by Julius WiedemannMar 23, 2021
In a previous article in this column, I described what we consider to be the shift in our modern understanding of currencies, such as likes and hashtags. This one is about value. There is a clear difference between both. While the first gives a quantitative aspect to something, the second is about qualitative constructs. We need both to survive. And we need both all the time. The challenge these days is a lot about the sheer volume of things. We have a lot of everything, and to make qualitative distinctions become really hard because too much data means a lot of possibilities to interpret what we read. Statistics, for instance, a pure science, is thriving in this new world. The probabilistic model of quantum physics seems to be now embedded in most of decisions we make. We adopted it desperately.
Value is also about perception. But right after that what counts is how we compare our perceptions with a system of compliance (so to speak), to see how adequate these two parameters stand. A simple example: If you are going to bookstore and find a book you like, you can go online and check the price an online retailer is selling the same product for. In doing that you are creating somehow an automated balance between what businesses charge and what customers are willing to pay for it. When huge discrepancies are found you have to take your chances. On the other hand, you might want to go to website to see reviews about the book, to see how the quality stands, and might find that a friend of yours, who knows a lot about that subject matter, is commenting on the publication.
Values are not to be underestimated. They build relationships, institutions, societies, ideas of national pride, and others. Of course, they can be good and they can be bad. The value of racism is not a good one, as well as misogyny. However, the value of freedom and respect for others are now inseparable parts of how we build most of our futures. From the things I believe that will change the most in the 21st century, I think family is one of them. The family institution, which used to be based on the idea that we have to respect our ancestors, and that we have a hierarchy that communicates power, is changing dramatically. And rightly so. Respect and power should be conquered with actions derived from humanistic values that can only flourish with hard work, care, an observation.
In the fight between real and the virtual, a natural conflict in the digital age, we will need to understand new values and will have to adapt to them. My generation, between 40 and 50, is struggling to understand how our children between 10 and 20 see the world. I belong to the generation in the middle, not digital natives, but also not completely analogue. We are mediators of a conflict of values every day. The trade-offs between privacy, transparency, freedom of expression, incitement to violence, blame, the price of injustice, the freedom to revolt, reparation rights and obligations, and countless other corners of our moral compass are being tested.
When the first tweet of Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, was sold for almost three million dollars, we were not just creating a new asset. What we are trying to do is to accommodate a world that is increasingly becoming intangible, to something that we might have a chance to grasp. Values are about rules of conduct so that we can live better together. Or at least we can understand each other enough to learn that we do not want live the same life. The NFT movement is going to change the idea of value in the digital world. Something intangible made of bits and bytes that have the value of physical things. The most fantastic thing for me though in this field is now the establishment of what we long suspected, that our kids are going to put us in a classroom to teach how things work. We used to have the authority to teach younger people because we had experience and access to knowledge. We just forgot that cognition and behavioural patterns change a lot our perceptions and the complexities of the world.
In this new type of random mutation, and non-random natural selection, we will have to act counter intuitively. Empathy, instinct, and intuition will lead us to disasters, because more often than not what they offer is confirmation bias. The generation of my kids is a lot more distanced to mine than my generation to my parents’. Whereas my parents’ generations have given up on understanding new ideas, from ambition to gender, from freedom to compromise, my generation struggles because it needs to understand, for two reasons. The first is that we are going to endure for a long time, as life expectancy shows, and the second is that we don’t want to end our lives just to be condemned for most of the things we did with good intentions. This is reparation on the go. It is not going to end soon. This clash of generational values will be much longer then COVID-19 and will look like a very long pandemic. It might have to witness the death of my generation to go away.
Read more from the series Digital Legacies where our columnist Julius Wiedemann investigates the many aspects of digital life.