Greetings from the mountain top…
Once upon a time, when The Guru was a tiny lad, life in America was simple. Truly.
Like John Mellencamp (I truly miss Johnny Cougar), The Guru was reared in a small town. Life wasn’t fair or equal or just for all, but it was simple primarily because of the small town and the fact that far less people were roaming the lands. Bing Crosby played on the radio (we never heard him hit his children), Count Basie and his orchestra calmed our jangled nerves, Gary Cooper stood 30 feet tall on the big screen and always did the right thing, Abbot and Costello made us laugh, Gene Autry kept watch over the prairie (where the hell did they hide the orchestra as he sang while on horseback?) and people strove to do the right thing far more often than not.
People weren’t better or more morale then, contrary to popular opinion. They simply lacked the anonymity to do wrong.
In a small town (we had party telephone lines then–all houses on a street shared one phone line and you could listen in on your neighbors phone call) anonymity is nonexistent and your choices are instantly broadcast throughout the county. Do wrong, date a married woman, take some cash out of the till, hit your wife, come home drunk, or lie in business and your neighbors, friends, and relatives know pretty quickly. Self-policing at it’s finest.
Then the nation exploded, we all migrated to big cities for big opportunities, we became increasingly anonymous, and trouble soon followed.
Peer pressure can be a negative, but it also serves a positive purpose in a civilized society–it keeps us honest and moral. Chris Rock, one of The Gurus favorite young comedians, says that “Men are as faithful as their options.” Therein lies the problem. Too many options (and too much anonymity) lead to too many wrong choices.
The internet, however, is in the process of shrinking the world at an exponential pace which has had the unexpected consequence of yanking our huge, rapidly expanding and anonymous world back into a figurative small town. Politicians can no longer escape their actions by blending in with the crowd. School teachers and priests can’t diddle students without the video surfacing on YouTube. Neighbors can’t steal and jerks can’t escape and wrong-doers are ultimately exposed even in the government (thank you WikiLeaks) because the small town is alive and well albeit online.
The small town of 2012 doesn’t look like the little rest stop in which The Guru was raised. There isn’t a soda shop or only one traffic light, everyone doesn’t call you by name as you walk down the street, and you probably won’t be visited by the Ladies Auxiliary to be asked to contribute to the Veteran’s Day parade but make no mistake–the small town is alive and well and we should all be thankful.
Thank you Bill Gates (or Al Gore, or whoever the hell wants to take credit) for returning transparency to the universe even if it wasn’t your original intention. The world is again small and, through positive peer pressure and an increasing lack of anonymity, we’re more and more likely to choose right if only because our ability to get away with wrong is shrinking.
Yes, the internet allows us to hide. It also prevents us from hiding. Each incarnation of technological advance seems to strip away a bit more of our anonymity and while that is dubious for privacy rights it is also a positive in terms of the pressure to do right.
Well I was born in a small town
And I live in a small town
Prob’ly die in a small town
Oh, those small – communities John (Cougar) Mellencamp, 1985
Peace out ya small town freaks