Over the past few years, it's gradually occurred to me that we're in the midst of a new Dark Age.
The previous one was in the Middle Ages, when commoners lived in ignorance and fear, and the Roman Catholic Church terrorised and exploited the credulity and superstition of masses for its to consolidate its power, and became the richest entity in history (up to that time). The power of the Church was based in large part on the fact that they had common motivations - the literacy of the clergy gave them the means to pass on knowledge, to communicate effectively, and organise themselves. RCC leaders ruled as autocrats, and their power was supported by the priesthood, who stood above the commoners with their elite code of Latin. Literate monks - the kindly, studious, high-aptitude socially awkward nerds of their day - beavered away on tasks assigned them by their anointed masters in rarefied monasteries, writing histories, translating holy texts, awaiting suitable inspiration to interpret the word of God, and tinkering with things (alchemy, beer,
Today, we have much the same situation, where digital literacy is concerned. Today, however, the role of the RCC is played by the combined force of the "Frightful Five", which wield far more power collectively than any individual nation, and their wealth is unprecedented. Their C-Suites and marketing teams form the autocratic clergy, and developers are the literate but subordinate monks. Most computer users are almost completely illiterate serfs with regard to the devices on which they depend both for social interaction and their livelihoods. They tend to veer towards superstition and learned helplessness rather than taking the initiative to gain their literacy.
They've been deemed capable of no self-reliance greater than the "3 finger salute" (CTRL+ALT+DEL) - the (equally ineffectual) "hail Mary" of the digital era - to help themselves.
If you are in the situation in which your livelihood depends one or more of the Frightful Five, or even, perish the thought , you're employed by one of them, I'd strongly encourage you to have good hard think on whether that amounts to complicity. Many have allowed themselves to become indentured servants to them, one way or another, doing their bidding because they feel they no other choice. It must be a horrible feeling.
I wonder if there will ever be a second enlightenment. I imagine that there were educated individuals back in the Middle Ages who recognised the dire and unjust situation and worked surreptitiously, with minimal resources and at great risk to themselves, to help small groups learn to read so that they could attain an understanding of their lot, and aspire to more... I imagine that the Enlightenment finally arrived fairly suddenly, when those quiet stalwarts and their clandestine learners coalesced with the catalyst of the printing press and the bible being published in the vernacular democratising knowledge, and achieved a tipping point.
Today, though there are many among us who similarly foment pockets of digitally informed from among illiterate masses, remarkably few people seem willing to pursue their own digital salvation, to throw off the yoke of their Frightful digital oppressors... Most, having never experienced anything else, fail to even recognise their oppression ("oh, it's so user friendly - the marketing tells us so!"), thinking it's simply the "way things are" and accepting their fates, simply bumbling about, flotsam and jetsam on the digital tides, hoping to muddle through.
Here's hoping humanity can surprise us all by again reaching a tipping point, and initiating an age of digital enlightenment, characterised by enabled communities, where self-reliance and empowerment are championed ("the user is the developer) rather than sneered at by the fearful, insecure masses. That goal is my calling.
And to those of you who, like me, find countless useful articles online that someone has taken the time to write (usually after learning a particularly hard lesson) and saved me from the same fate by doing so, I encourage you to hold them up as the unassuming paragons of virtue and kind humanity they are.
Better still, emulate them.
We cannot now thank those selfless heroes who fomented the first (analogue) enlightenment for their vision, commitment, compassion, and effort... Sadly, many of them would've come to an unbearably horrible end on the Inquisitor's rack, or burnt at the stake, or suffering a final embrace with an iron maiden for challenging (a non-existent) God's will (as very capriciously interpreted by horrible human beings).
Those who are now fomenting the digital enlightenment are quietly demonstrating themselves to be the best among us. They are the ones who give me my faith in the goodness of people. Take the opportunity to thank them when you can and, if possible, assist them in their work rather than standing in their way.
Update 2021-02-16: hah! Only just realised that I've written about this previously - must've been sleep-blogging :) 'cause I plum forgot.