TIME Editor Nancy Gibbs, Maidment Theatre July 30, 2015

TIME Editor Nancy Gibbs, Maidment Theatre July 30, 2015


[Stuart McCutcheon]
nga mana, nga Reo, nga hoa wha, Ngau Mai, Haere Mai, Haere Mai, Kai ti whare whananga
Tamaki Makaurau. Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen as Vice
Chancellor of the University of Auckland and a former recipient of a Fulbright fellowship
it’s my great pleasure to welcome you here this evening.
Can I recognise particularly United States Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa, his excellency
Mark Gilbert, Fulbright New Zealand executive director Penelope Borland, Representatives
from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and all of you distinguished guests. I’m pleased to welcome you here today to the
2015 John F Kennedy memorial fellowship lecture by TIME editor Nancy Gibbs. The John F Kennedy memorial fellowship is
administered by Fulbright New Zealand and executed in partnership with the New Zealand
Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Embassy of United States of America.   It’s
always a pleasure for us to welcome you here to the University because of course the University
of Auckland has strong links with United States through educational and cultural exchanges
including Fulbright awards that promote mutual understanding between New Zealand and the
United States. The MC for today’s lecture is investigative
reporter Matt Nippert, Matt and I have a long history but I won’t go into that this evening,
it goes back to when he was a student, more of that perhaps over a glass of wine but at
least in the way by formal introductions Matt is a former Fulbright scholar himself with
a masters from the Columbia school of journalism. He spent the past decade in news-breaking
roles at the New Zealand Listener, the National Business Review, The Herald on Sunday, and
the Star, Sunday, Sunday Star Times and he regularly appears as a broadcast commentator.
Matt will be our MC tonight and it’s my pleasure in welcoming you, to also welcome him and
to invite him to come forward and introduce our guest – Matt
Kia Ora Tatou [Matt Nippert] Thank you very much for that Stuart Indeed we do have some history, it was, the
year was 2003, I was involved in Salient, he was the Vice Chancellor there, I can distinctly
recall us caricaturing Stuart, I think we had a cartoonist who has gone onto great things,
as a little cartoon figure with a kilt and giant pair of scissors, I do believe that
Stuart was engaged in budget savagery of some sort and we called him McCutts, so there you
go, it’s good to see you again. Just as Stuart has sort of moved on, the next
time I saw your name I think you’d made the top 10 highest paid public servants in the
country so you’ve done very well. Just as he’s moved on I guess I have too,
I was a long haired news editor back then, indeed there’s much worse to be said but we’ll
leave that for now, and I have managed to find myself as an investigative journalist
for the New Zealand Herald. Welcome all of you tonight here to this 2015 John F Kennedy
memorial lecture by Nancy Gibbs the editor of TIME magazine, a magazine which needs no
introduction it is iconic everyone knows what you mean by time, that red border, those striking
covers, particularly on the international Edition. She’s my sort of editor, she never stopped
writing, in fact she’s responsible for more cover stories for the magazine than almost
anyone else in it’s history including this weeks one which is a neat look at Bush and
Clinton, how, how well they get on, suprisingly enough and Nancy also revealed a bit of her
humility which I love, that she’d actually had that story last week and held it because
he actually had some news to do, last week that is the Iran deal. She’s also divorced
her ego from the job which is from personal experience as a writer, impossible to do.
