The Conversation Catalyst

In one of the world’s darkest hours, Anne Frank wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Today, 24-hour news channels paint the world as if we’re living in a new dark age. But, as Swedish physician, statistician and academician Hans Rosling points out in his latest book, Factfulness, there is hard evidence that supports a contrary opinion — that the world is actually getting much better. Our darker human instincts — fear, blame and negativity — cloud the facts and distort that reality.

While some might think that this issue’s Trump cover constitutes a left-wing deprecating jab at the President, I assure you that our intent is simply to facilitate a conversation about inequality, discrimination, gun violence, immigration, celebrity culture and other matters among worldly representatives of an art form associated with freedom, culture, diversity and coloring outside the lines. To achieve this, we asked our editor-at-large, Larry Blumenfeld, to moderate a roundtable discussion in New York City with eight thoughtful musicians. The aim here is to allow representatives of the jazz community to have a conversation, within the pages of this magazine, about a range of issues that have risen sharply and often contentiously to the fore during the Trump administration. Even if you’re inclined to credit Trump with nothing, his presidency is indisputably a
conversation starter.

I live in Parkland, a small town in South Florida which, before Valentine’s Day this year, few people had ever heard of. Both during and immediately after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, down the street from my home, courageous MSD students were leveraging and mobilizing a social network that would soon serve as a catalyst for a national protest against policies that undervalued their safety and lives. This gave many people a look at an emerging society in which young people, aided by the latest technologies, survey the world with great speed, instantly helping other humans in need. And it’s only the beginning. Needless to say, the future won’t look much like today. It’s been said that it takes 30 years for innovations to have an impact. And it’s been roughly 30 years since practically no one used the Internet for anything, and now practically everyone uses it for just about everything. As the Web has expanded, control of it has been consolidated into the hands of a few companies that gather more data about us than our own government. Google controls 90 percent of the searches that are performed on the Internet, Facebook handles more than 80 percent of social media and Amazon rules e-commerce traffic.

Like a drug, we know that all this artificial intelligence can corrupt us, but we can’t seem to live without the dopamine rush. Facebook, Google and Amazon are like the railroads of the 1800s, connecting people and transforming society, politics and the very nature of time and space. We’re at the earliest stages of companies steeped in this kind of connectivity and artificial intelligence, but as younger and more tech-savvy people replace our gerontocracy, these entities can and will be appropriately regulated to make them safer.

In the past year or so, we’ve witnessed how technology can turn outrage into mobilization — from Trump’s election to how the students of MSD launched a movement in a town that had been paradoxically credited for its safety and good schools. I’m hopeful that our cover this month symbolizes a world that just might change for the better as a result of so many people engaging in meaningful conversations about what they’re thinking. Ignorance is not bliss. It’s less dark when you open your eyes.

When we take the time to pay attention, discern facts from opinion, learn from great minds and credible sources, understand technology’s benefits and risks and become more aware of our human instincts and vulnerabilities, we get a different picture of what’s really going on at home and around the world. I hope you read and enjoy our cover story. Agree or disagree with what these artists say, but either way, start your own conversations now. Because that’s what we’re supposed to do if we want to improve the world.

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