The printing press. The Magna Carte. Abolishing the institution of slavery. Radio transmissions. The Great Depression. The moon landing. Color television. Brown vs. the Board of Education. The internet. 9/11. Pokémon GO or Alton Sterling?
When we look at our collective history, there are times when you can’t “put the paste back into the tube” and we simply can’t go back to the way things were before. These moments in time are called “singularities” and often result in a shift, or change in the way people view the world. Sometimes we talk about a paradigm shifting, or a new technology, in a way that is so casual, but in reality, these are the things that the future generations will never know life without.
When I was growing up, we still listened to the radio and taped our favorite songs. These were the original mix tapes, and they were full of blips and bleeps from people walking around the room or losing the signal due to a storm. Today, we just turn on Youtube and listen to what we want. We can even use Adblock to get rid of commercials, or pay a few bucks to watch television without commercials. This is a radical shift from waiting to watch something after school, on a small television, with a third of the time full of commercials. We can’t go back to cassette tapes and VHS now that everything is digital. Analog died slowly but is completely unknown to Millennials, marking the shift towards digital.
A few weeks ago, in Streetvibes, I made an obvious prediction that there would be another person of color killed by a white police officer, but what I didn’t predict was the outrage. I have been following the work of the Guardian’s Counted project, that counts and catalogues all the civilians who are killed by the police in the United States. To put this in perspective, a newspaper, from the United Kingdom is documenting the terror of our police departments because there is no governmental body, organization, project, or program that requires police departments to report on the number of people they kill. We should be outraged that we are not the ones keeping track of our own house.
When video surfaced of Alton Sterling being executed in a gas station parking lot it seemed as though we were starting to see a real paradigm shift: white people peeked through the veil of abuse that power hungry police officers have been inflicting on black, brown, and female bodies for hundreds of years (or what feels like hundreds of years). The Black Lives Matter movement saw an uptick of white people who started to say enough is enough, but was this month a true singularity, or will police business continue as normal?
Also this July, Pokémon GO was released. It is a mobile video game (played on phones) where players actually go to parks, cemeteries, and walk down the street to “catch” virtual monsters. The goal is to collect 250 pocket monsters (Pokémon) in the streets, parks, and cemeteries throughout our community. While there have been some serious problems with the premise (going out into public while using your phone), there have also been some life-changing things: kids with social disorders out in the street making new friends, leaving the house; people making connections; seeing new places in your own community; parks packed all day. Jokingly, people have said that First Lady, Michelle Obama, was behind it since she has been fighting teenage obesity. Is it possible that the face of video games will change from the pasty white faces of mom’s basement to the sun-kissed, social faces of neighbors in a community? Or will the glamour wear off and the monster seekers find themselves back in their basements and game rooms, playing games that kill, rob, and abuse virtual others?
When we are privileged enough to witness a singularity in our lifetimes, it is important to question who benefits from it. The effect of a single event will never fully be realized, but it is up to us to guide future generations and protect them from systematic oppression. Will July 2016 be known for a shift in the public’s acceptance of state-sponsored killing or a video game that puts people out of their houses and into the community?