And somewhere along the line Nancy has also managed to find time to write two bestselling
books about the US presidency, I do not know how she finds the time given she has got a
fairly large newsroom, she’s managing her magazine across its print format, its web
format, tablet, I mean it’s all going off everywhere all at once it seems. Before Nancy speaks here’s a few words of
our sponsors: The John F Kennedy memorial fellowship is administered by Fulbright New
Zealand and executed in partnership with the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
Trade and the Embassy of United States of America in Wellington. With those out of the way, I’m delighted to
be speaking to you tonight. When Fulbright asked if I could help out, I could hardly
say no, of course some years ago they gave me a lot of money and didn’t expect much in
return so a little bit of public speaking is the least I can do. Um so yes I spent a year in New York 2005-2006
getting my masters, it was a great year both intellectually and socially, during my time
there I managed to get drunk with the middle east doyen Robert Fisk and got driven out
of the upper west side by bed bugs, all life time highlights. I also had a review for the film Goodnight
and Good Luck, which was about the TV stoush between Edward R Murrow and Joseph McCarthy,
George Clooney had a starring role, this great black and white film. I wrote a review for
a class and my professor absolutely tore it to pieces. Because it turned out, my professor who was
this 82 year old woman was not only alive at the time, but she’d actually double-dated
Edward Murrow in the fifties and had extreme issues with how it was dramatised. So I was
hoping to do some vigorous fact checking and the film makers it turned out got a lot of
stuff wrong. There was also a lively discussion in class
with an old friend of another Professor who said his friend out for a job after he helped
him out after he was left without work when he left the white House umm so he showed up
and it turned out it was Henry Kissinger who showed up and was talking to 20 of us, which
was just extraordinary both in terms of where he’d been but also his voice, I’ve spent my
life since really modelling mine on his gravel, I think I’m almost there, unfortunately I’ve
given up smoking so it may be a losing battle. But anyway, Nancy is here in our country flew
away from her home and workplace in New York for only a few short days so we are very lucky
tonight to hear her speak. Her topic tonight is Our Tools, our brains,
Our souls – the transformation of tech, the transformations of Technology. Afterwards there will be an opportunity for
questions. However please be warned, I run a zero tolerance crusade against the dreaded
personal essay disguised as a question that is so prevalent at writers festivals these
days. So if you’re thinking about talking about
yourself and just sort of inflecting upwards and the end to sort of pretend that it’s a
question, don’t, please don’t. So the internet is often evangelized for it’s
potential to democratize the good and disrupt the bad. But you know the same communication
that allows instantaneous communication, text and video between family members stranded
on different sides of the planet for free also allows al-queda to distribute a slick
english language e-magazine that has a sort of a cooking recipe style guide to making
car bombs and jihadi of the month centrefolds. The same technology that allows anyone with
a cellphone to film and distribute evidence of police officers shooting unarmed suspects
also allows very similar sort of private communications to be weaponized in the form of revenge porn,
it’s creating entirely new industries, Uber and Spotify were just silly names a couple
of years ago while remorselessly burning down the old.
These changes are coming so fast it’s hard to step back and consider whether the early
promises of the Internet boosters have been born out.
And Nancy will be discussing how we as families, communities and societies can monitor the
impact of technologies that have become so powerful and deeply embedded in our daily
lives. Not only but I’m hoping she’ll take a broader picture but also as managing editor
of time she’s been with the magazine since 1985 starting as a fact checker, she’s had
to grapple with this changing technology and it’s impact on her own workplace.
She’s helped overhaul the newsroom and make it fully digital. Now my own memories of Time
Magazine from the analogue era, of time being a sort of, my first window.
 on the world, my family had a subscription as I was growing up and the world’s largest
news magazine has always been the most outward looking of American periodicals.
And let’s not forget it still has a readership in excess of 20 million um which is several
New Zealands. But it’s influence here isn’t just from it’s
outside scope, it’s also more subtle than you might expect. I spent 5 years at The Listener
magazine and can testify that time was liberally raided for ideas on how to present cover stories
on science, education and health. I think if time had covered real estate more regularly
I’m sure you’d all notice this a lot more starkly.
While imitation in the case was clearly flattery, the position of time has meant that it does
attract the odd bit of criticism. Back when I was in New York they came out with their
person of the year, 2006 edition they made the controversial call many called it a gimmick
of putting a mirror on the front page with the idea being that the person of the year
is you, so that’s the crowd, it’s umm, it’s citizen journalists and cyclopaedia writers.
