Anthony Weiner and the Morality of Technology
OK, so it’s over.Weiner resigned. Notice we didn’t use thepunch line “pulls out,” surely not the way this embattled Congressman envisioned his legacy. But tag linesare theprice of notoriety, so there it is. What is particularly stunning about this latest public immolation isthespeed with whichit took place. Three weeks ago, Weiner was at the top of his game, a risingDemocratic star with seemingly justifiedaspirations to be Mayor Bloomberg’s successor . The protégé of an influentialSenator , he had the respect of his constituents (the working class
the intellectuals) and,perhaps more importantly, his colleagues. His beautiful wife is Hillary Clinton’s trusted aide. How couldthis unwind soquickly?Two and a half years ago, the idea of a politician trashing his career with a tweet would have seemedabsurd. After all, Twitter was a toy, a distraction for bored employees, a sinkhole for trivia. Then came theMiracle on the Hudson. Twitter gained instant credibility as a global news outlet. Naturally, the publicistswerequick on the uptake.Weiner took this to a new level, not by tweeting his personal business, but by engaging in what he thoughtwas plausible denial. Bytweeting that his Facebook account had been hacked, he tried to game thesystem, to use the language of his transgression to refute the act itself. The dog hacked my laptop, or something.Our earlier piece about trustelaborated on the concept of vectors in social publishing. Proximity, thesocial distance between two sources of gestures, is an index of the trust flowing between those sources.There is actually a hierarchy that accords greater degrees of trust up the stack of influence. PresidentObama uses the social media to give the public unprecedentedaccess to his office. We have come toexpect from our elected officials the same high level of communication online that we would get in person.Themorality of technology does not explain Weiner’s senseof empowerment, the hubris (to be polite) thatled him to convert the tr ust implicit in his public Twitter page to the“what are you wearing” brand of innuendo. While the descent from images of public service to private exhibitionism was a matter of amouse click or two, that is not the issue.Technology used to be about geeks wearingpocket protectors, staring at computer terminals all nightbecause they had no social skills. The Web changed all that, showering those same geeks, or their kids,with wealth beyond all expectations. Wealth breeds power, and power breeds influence. This is no longer about bits and bytes, but control of the world. Leaders can be brought down by tweets, not prurientlegislators, buttyrannical dictators.The misuse of technology starts with the misguided funding of knockoffs, the startups that try to copyoriginal ideas. This is money that should flow toward clean energy, reducing hunger and poverty, etc., butthat’s the prerogative of investors.
Les jeux sont faits.
Compounding the misuse happens after thesuccessful startups attract the wrong kind of attention from those in power. Yes, we now live in a worldwhere sports hooligans might beapprehended online. And that should be a warning to future Weiners.