“The Vault” – Seinfeld and WikiLeaks

Remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine says, “You can tell me.  I’ll put it in the vault.”  Jerry says, “No good.  Too many people know the combination.”  He then makes a motion with his hand as if having a drink.  Elaine protests, but later — naturally — we find out Jerry was right.  Elaine can’t keep a secret when she’s drinking.  And Elaine enjoys a drink.  (“The Vault” shows up in several Seinfeld episodes.)

I love the concept of “the vault” because Elaine is rock-solid sure she can keep a secret.  She’s a character of many delusions, that’s part of her charm.  For some reason I keep thinking about Elaine Benes every time I read about WikiLeaks, and I know that’s silly but there it is.  This is certainly a much higher-level situation than old boyfriends or office gossip, and yet I suppose I will forever be of the generation that views bizarre situations through the Seinfeld interpretive lens.  It’s probably just a coping mechanism.

Is it me, or is there something really strange about the alleged amazement that U.S. taxpayers fund child prostitution for military recruitment in other countries, or that diplomats talk trash behind each others’ backs?  I don’t think anyone is genuinely surprised.  I think we are genuinely angry that now we have to deal with it.

In college we had a joke that you could pass a two-year course in Humanities by simply writing, “Knowledge = Responsibility” on your final exam.  If no one can substantiate suspicions of the worst kind, the world will keep turning and we can go about our merry way.  It is those moments when the blinders come off that for a moment the world stops turning, and we all have to take a look at where we will put down our foot that’s in mid-air.  The beat is disrupted.  Nothing looks or sounds the same, and there is a real danger of falling down.  Hard.

Julian Assange is like the rest of us.  He is not all good, and he is not all bad.  At the end of the day my chip is on the bet that we will be very glad he forced the world to deal with serious issues of transparency and truth, and with the reality that words and actions have consequences.  Too often we seem to operate as if it doesn’t matter what’s going on as long as “it’s a secret.”

Shhhhhh…….the Internet can’t hold its liquor.

Hashtag: Lincoln

Yesterday there was a thought-provoking post on The Miller Times.  I read it, tweeted it, marked it as a favorite post, and moved on; at least I thought I moved on.  I woke up at 2:40 a.m. and these lines were still roaming around my brain looking for a place to rest:

I can’t help but think massive political protests/rallies/marches/shindigs/soirees have become arbitrary. We’ve got social media now, and sadly, a hashtag on Twitter goes a lot farther than 1,000,000 people standing united at the Lincoln Memorial. I admire the dedication, but the whole process is kind of antiquated.

This idea lingers because in just three short sentences it did more to jar my thinking about the impact of the social media revolution than anything I’ve heard anyone else say, including Bill Gates, the Google boys, and the rest of their ilk.  It helps me process why, even though I’m on board and the train has left the station, I’m still not sure where the trip is taking us.

The massive cultural shift that came with our super-connections and constant availability must be something as seismic as the dawn of safe, affordable, socially accepted forms of contraception taking root in the United States in the 1960’s.  It is nearly impossible for me to imagine an America where couples didn’t sleep together whenever they felt like it out of  the fear of unwanted pregnancies, and yet I know it’s the world where my grandparents grew up.  The tentacles of social change are elaborate and far-reaching from this single event, and of course not everyone thinks it’s all good.  I think it’s fundamentally great, but would agree that there are new dynamics in people’s lives that are not as simple as “great.”

This is much like I feel about the changes to everything we do now, with such a huge portion of life lived online.  The communication and education opportunities are incredible.  The avenues for better understanding remote corners of the world are expanded.  Many aspects of life are safer and more secure.  Used well, social media tools allow for phenomenal new levels of productivity.  And yet….there’s that pesky Lincoln Memorial thing.   It woke me up before the crack of dawn, and I’m guessing this morning won’t be the last time.

I’m glad I don’t have to get on a bus and go to Washington, DC, to be heard.  To be perfectly frank, I don’t have the time, money, or energy to participate in a march of any kind right now.  But as the last Esse Diem post about Good Will Hunting explores, I know what it’s like to stand at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.  I’ve stood there more than once, and it is an experience unlike any other.  I expected to feel small, and yet I felt enormous. 

Many people joke that Abraham Lincoln was fortunate to live in an age without television.  He was quite an unusual and some say unattractive combination of proportions and physical features.  History suggests he was soft-spoken, humble, and concise.  The words of the Gettysburg address are some of the most well-known, beloved, and nationally signficant words every spoken in the United States’ history.  From that address (emphasis is mine):

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Our world of online political and social action is real, and it is here.  We are not going back.  But if you doubt that Americans standing — being physically present — at the Lincoln Memorial still means something, I would say go.  Go alone.  It’s not necessary to get caught up in a demonstration or event.  Go when you can, and stand there with the image and yes, the actual presence, of the man who saved the union. 

It may not change the world in that moment, and it can’t be meaningfully hashtagged or blogged.  It can only be lived, that feeling of being so big inside yourself at the feet of President Lincoln.  Promise you won’t miss it — in real life.

Photo credit: Library of Congress on Flickr.com