And I thought at the time that TIME had jumped the shark but looking back actually and thinking
about where we have, where society has come since then, 2006 they handed that award out
before youtube hadn’t even celebrated it’s 1st birthday, and that was also the same year
I signed up my first Facebook account and I could only do that because I’m studying
in America and access was sort of limited, it was a very small and exclusive site and
now, well it’s bigger than Jesus. So I think history judges that cover well
so please join with me in welcoming to the stage TIME’s managing editor and the first
woman to hold that role, Nancy Gibbs. Wow, I’m convinced that it was his year in
New York that taught Matt to talk that fast. It has been such a treat for me, these last
days, this is my first trip ever to New Zealand and the hospitality from um officials of the
New Zealand government, of the American government, the Gilbert’s, ahh certainly everyone having
to do with Fulbright New Zealand and then everyone we have encountered every step of
the way has just been extraordinary. I think whatever my hopes, dreams and expectations
were they were exceeded practically before we touched ground and it has been just a spectacular
privilege and with that in mind let me say two things. First of all I am now going to invite you
to ignore the injunction not to talk about your own personal experiences when we have
a time for questions, you can be as theological as you want about how you wanted to be master
of ceremonies but I am very curious and the excitement for me about getting to do something
like this is to explore what it is that we have in common not withstanding the fact that
I am standing nine-thousand three hundred and eighty seven miles away from where I live.
I want to perhaps offer a preemptive apology which is that this is a topic that I have
never talked about before in public I ordinarily prefer to choose a subject that I know something
about, the American presidency is a favorite one, I’m happy to talk about that later on
if you want although why you would want to at this stage of the presidential campaign,
but when Penelope was sitting in my office in Midtown, less than two months ago with
this wild invitation to come to New Zealand and talk to people, and invited me to talk
about anything that I liked,  I started thinking about what it is that I absolutely know for
certain without knowing nearly as much as I would like about the history, society, culture,
economics of this country that I know and experience that we are all having together
and where there is something that we absolutely can explore together and think about together
and challenge one another about, not withstanding the fact that I’ve never been here before
and we’re all meeting for the first time. And that is what drew me to this subject,
about the impact that Technology is having on our lives. I start with a quote from President Kennedy
not only because it is after him that this fellowship is named and in honor of whom I
get to have the privilege of being here. This quote is from his inaugural address, it’s
one that we don’t quote quite so often as the ask not and some of the other more famous
lines, yet it’s one that resonates so remarkably more than half a century later, the world
is very different now, this idea that man holds in his mortal hands, his mortal hands
the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. He was marvelling at that moment this very
young American president, in still a very young country, that had found itself with
an almost unimaginable and alarming power as of 1945, of the power of nuclear technology
and for every president from Harry Truman on and that was really the only, president
Eisenhower who’s confidence about his ability to avoid nuclear war was perhaps greater than
the young president Kennedy coming into office as the Cold War is at its most frigid and
wondering whether or not he would be able to see through his administration without
the very worst of what technology had made possible. As it happened rather ironically, he also
knew he had uniquely the power to do enormous good, that other technologies that were just
coming online had the potential to lift millions of people out of poverty, that even then the
possibilities, the dangers, the risks, the opportunities of new technologies were very
much on the mind of a young American president, and I also start with him and some of the
other people I will quote you will note are all people who were wrestling with some of
these challenges long before the internet age and so I’ll stipulate that some of the
questions that I’m interested in, and that we’re exploring tonight are the eternal ones.
They come back in different forms, ah it’s been said that history doesn’t repeat itself,
it sometimes rhymes. We are in a rhyming moment about the impact
of technology but I would argue that is a particularly fateful one and I do wonder whether
were President Kennedy to be with us now what it is that would shock him most, would it
be that he was able to have the few years of his presidency that he did, coming very
close to a nuclear crisis but without a nuclear disaster that in fact even more than 50 Years
Later the practically deadliest weapon is the one that killed him and that’s the gun.
