Friday, January 1, 2010
Happy New Decade
It's the end of an era, the dawning of a new age. We love to demarcate, catalogue and otherwise attempt to order our experience to lessen the bewildering effects of ever-present change. It makes a neat way to think about our shared recent history, but it's probably closer to the truth to say that the new happens whenever it impinges on our consciousness, in other words, whenever we see it. So how do we see? In this increasingly interconnected, technology savvy world, it's ironic that human connection is still vital to insight. We gather with friends we haven't seen in "ages", aware that as the crystal ball drops, it's good to put heads together, to think as part of a truly inter-connected node, because human eyes working together work better than millions of information bits flowing across a single screen. To buttress my point, look at the realm of international security, where a Nigerian young man, disaffected by the world he is destined for and seeking solace for his loneliness and spiritual longings, joins an Islamic militancy that trains him for a dangerous, suicidal mission against the infidel. His father, a successful businessman, warns the US embassy that he has great fears that his son is being used as a tool for an evil he cannot even bring himself to name. Another branch of the security apparatus learns that the enemy plans an attack against aviation on Christmas day using a Nigerian to carry out the mission. Yet the dots aren't connected. The network is too large and cumbersome. The missing dimension is not technology, not financial clout, it's people talking to each other and sharing insights. How to remedy the problem? That's above my pay scale, but I believe that smaller is better, in the sense that an empire is always going to be prone to attack from smaller, well-organized forces. Throwing money and technology, more bureaucracy, creating a new inter-agency oversight committee, is probably not going to do it. However, I can't escape the suspicion that warnings from the Nigerian businessman went unheeded, that here the missing dimension was human connection as opposed to decision making based on a type of racial or cultural profiling and that what we need are embassy personnel with their eyes and ears truly on the street in potential problem countries or regions with a growing Islamic militancy and disaffected youth culture.