By Matthew Carpenter-Arevalo
In his ground-breaking novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez explores the evolution of the town of Macondo from its founding until what we assume to be its apocalypse. Having spent two years of my life reading and writing about the novel I have the urge to say that the book is about X and the book is about Y, but don’t forget Z, W, and Q. The truth is though that the richness of the book is such that it continues to spawn new interpretations reflecting on the nature of man, community, memory and history, without anyone able to produce a definitive interpretation to end all interpretations.
Having left my life as a literary theorist behind and turned my attention to technology, I can’t help but find myself returning to literature to understand where we are headed. In the case of Marquez the theme I return to is that of solitude. My interpretation of the meaning of solitude in the book was based on the idea that Macondo is an allegory for how disparate communities come together to form nations. In order for a single narrative that unites all communities to exist it must necessarily erase and supplant any narrative or history that contradicts it. Through this process inconvenient memories are lost and more convenient memories, some based on lies, are found and spread through mediums such as literature, text books, oral histories, etc. The erasure of these memories sometimes implies the erasure of entire peoples. Other times the memories to be erased are the memories of the erasures of peoples. Power structures are inverted: peoples are elevated and simultaneously victimized. Loyalty to one’s tribe overcomes the force of one’s humanity. The dedication of a few to upholding a lie contests the painful reality that is the truth. This is the world of Macondo, where one narrative takes precedence over all others.
Turning back to the topic of technology, I feel the need to clarify that the enthusiasm expressed here and elsewhere is rarely about the technology itself; instead, what we’re excited about is what it can enable us to do. I am excited about the empowering potential of arming people with information they were previously denied; I’m excited about the opportunity for those denied a voice, to speak; I am excited about the democratizing effect of giving each and every citizen the ability to represent himself/herself as opposed to being represented; I am excited about the potential for communicating across boundaries, of breaking antiquated and rigid systems of identity and identification and replacing them with new ones based on common values; I am excited about the possibility for the silent majority of peaceful individuals to overcome the loud minority of war mongers; I am excited for the chance to end the dominance of false hegemonic narratives and instead create a space for the multiplicity of voices that form our world.
Most importantly though, I for one an looking forward to an end of solitudes. I want to live in a world where the oppressed indigenous of Colombia can bring significant attention to their plight regardless of whether or not they catch the attention of the attention of the 24 hour news networks; I want to live in a world where Ethiopian Christians can say “Fuck You!” to the government that tries to pit them against their Muslim compatriots; I want to live in a world where sharing is a currency in itself and where compensation for labour is not expected to be immediate or even direct.
In other words, I’m excited about living in a world of empathy, a world that is more flat by harnessing individual’s talents instead of suppressing them, a world that finally gets its act together and starts transforming good intentions into actions that have a real and meaningful effect.
In the end, it’s not about the technology. It’s about what we can do with it.