Would he be shocked that in the intervening decades the United States had built the tallest
towers in the world and they had been brought down by men in aeroplanes, would he be shocked
that the Soviet Union was gone, would he be shocked that the United States selected an
African American President, or would he be shocked by this?
and its many even more diminutive versions? I wonder whether the most important story
is the one that you don’t tell because it’s never in the headlines.
It too is an ancient story, men have become the tools of their tools Thoreau said. History
is always the story of tools. It’s the story of fire and the wheel, of gunpowder, the printing
press, of electricity, television, the computer chip and there is almost never in history
a timeout between the invention of a new tool and its use.
2 weeks or so ago we marked the 70th anniversary of the first successful testing of a nuclear
bomb at Alamogordo and another week from now we will mark the 70th year anniversary of
its first use with the bombing of Hiroshima, 3 weeks from test to use and relatively speaking
that may count as a long time but it certainly was any kind of amount of time to think about
what it was going to mean, what the use of that tool, not only the existence
of it, but the use of it was going to mean. It had obviously cosmic and global significance,
it rearranged the geopolitical structure of the world, it had the, introduced kind of
existential dread into the modern mind and culture, schoolchildren were taught to duck
and cover. In, in my small Manhattan apartment where I grew up, ahh where we did not have
a lot of extra space for anything, the little cabinet where we stored canisters of soup,
ahh my parents called the Bomb shelter. It was a cabinet, no one would have fit in it
with the soup. Unlike other transformational tools however,
the ones that I’m talking about now, we have a completely intimate relationship with.
Only one man, only the president of the Unites States controlled the transformational tool
of an atom bomb and it was a tool that almost no-one understood how it worked, well I don’t
understand how this works, but I carry it and interact with it constantly, and in some
ways it is so infinitely powerful and yet so infinitely intimate, that I don’t think
there is example of a tool that is anything like this powerful that is also so widespread
and creates such a challenge to us. The writer Leon Wieseltier has suggested that we are
at a moment that has elevated a new kind of priesthood, and it’s the priesthood that understands
this technology in a way that the rest of us don’t.
We all use it, but it’s a much smaller people that really understands it, and that that
creates a kind of humanist challenge for us, how is it as citizens of democracies are we
going to think about and regulate and ask ourselves privately and collectively about
the impact of these powers and who controls them and what they are doing to our economies
and our societies and our brains or indeed our souls. I have now of course reached the
point in this evenings service for a moment of confession which you can share with me.
How many of you, and you have to tell the truth, would say that you are either mildly
or acutely addicted to your devices? All right, you are an entirely representative
audience. One recent survey found 4 out of 5 American admitted to being addicted to their
phones and I’m thinking that that was an undercount and so it really doesn’t matter how many new
studies come out about the impact of digital technology and our attention spans or on anything
else, there is no going back, the die is cast, we, we released these studies with a certain
calculated indifference because we know that we aren’t going to do anything differently.
Students, who have experimented with having their phone taken away from them for 24 hours
experience some corollary to Phantom limb syndrome, they reach for a vibrating phone
that is not there, experience phantom vibrations. I do think though notwithstanding the fact
that there is no going back maybe because there’s no going back, maybe because we know
that these devices are so utterly embedded in not only everything we’re doing publicly,
economically, collectively, commercially, but privately and intimately, in our families
and our marriages, and in raising our children that, that is exactly the reason that it’s
worth taking a step back, just for a moment, and inviting one another to think about what
it means, what is gained, what might be lost and why it is that we almost don’t even ask
the question. It’s a funny thing that whatI would argue is the biggest story of our lifetimes,
by far, is one that is never a headline. In 1989 Francis Fukuyama published his essay
in which he suggested that the triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism had effectively
meant that there will still be news, there will still be events that um that the great
social and cultural changes had already occurred, history was essentially done, and in the decade
that followed, throughout the 1990s it was pretty easy to believe that he was right.
