Wednesday, December 16, 2015

FUTURE TENSE

This is what I imagined the future would look like. Sleek and trim and black, with hints of Tron. Just 10 years ago but that's a lifetime these days.

The future is now the present and it is uglier than I'd imagined — it is full of noise masquerading as information. People spouting off and becoming part of the angry pack of the day, because who doesn't want to be part of what's #trending?

So much uproar, and so much of it is nasty, and under it all is a current of cold.

Granted, there is elegance here. It is much easier to text someone "good morning" rather than "46666663*6666766444664" — but maybe the charm was in the clunkiness. It was hard to do it so we got to the point. We didn't text blab. We didn't feel as free to vomit our opinions into the ether. It helped that we couldn't, not unless we wanted to sit at a computer and surf Free Republic.

There was talk radio. Looking back on it I should have seen the hints ... the early symptoms of this current cancer to the collective brain. I co-hosted a show in the early part of the century and remember the gloats and moans from the right and left, respectively. The name-calling. The growing paranoia about Muslims. The Us vs. Them mentality that enveloped both liberals and conservatives. It had grown up in the '90s during the Clinton era, when Rush Limbaugh thought it funny to mock Chelsea Clinton's appearance.

By the '00s the right was back in power and the left flailed in outrage. Stolen election, Bush is a dumbass, Cheney's a crook, blah blah. And then, war. And more war. It seemed like there wasn't as much enmity against Muslims then, probably because we were bringing them democracy and free elections and blah blah.

There was fear, yes — but tamped down enough to elect a guy whose middle name is Hussein. He turned out to be chill, but he never had a chance, really. The mess we made in Iraq gave birth to the Islamic State and now there are people willing to kill and die here for the cause over there.

San Bernardino happens and it's oxygen to the smoldering fear. Whoosh — an orange fireball erupts and thousands leap to their feet in full-throated roar. Tough crowd if you're not like them (code: white). If you're not careful they might stone you to death ... no, that's barbaric and unfair. They would gun you down with their many weapons of mayhem. Because America.

We share these feelings and fears because that's what we do — share. Everything with everyone. We know more people these days than ever in the history of humans. We have friends all over the world, people we will never meet. We like their lives and they like ours and neither one of us knows the absolute truth. It's all surface with a Mayfair filter, overly bright and tinged pink.

Life is a feigned intimacy these days, especially when bad things happen and we act like we're all in it together. We indulge the heated hyperbole because we desperately need to be part of Us, a thread in the social media tapestry. It's right there in our Facebook feed, the one recently awash in profile pics tinted blue, white and red. Got it: you feel for France. Not so much for Mali, but not as many people died there and besides, where exactly is Mali, anyway?

Welcome to the brave future. Alert the authorities if you see Anything Suspicious. That would include people buying dozens of burner phones at Walmart, or men with turbans buying diesel at a gas station, or generally any sort of person who isn't one of Us and might be one of Them. It helps if they're foreigners.

That's the discourse. A friend told me she couldn't believe how many Facebook friends supported Trump.

He'll never become president, I said, hoping I believed it myself.

"I don't know what the answer is," she said. "But I know it isn't Donald Trump."

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