Two ways 2016 is like 1968
by Dave Winer Monday, July 11, 2016

Here's a big post, as announced earlier today.

Two elephants in the room.

They started out as small baby elephants.

One was cute.

The other was hidden.

The cute one grew up and isn't so cute anymore.

And the hidden one stayed hidden for a long time, but now it's not hidden. Even so people don't want to see it.

The cute one

The cute one is Twitter. 

It's name is diminutive. It's just a twitter. The sound a little bird makes. A cute little bird. A blue one. 

In the beginning people made fun of it because people used it to broadcast what they were having for lunch. 

It's a fun cute little bird people make fun of.

Even today when someone says something on Twitter it's called a tweet.

I try to imagine my hippie uncle, who died in 2003, coming back for an afternoon, to learn who the Republican nominee for President is. 

Donald Trump, I'd say.

He'd look at me in disbelief.

How did that happen, he'd ask.

He tweeted well.

I think he just fell off his chair. 

But that is how he did it.

He routed around the gatekeepers. 


The press and the established leadership of the Republican Party.

My uncle would have had no trouble understanding the Citizens United ruling that allowed unlimited money to determine the outcome of the election. 

But Twitter? 

That's weird.

How is this like 1968?

In 1968 a new medium was just taking hold. 

It had started a few decades earlier.

But the generation that was coming of age in 1968 had grown up with TV. 

To us, learning about the world via TV wasn't new. It was the way it was done. Much the way learning about the world is done today via "social media."

Each medium imposes its own blueprint, because it determines how we communicate. TV enforced the power of gatekeepers because the infrastructure required to put a network on the air was so expensive and required a lot of different skills. You had to send reporters all over the world. Satellite links were just getting started. It seemed a miracle then that you could watch someone who was reporting from Europe or Asia in real time. The signal bounced off a satellite. That cost serious money.

TV centralized. Twitter does the opposite. Any fool with an iPhone can tweet. And if they're good at it, as Trump is, if they're good at grunts and snorts, putdowns and soundbites, and if what they say resonates with enough people, the message gets through. No gatekeepers have to approve. 

And of course just as TV didn't eliminate radio or printed news, Twitter doesn't eliminate TV or radio (it's now called podcasting) or news sites (what newspapers look like now). They all still exist, and feed off each other. But Twitter is the way the sources go direct, and route around the gatekeepers of the 20th century media.

Okay so that's the first elephant, what's the second?

The war

2016 is like 1968 also because the US is fighting an unwinnable war, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unlike Vietnam, this war is hidden. There are no reporters in the jungle showing us atrocities. No body bags on the news. However, the war is an atrocity, both now and in 1968, and just because we don't see the body bags, that doesn't mean they aren't there. They are. The government got savvy between the wars, and realized that if they don't show us the bodies, visually, we won't see them. They were right.

This war is also different because there's no draft. So there were few protests in the streets of America about the war, because every American who went was a volunteer, in a way. This time the volunteers are coerced by the bad economy for young people, and by war promotion at places young people congregate, such as sporting events. We stand to sing God Bless America. At every sporting event there's a veteran for us to appreciate. Young people seeing this see a way to add meaning to their lives. The heroism appeals to them. We've learned how to market war to young people. So we don't have to draft the better-educated and richer kids. This time the body bags are filled mostly with the bodies of poor and uneducated Americans. 

But eventually the war comes home. We train young people to kill. We don't give them anything to do when they return. Most veterans, the ones who aren't so photogenic or amenable are forgotten. Until one of them snaps and becomes a sniper.

We have a lot of hubris thinking that we can unleash such chaos in other countries and have it not come home. The NY Post called the last week the start of a "civil war." What nonsense. And naive. This is not yet a civil war. Have a look at what life is like in Iraq for a preview of what that might be like, if it ever comes home. And if it does, we will totally deserve it, because we thought we could fight a war and have life go on undisrupted. When we fight, everyone must feel it. All our young people should have to fight and die. No volunteers. It should affect all classes of Americans equally. Of course when that happens wars wouldn't be so easy to start. That's an important principle.

2016 and 1968

So there are two big things in common between 1968 and 2016. A new medium with new properties is taking hold. And we're fighting an unwinnable and largely immoral war. 

What to do about it? 

Clearly we should be taking better care of veterans. That's an easy one. If we want to prevent more massacres like the one in Dallas. And if we want to do what's right, after doing so much that's wrong. 

End the volunteer army. Reinstate the draft.

Stop promoting war to young people. 

We should probably have some new laws governing how the US goes to war. And enforce the ones we have. 

We should punish Presidents who start wars based on lies. Make them fear for the retribution that will come when their lies are exposed. The punishment should be severe, because these are severe crimes with huge costs. (I hate this idea, btw -- but enough is enough.)

About Twitter, I've written about this a lot. It's all in the archive of my blog. If we want to communicate with rich ideas, the medium has to expand beyond 140 characters. Twitter, the company, is struggling. We should make sure that no longer is happening. We need it to be a strong medium. But we also need it to evolve, for the limits to go away. For new development to happen outside the confines of a single company. 

We, as a society should make a deal with Twitter, the company. In return for financial stability, you have to become a platform, and let other systems be implemented on your infrastructure. We can't tolerate losing it as a communication medium, it's too important. But we also can't tolerate the incredibly negative effect it has on our political life by optimizing for quick fixes, emotional argument and tyrants. 

Disclosure: I own a small amount of Twitter stock.