The cold war ended so wars got smaller. Headlines got smaller, the first gulf war
lasted 42 days, there were civil wars around the world but the big stories, the tectonic
stories, were all outside of the headlines, it was the explosion of prosperity around
the world, the decoding of the human genome that allowed the promise that we would just
repeal biology and all of our children with live to be 200 years old.
It was the arrival of the information age and the fact that all of a sudden you could
live anywhere, move to a ranch, day trade, every single chamber of commerce was searching
after a software company because it wouldn’t pollute, it wouldn’t involve a lot of infrastructure
and somehow the world as we knew it was all going to be so much easier and so much better
and divorce lawyers started reporting a new significant cause of divorce and that was
email. Now that should have probably been a clue,
probably been a clue that something that has the power to rewire our marriages so significantly
in addition to our economies and the way we communicate was perhaps far more significant
than we had first bargained for. I just want to remind you how quickly we moved
from that time when we were first being introduced to all of these devices to this time.   These
cartoons are all, I have a new, we invented a word, I think we invented it at TIME, a
chartoon, so these chartoons, the John Atkinson’s chartoons that we are now running in TIME
every week and I think he has a particular genius for identifying what it is that has
changed from then and now and what an incredibly short time period it is. From when our monitors
were huge and floppy discs, something my children have no idea what those are, they would laugh
at my first cell phone which was the size and weight of a cinderblock, how quickly we
got from there to here, as our laptops got smaller and more powerful then our phones
got smaller and more powerful.   It happened so fast that we forget how much did not exist,
and that exists now. Right now, access to mobile technology is
more widely available than access to clean drinking water or electricity.   That is
how quickly it has spread, again not just to the privileged or the wealthy and the elite
but everywhere all over the world access to this technology.   And particularly in this,
even more in this part of the world than in mine. 10 years ago as Matt suggested Facebook didn’t
exist, Pinterest didn’t exist, Instagram didn’t exist, youtube didn’t exist.   All of these
things that we now not only take for granted, depend on, but I suspect don’t really remember
not having, it’s a very strange thing for something to be invented that you didn’t know
that you needed and at first you didn’t know what it was and very quickly you can’t imagine
living without. These are the new disrupters, think about
the industries that have been completely disrupted by new approaches to very familiar needs and
services, there’s a, are the best summary I have seen of this was a writer at techcrunch
who noted that Uber is the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles, Facebook,
the world’s most popular media owner, creates no account, and AliBaba, the most valuable
retailer has no inventory, AirBnB the largest accommodation provider owns no real estate.
That is how possible it is to completely disrupt some of the most powerful traditional global
Industries in the world and none of those existed 5 years ago.  
It is impossible, before I sound like a luddite, to dispute the extraordinary good that has
come from this, I don’t quite go as far as Freeman Dyson but particularly in areas where
intractable problems suddenly dissolve into promise I, I think about things like the mobile
midwife apps that are being used in developing countries to connect pregnant women who have
very limited access to healthcare with community nurses and healthcare providers to make for
a safer pregnancy, the better chance for a successful birth and great reductions in infant
mortality. I think about ways in which environmental monitoring is improved, the access to economy
of the people using micropayments have, for whom a normal banking system may still be
years and years away and yet they are now fully able to join into the global economy
because they have a phone.   Bill Gates has said he wants to register every child’s birth
on a cell phone so that it would be possible to make sure that every child receives the
vaccinations that they need and diseases that have ravaged generations around the world
finally disappear. For most of us, for whom those diseases long
since disappeared and for whom access to finance is long since been assured the issue is really
almost unimaginable convenience, that we can learn anything, study anything, buy anything,
communicate with anyone anywhere in the world 24 hours a day. Our worId has gotten vastly
bigger, we are, we are living large, we are living world wide, it’s a worldwide web, and
that language starts to introduce maybe a little bit of ambivalence – web, very connected,
very sticky, very strong and a trap. Think about the web, think about about the net,
a net, saves you, catches you, lets you fly higher and take more risks. Web traps you,
there is an ambivalence around all of the language for these technologies that I find
fascinating. Think about when Google was first founded, anyone remember their motto?
