Earlier this week, my Verizon Fios, my lifeline, the light of my life, the fire of my writing (such as it is) died.
Over the next four days, I experienced all the stages of tech-support grief, except that such grief ends with powerlessness instead of acceptance. Most galling was that I couldn’t cut out to Starbucks with my laptop during the long hours various Verizon techs were in the hallway closet of my apartment, fiddling.
This is not a new phenomenon. Indeed, my colleague Bob Garfield introduced the “Comcast must die” movement way back in 2007.
Nothing much has changed.
Still, once the magic was restored, I was planning to write a comic opera about the strikingly non-helpful stuff the tech guys who came out to fix my cross-contacts said. Things like, “I think someone installed your router while we were on strike.” (Uh, no.) Or, as the second guy making his second visit said, “I see. This was the way we had to do it before we could do it in a different way.”
I was left with a temporary fix, a ticket for “construction” and a “Let’s keep our fingers crossed” from that second tech guy, who also added, “Don’t be too hard on yourself.”
Thanks, Verizon Guy.
Obviously, since then, all hell has broken loose in the country, with all of us feeling rage and grief over the horrifying shooting deaths of Alton Sterling, in East Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile, in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minn. Both men were black, and killed by white police officers.
As we now know, by the following evening, people in cities all over the U.S. had organized and were marching in peaceful protests, protected by their local police without incident. That’s when war broke out in Dallas, with five police officers shot and killed in an ongoing atrocity.
Guns, race, violence, justice, lunacy. As a country, we’ve reached a breaking point.
The really sad irony was that the Dallas police force, with its black police chief, was making steady progress in this area. The 2014 murder rate in Dallas was the lowest since 1930.
But let’s get to the micro. These shootings also seem to have brought us to a new media inflection point.
In the speeches following these murders, family and community members started out by thanking Apple, Google, Microsoft, etc. by name. May I add that obvious irony that Silicon Valley is not known for its generous hiring of people of color.
Still, had these incidents not been captured via tech devices, these two deaths could have ended up as just more cold statistics. (“Male with gun shot at traffic stop.”)
Obviously, these civilian smartphone videos have been driving the news for a while. They did with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddy Gray—sadly, the list goes on and on.
Now, police officers are told that you can’t interfere with people videotaping at these scenes.
Still, this feels like a critical moment, the instant we actually felt the disruption, with Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, having the preternatural calm, focus and presence of mind to broadcast his death on Facebook Live, a service that just became available last April.
As her boyfriend sat next to her in the car, bleeding and moaning, and the officer who had just killed him shouted and kept his gun trained on her from the other side of the window, we could watch her narrate the story in real time.
As musician and poet Gil-Scott Heron said about another time of social chaos and violence, the 1960s: “The revolution will not be televised.” He was right. People like Diamond Reynolds prove that the revolution will be live streamed.
The future will be unmediated. As we watched, Reynolds became both the message and the medium, the embodiment of Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement. By Thursday morning, her 10-minute video had gotten 4 million views.
A game-changer, the Reynolds video is like the Zapruder film of the St. Paul incident. (And Reynolds is like the Mother Mary of media.) Suddenly, we have a focus that will live on and provide second-by-second data for historians to analyze.
And yes, in a related way, we have a new mother of a conspiracy theory brewing in Dallas, where another key incident that led to all kinds of theories took place in 1963.
The shootings bore an eerie resemblance to the assassination of JFK, two blocks from Dealey Plaza, with a shooter from above, (a “lone gunman”?) and some of the injured going to Parkland Memorial Hospital, where JFK was pronounced dead. Many people recorded parts of the evening and posted them online, at once providing horrifying documents and catnip for conspiracy theorists.
Meanwhile, Zuckerberg and his Facebook droogies introduced Facebook Live three months ago as a way to drive revenue. But he also said at the time, that he wanted to allow his more than 1 billion users an “emotional and raw and visceral” outlet.
Obviously, the service, still in its infancy, raises huge ethical, policy, and yes, advertising issues. I wrote about my experience with Facebook bots throwing me off the platform for two days for posting “offensive content” — quoting directly from the testimony of an ad agency lawsuit.
Is there any protocol in place for what gets posted? Did the FB powers think these live videos would be limited to You Tube-like funnies featuring spaced-out kids, crazy dogs, and women laughing in masks they just bought at Target?
What happens when a terrorist decides to use this “emotional, raw and visceral” tool? Or when a relative live streams the death of a loved one, without permission from the rest of the family?
Are there rules? The Reynolds video was taken offline and put up again an hour later. Who decides and how?
The reason that the FCC has established fairness and decency boundaries, and that journalists actually have editors, suddenly makes sense. Now, with civilians acting as their own platforms, we are ushering in new media militias.
And down the road, what will that mean for advertisers?
As a FB friend put it, “Here's a horrifying video of an innocent black man being blown away by the side of the road, but first, check out this pre-roll from Chili's!”
The country was violent and out of control this week, leaving so many good citizens with “not-again” despair. In this case, Facebook Live acted as a savior. On the other hand, it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
One thing is for sure: we’ll all need Wi-Fi.
Can you hear me now?