Running in the dark

Anthony Creech
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I recently read a bit of writing by my dear friend Josh Laughery.

He wore a toga made of bed sheets with me in Grade 6 to Julius Caesar day in our sunny Californian middle-school tour through Rome. We went to high school and college together too, to keep the toga theme alive.

His piece was thoughts on night running - about his rushing into the dark unknown to put sole to earth till his restless soul found enough release to settle down.

That's often how I feel about the waves of technological connection and opportunity we are woken up and thrown headlong into daily.

We speak and read much about it, but all the squawking and punditry doesn't make the sky any lighter and the distance any easier to see.

You can fluff it off and play pretend as you jabber on about the uselessness of tech toys and think there's not much reality to all the video-game addicts pronouncing the end of the non-digital. But if that's you, your job is likely next in line to be killed by the Internet.

The Internet kills all sorts of jobs and barriers. Its industry disruption is just beginning to spread. It's not a social game, it's change, it's spreading, and we are all running into the dark of it.

Some can see better in the dark than others, but their wisdom tends to be drowned by louder voices.

Every voice is the same volume online. It's one of its major disruptions.

This isn't the age of the television, where only big media companies and the rich can afford a loud voice. This is the age of the web, of bloggers and Facebook pages, where the New York Times and your mom's gluten-free diet blog are on a level playing field.

The noise is oft too much to wade through and we become a chorus of night joggers screaming all at once into the dark until we unplug.

That newly leveled field is what we love, and what we fear. Who knows what our kids will read/watch/write!?

We are running in the dark.

There are a few kinds of lights you find on a dark run.

Streetlights, which let you see your immediate steps quite clearly, but obscure any star or moonlight.

And the clear darkness of the night, making visible the starry sky, and enabling long-distance navigation, at the expense of losing sight of your immediate steps.

What happens to us without us tracking our long-term direction? How will we ever grasp where we are headed with shortsighted lights blinding the bigger picture?

But who can long survive on the sky alone?

We need flashlights.

They can illuminate our micro context and be shut off at will, to allow a reading of the stars. To say we need flashlights is to say we need to find our own light to see by, instead of installations on the street.

This sounds a bit individualistic; please forgive that and see it as a communal exercise.

Look at the iPhone as an example.

A million ways to illuminate it in our context, a million ways to blind ourselves with flashlights pointing nowhere but our faces (see any article written on "why the iPhone 4S is a disappointment and why Apple has lost its ability to wow us" for an example of something of a flashlight blinding you and not showing you anything real or valid)

Look a little past the iPhone in your pocket, to the iPhone on the assembly line.

A bit of light has very appropriately fallen on Foxconn, Apple's main manufacturing partner in China. We've got all sorts of lights on this situation - streetlights, starlight, and light in the eyes.

The street light there now has a way of hiding the rest of the tech industry, with much worse conditions and much less transparency. But Apple's brand is the one selling headlines and newspapers, so it's them at target.

Nothing wrong with that - let them be the bearing for the industry, they are by far the valuable company in the world, give them the most scrutiny as well. Mike Daisy put a flashlight to everyone's faces with his heinous lies about Apple and Foxconn, claiming conditions were far worse than they are, and soiling Apple's reputation.

Apple is the one who's reported everything the paper has printed truthfully about bad manufacturing conditions in China at their plants, first and before anyone else, including the NYT.

The worst outcome of Mike Daisey's lies is that it blinds us from needed attention on very serious moral issues in manufacturing, and much needed reform, worldwide.

Beyond the lights around the Foxconn camp, under pure moonlight, is the African soil and mines from which the rare-earth materials to make the iPhone are dug up and sold. Any light shed on that industry says it is like the "blood diamond" mines now commonly spoken of, full of extreme crimes against humanity.

And we're talking of the iPhone, the currently highest-rated highest-quality superphone on the market, made with the least blood on our hands (says those investigating, like news industry and the Fair Labour Association). What's that say about the rest of the electronics market, and the thousands of shoddy Android phones made in the cheapest way possible?

Cheap often means humans were cheated in the making of it being cheap. The race to the bottom is a race to the worst industrial conditions.

New light will bring more angles, and bring out more sins by Apple and everyone else, if we can keep the flash lights out of our eyes.

We can't let the light helping our feet hide a larger and more destructive direction.

And there is much more to the dark than manufacturing - many other directions to see.

And, sadly, at least in this analogy, there's no sun in this world, it's understanding work we all do both collectively and personally.

I've tried to force learning on people. Heck, it's my job. It doesn't work too well.

Will we, like Rome and Julius, see ourselves as bringing light to the dark world, giving the person with the loudest voice the reins to our chariots?

Or will we continue on as humble sixth graders like Josh and I draped in sheets and full of soda pop, just trying to understand our present in light of our history?

I've got the Coca-Cola, if you have the sheets.

p.s.: Did you hear that Facebook bought everyone's favourite photo-sharing app, Instagram, for a billion dollars? It's true. Good place to share toga pictures.

Organizations: Apple, Streetlights, Fair Labour Association Coca-Cola

Geographic location: Rome, China

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