Google’s motto, Don’t be evil, don’t be evil Now, that’s an interesting context as opposed
to be good, do good, as though they knew that the world that they were entering and in fact
creating was one in which the temptation to do evil would be great and they started out
with an injunction, do no evil. The, the rhetoric of the early information
age was, was giddy, it was one of revolution, it was one that so many things would be improved,
I don’t think we had, bargained for what would happen when so much information was available
so easily all the time, I have a professional bias that information is good.
I think knowledge is better, and it’s possible that such a proliferation of information makes
understanding harder to come by. Humankind rose up in an era of food scarcity, now our
crisis is one of obesity in the richest parts of the world, human beings rose up in an era
of information scarcity now the challenge is one of information obesity.   It’s a very
different kind of challenge, you can say it’s a luxury challenge but it’s a real one nonetheless.
Eric Schmidt, the Google founder estimated that every 2 days humanity creates as much
data as the entire amount created from the dawn of civilization until the year 2003,
every 2 days.  Every day we tweet 500 million times, share 70 million photos on instagram,
watch 4 billion videos on Facebook and for every minute that passes we upload 72 hours
of film on YouTube, the Internet now contains 4.75 billion pages, that means if you read
one per minute, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, you have 90,000 years worth of reading
ahead of you. And, that amount is growing. So my question
is what does that mean for how we think about history, how we think about community, how
we think about identity. Think about history, much of history ahh reflected
an age of information scarcity, it was a oral tradition, great stories handed down of great
men usually men doing great deeds, often in battle, those were the stories that were told
and retold, from the Bible, from Homer, from Virgil all the way through history, it was
such that Samuel Johnson could have the wild eyed idea of creating a dictionary that would
contain pretty much everything everyone knew about anything it was in the 1750s he modeled
his effort after one embarked upon by a team of forty French scholars working for 56 years.
Dr. Johnson’s dictionary had 40,000 entries, 114 thousand quotes, all of which he selected
himself, his two volumes were completed by 1 man in 9 years.   And that remained the
authoritative source on the English language for more than a century until the creation
of the Oxford English Dictionary which was the work of 2000 scholars over a period of
70 years. So how is it possible that one man could possibly know so much as Dr. Johnson?
Well it’s because there really wasn’t that much to know.   Compare that to where we
find ourselves now, very different than the days of the sort of tribal glue that held,
held us together and the stories that, that were almost universally told and known. A
modern generation of academics, I think all to the good, has greatly broadened what should
count as history, what should be studied as history, it should not just be the history
of men, it should not just be the history white men, it should not just be the history
of powerful people doing important things, but should be the history of, of labourers,
of, of civilians, of men and women, of rich and poor and that has both greatly enriched
our understanding of history and what is driven events but it also makes it more complicated
as I who, rather old-fashionedly write about still the history of great men because I write
about Presidents who do great things, I try to imagine how historians 50 or 100 years
from now are going to know what to write about. How are they going to decide when every
single one of our lives is documented in such extraordinary detail, every one of your shopping
lists, everything thought that you’ve ever tweeted or shared or e-mailed, every note
you’ve taken, the 10000 photographs that we now upload in a given year too, the historical
record is so vast and rich and deep and complex that I wonder whether we’re looking at a new
kind of end of history, now it’ll be my story, it’ll be your story, mystery, but no history,
it’s very hard to imagine how anyone is going to choose what counts as history going forward.
We do know that people love to tell the story about themselves.
