Big Tech templates would be a howling Arctic void. So the question that must be asked is why do we need these things? Facebook, Twitter and the like? What about them has become our desideratum? In 1980, no one on earth would've imagined sharing a photo of their lunch with all of humanity, let alone expecting recognition and praise for such a thing. But today, our lunch, our cat, our every waking moment is documented in minute detail and offered to posterity as though it were Alexander the Great's memoirs. And if this were it, if this were the extent of it—this celebration of Narcissism on a global scale—it would be pathetic, yet harmless. But then, three things occurred.
The first, advertising. How else, after all, does one make money on a template? And as it turns out, lots of money. Boatloads! SHIT-TONS! And with money comes the second thing, influence. Influence over minds and bodies. And with influence comes the third thing, power. And power unlike any the world has ever seen. And of course this power can be used for good instead of evil, right? But here's the rub. Who's to define what's good and evil? The people with the power! Duh! And the rest of us, well, create your own template! And meanwhile, the world shifts on its axis on the whim of these exalted, uncreative, tunnel-visioned few. Talk about a Pandora's Box! Once opened, can it ever be closed, or are we all doomed? Well, I offer a simple solution that can be implemented in a single day. Get off Social Media! Resign from it. Renounce it. Repudiate it. It only takes a few minutes to delete your accounts. And if everyone did this, the result would be astounding. These upstart billionaires would literally gaze into the abyss, at their templates without the creators. And the serpents encircling the globe would be defanged. But in order for this to happen, we must first ask ourselves why we need to share that pic of our lunch, our cat, or that selfie with the rest of the world.
(This essay is part of Kunundrum's new book of short stories, poems, and essays entitled UTOPIA...)