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The Problem Of Immediacy

Today marks another day of violence in our country. Senseless violence. It doesn't matter how it is performed, whether it's with a gun, a knife, a bomb, a car, etc. It starts with a mind focused on harming others. Why so much violence? How has our society reached this point? I'm certainly not the only person asking this question. And I doubt my opinion of one part of the problem's root is unique.

I'm a software developer working in web applications. That means I make my living off of the internet. The internet is a wonderful platform for performing tasks that make our lives easier or more fun. You can share information that helps businesses function, people get to know one another, play games - all sorts of really positive aspects.

But there's a darker side to the internet that makes it probably the most destructive influence in history. It's something that can be summed up in a single word: immediacy. It's a word that can be defined as this: "the quality of bringing one into direct and instant involvement with something, giving rise to a sense of urgency or excitement." Why is this bad?

When I was young and got upset about something, I would sometimes get sent to my room. Why? To give me time to cool off, calm down, and see the situation for what it was. My parents would keep me from doing or saying something stupid. It boils down to "stay calm and think before you speak". I'm not the only person raised that way. At school you wouldn't just say the first thing that popped into your head at another person. It could be misunderstood and cause a problem. So you learn to think before you speak, considering the consequences first.

You see where I'm going with this don't you? The internet is a world free of constraint. You can say whatever pops into your head with no fear of immediate harm because you're not even in front of the person. Twitter, Facebook, and all of the other mechanisms of the internet have enabled a culture of immediacy. This is bad? Yes, because we say things that we ordinarily would not say if we were right in front of the other person. Reasoned discourse has devolved to angry sound-bites.

Science fiction author Larry Niven wrote a short story in 1973 called "Flash Crowd" about a simple event blowing up out of control because of the immediate spread of "news". It's interesting because though written long before the internet, it presages a lot of what we now see. How did Niven think of this? Because like many authors of speculative fiction, he's a student of human nature. He took a simple idea and extrapolated it out.

So what am I proposing? The elimination of the internet? Nope. That "Pandora's Box" can't be unopened. What I wish could happen is that people would think before they speak - think before they write - think before they tweet. However, I'm a bit of a cynic, so I believe this will never happen. Human nature is one of taking the path of least resistance and of instant gratification. Self-discipline and self-restraint have become attributes of the past. What I am proposing is that we should now expect that events like today's will become commonplace because we have all engineered an environment that frees society of its inhibitions. It's the dark, nasty underside of the stone that is the internet.

This post has no happy, uplifting conclusion. Just sadness at the devolving society that we live in.


Category: commentary

I enjoy reading - always have. I've read a lot of fiction which I can just get thoroughly lost in for hours. I especially love science fiction because it gives glimpses of the future, however fanciful or farfetched they might describe. But I've also always enjoyed history, recent or much older. I find it helps give me perspective on how our world got to where we are today. Recent history is very exciting because I've been alive through it. I remember reading about it in the newpaper or watching it on television.

As we approach Memorial Day I'm reminded of the books I've read of real people, in real events, dealing with life and death. This American holiday was set aside for us to remember those who gave their lives in service to our nation. I could talk about veterans from much of the last century and even the current one, but I'm going to focus on a specific group that I just recently read about.

The Misty FACs
From June 1967 through May 1970 a program with the official name of Commando Sabre, but better known as "Misty", operated out of Phu Cat AFB in South Vietnam with the purpose of providing Forward Air Controllers in jets capable of supersonic flight. "Their mission was to fly fast and low over enemy territory, armed with only their cannons and marking rockets ... so low that they could see the targets ... SAMs, AAA sites, trucks, bridges, boats, bulldozers ... whatever. Their goal was straightforward: disrupt the transfer of enemy supplies and equipment down the Ho Chi Minh trail." It was extremely dangerous - planes returned with damage far more often than not. But they were flying about as free as a military pilot can. By themselves, flying pretty much any way they wanted to because the point was to direct attack planes to targets to interdict supplies originating in the north from reaching south. They were effective, amazingly so, but hampered by our own government and sometimes their own service, the supplies they stopped didn't have a choking effect on the war they had hoped to have. But they flew. Every day for hours at a time. For most of them it was the best flying they ever had. But there was a price.

Quite a few of them were shot down and rescued, but not all. Col. Bud Day, the first Misty commander was shot down in August 1967 and held as a POW for over five an a half years. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Three others, Bob Craner, Guy Gruters, and P.K. Robinson were also Misty's who were POWs. But of the 157 pilots who served in Misty, eight never returned home: Howard "Howie" Williams, Michael "Mike" McElhanon, John F. Overlock, Laurent "Lee" Gourley, Jefferson "Scotty" Dotson, Patrick "Pat" Carroll, Lawrence "Larry" Whitford, and Clyde Seiler.

When I read the stories of these men and others like them, I shrink in comparison. These were real heros. Not some over-paid athlete or celebrity, but men and women who served with distinction. They served our country and they served each other. They gave their lives for both. Those that survived do not see themselves that way. They see their comrades that didn't return as the real heros. I'll live with their decision on that.

As you enjoy your holiday in a country that is still free, reflect on those that gave the full measure.

The Misty Website

Category: veterans
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Tom Clark
I'm an application developer for MinistryLINQ in Spokane, Washington. I also do a little development work on the side. And I love riding my bike all over the country with my friends.

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