We are all historians now and we are telling this great tale and we love to share it. The
problem with that is that the easier it is to share, the easier it is to lie, the ahh,
the researcher Richard Sherry of the, of the Society for neuropsychoanalysis did a study
that found that two-thirds of people actually admitted to lying on Facebook, Facebook where
all children are above average and the sun always shines on vacation and everything you
have ever eaten was absolutely exquisite. He found in his research that people start
suffering from digital amnesia, that as they post things that aren’t exactly precisely
actually true, their memories are distorted and they cease to remember what actually did
happen, what that vacation really was like, they probably don’t forget the fact that their
children are not actually perfect because they have almost hourly reminders of that,
but everything else, ahh the fact of posting the way we do, in the way that we are maybe
it’s just Human Nature, embellish, and airbrush, the versions of ourself that we present publicly,
actually has an impact on how we think about ourselves and fact more than half of the people
he studied reported, reported feeling paranoia and guilt and shame that their actual lives
did not live up to the lives that they were pretending to be leading on all of their social
platforms. 1000 friends are not friends, that’s an audience.   And that’s an audience that
we feel the need to entertain and it is not that, there is not potential creative opportunity
in becoming great storytellers and putting on a show to entertain our friends but surely
there is some price to pay in authenticity and self-awareness and true intimacy in creating
these digital avatars that may or may not bear much resemblance to who we actually are.
So if identity is assaulted, so too I think is community, think about how it is that we
used to stay in touch with the people we cared about, we went to a stationary store, we bought
stationery perhaps we had our names printed on it, we wrote a letter, put it in an envelope
with a stamp, if we wanted to include pictures that involved buying film, 24 or 36.  Taking
the pictures, keeping close count of how many you had left and choosing each one carefully,
taking the film be developed and printed and then deciding if you were going to clue, include
any of those photographs in the letter that you then put the stamp on and went to the
mailbox and mailed. It was arduous work and so you did it when
it was worth doing with friends and community that was worth maintaining in which you felt
committed and invested and that was committed and invested to you.
Community is essential to mental health, to wellness, there’s lots of research that indicates
people who have strong social bonds live longer happier healthier lives and it would be fascinating
to discover what the impact is of it being so easy to create communities so long as they’re
virtual.   To stay in touch with the children you were friends with when you were eight,
to stalk the first crush you had when you were 12, to find the other lovers of obscure
Hungarian Poetry and bond with them over your favourite stanzas, one of my daughters is
part of the Great Global 1 Direction fandom and what they know about one another and about
that band, simply astonishes me.   These communities are real, they’re vibrant, they’re
fascinating, but they are very different than communities that we’ve built all through history
that actually involved being in one another’s presence.   The ability to be present, to
be with the people we’re with is surely undermined when were also texting the people that we
could be with but aren’t.   This is the paradox of community, the easier they are to form,
the harder they are to actually experience. tell me I had to get off the phone because
he was expecting a call because there only was one phone, and there was no call waiting,
so only one person could be communicating at a time to where we are now, we can send
out a message to everyone we know about what we just had for tea. It is an astonishing difference, this is where
we all live now even when we are home we are never alone, we are never without the world
that we are entwined with.  And I think that that has had any number of paradoxical effects.
