Television did not replace radio, it stole the spotlight from it. Radio still remained on the stage, and eventually transferred bits of video and half truth via WiFi and LTE. So in a way, radio subsumed television.
AI will not replace human thought processes and actions, it will augment and change us, and perhaps someday we will absorb it back into the core of what it means to be human. Perhaps.
It’s the “along the way” part that bothers me as the xkcd above suggests.
And now, of course, because this is the Internet, I am going to get to the point of this post and talk about Hitler.
But wait, don’t click away yet! I promise, nobody is going to be compared to Hitler, and this isn’t a warning about the rise of facism in the West. Well, not really.
But it is a suggestion that the only reason Hitler came to power was because he harnessed radio, and radio was magic. A lot of focus gets put on the rallies he held, but the radio broadcasts and movies (another magic invention) and yes, early television in Nazi Germany (first used to broadcast the Olympics) reached far more people than any rally did.
Radio transfixed and changed the German-ish people into Nazis, as the Guardian article shows:
As the tension increased at the beginning of September 1938, radio became more than just a tool of propaganda. For some days, pro-Hitler Sudeten German activists had been working with agents from the Reich to sow the seeds of a coup in the Sudetenland, which would effectively turn its annexation by Germany into a reality on the ground. The cue for the uprising was to be Hitler’s speech on September 12, which was broadcast live from the Nuremberg party rally on all German radio stations. With each sentence, the Führer stirred the Sudeten Germans to rebellion. The British journalist, Sydney Morrell, witnessed the speech’s impact in the spa town of Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad), where he listened in the company of an elderly Sudeten German widow and her teenage son. While the widow got rather bored, “her son, his head pillowed on his arms, huddled up to the loud-speaker, listened avidly, his bright eyes darting round the room, seeing visions …” Such was the alchemy of radio.
FDR pulled off the same trick in America, using radio to bring America together during the Great Depression. When things are bad, when times are tough, magic technologies have undo influence.
Enter the Internet, and mobile devices, and constant-scroll experiences. Back in the early days of the Web and email (and before, on BBSes and The Well, etc), misinformation was something that could be tackled directly in forums via public debate. Language still had a chance, even if the scourge of trolling and anonymity seemed overwhelming.
But then came The Flood, the Human Wave, the massive group of users who entered the digital space in the 2000s, using social media, that has led us to the current Miasma. Guys like me who had a special shelf for our Wired magazines just didn’t see this coming, didn’t realize that when anyone could Internet that the ground truth would collapse under the sheer weight of shitposts.
Trump was not the first Internet President, Obama was. And from the moment he raised money directly online for his campaign the die was cast. From the moment he used Twitter to weigh in on an issue, he legitimized that tech. And if you add together money and micro logging you have a perfect shitnado.
The medium is not only the message: the medium is the drug, the thing that makes us feel connected without any connection. When the US radio broadcast the German invasions of the late 1930s without the pictures and stories of the millions being killed in occupied territories like Ukraine, it actually lulled the US into a sense of the inevitable nature of German conquest. Instead of the horror.
Language is broken technology, and social media (most) is broken technology not worth participating in. There is no truth in a headline, no matter how slowly you scroll it. And my guess is, we will soon look back and realize that all of this confusion happening around us is just one more iteration of one of the oldest human dances:
Wave of people image from aidcurrent.com