One of them though is what that has done to our ability to experience empathy. Steven
Spielberg, among those creative geniuses who has greatly benefited from the miracles of
modern technology notes that can be our best friend or the biggest party pooper of our
lives. It interrupts our own story, it interrupts
our ability to have a thought or a daydream, imagine something wonderful because we’re
too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cellphone. What researchers have found, is that people
born after 2000 tend to display lower levels of empathy than older people do and that is
partly because when we are talking, right now even in this rather artificial form of
conversation, words only deliver about 10 percent of the meaning.   You are deriving
meaning from the tone of my voice, from my body language, and if we were all closer together
from body chemistry, multiple signals being sent on multiple channels and the ability
to decode those is the key to empathy, to sharing the feelings and understanding the
feelings of other person. Emojis are not an adequate substitute.   A
little like playing the New World Symphony on a kazoo, it is not an adequate instrument
for the task.   One neuroscientist has suggested that digital communication actually makes
everyone a little bit autistic   a little bit less able to fully experience and communicate
their feelings and the feelings of other people. So counselors at summer camps have now been
watching this for a good 15 years, they have found that each summer the children who come
to camp have a harder and harder time relating to other children, of resolving disputes because
they have very little experience doing it face to face and of course the beauty at least
in the US, of summer camps is that your device is a confiscated upon arrival. It maybe now
the single greatest reason for a parent to send their child to summer camp, leaving aside
that their archery skills may improve, is that they actually have to unplug it and interact
with the people they are with in real time, face to face. And what has been found is that after just
5 days in camp, just 5 days, there’s significant improvement in children’s social skills, our
brains react to our environment and they react to experience and it would just be naive for
us to think that when so much of our experience is now occurring virtually and digitally that
would not have an impact on how we process information, I think that’s just unrealistic. And I say this as the second period of confession
in this evening’s service, which is as a mother of two daughters who are part of what I consider
the guinea-pig generation, my daughters were born in 1994 and 1997, that means that the
older one was 7 years old on September 11th 2001.
It is possible that I and other parents would have had the good sense to pause and think
before handing our seven year old cellphones, but the desire to be able to reach them and
particularly me, as a working mother in an office tower in Manhattan with children who
were across the river and felt far away and knowing what it was like when people were
not able to reach each other on that day, I gave her a cellphone, it was not smart,
our phones weren’t smart then, I had no idea that I was handing her a supercomputer but
I do know that her generation is the test case.
We hadn’t thought this through, we had no idea what was coming, we didn’t know what
it would mean that they would have access to their peers 24 hours a day, anywhere they
went, we didn’t know what it would do to their attentions spans, we didn’t know what it would
do to their creativity, and I say two, I can just as easily say four, because the ways
in which young people use these tools is absolutely dazzling, and the inventions that you see
coming out of the creative minds of 16 year olds who see some problem in their community
which my generation might have held a bake sale to address, and the y are finding ingenious
ways to either raise huge amounts of money or call vast attention or direct resources
to solving the problem that used to be the monopoly of a big institution or a fancy foundation
and now there are children who are able to do this.
Think about the reversal of tradition that this represents, all through history adults
apprentice young people in the use of important and powerful tools, we teach our children
how to use matches, we show them how to use a knife, when we give them the car keys, we
sit next to them, hour after hour, only drive in the daylight on side roads, no other teenagers
in the car until you have mastered the, this powerful and important tool.
That is one more step to adulthood, now think about their phones, from the instant any child
I have ever seen picks up a smart phone they somehow seem to understand how it works better
than we do and I suspect I’m not the only one who’s phone has been programmed by, who’s
apps have been downloaded by children. Their fluency and proficiency with these tools
is a complete reversal of any other tool that I can think of in all of human history and
yet arguably this is the most powerful one of all time, and I don’t think we have begun
to really understand what it means, that they have the same access that the rest of us do,
to these tools that even we don’t fully know how to control and certainly I can’t blame
my children for appearing addicted to their devices when I am every bit as bad with mine.
So, I do wonder now about what it’s going to mean as we think about how all of these
opportunities and challenges come together, I wonder what it means that we have exulted
convenience and speed over so many other values, when we kill our local bookstore because it
is just so handy to have your books delivered to your front door, what is it that we are
losing, maybe nothing, but it seems like we at least ought to ask the question rather
than just live with the tyranny of acceleration and the tyranny of the other. Lest I leave
you with the impression that I think that all of this is something to be frightened
of and wary of, that’s not it at all, in fact the main reason I want us to be asking these
questions, and so interesting to me to be exploring them with communities all over the
world, is exactly because it is possible that this is not only the biggest untold story
of our time but one of the best, if you think about what has happened to power, in this
generation, and what has happened to influence, I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations
with US and New Zealand officials about New Zealand’s power in the world, and how a very
small country has the possibility of exerting inordinate influence, and that’s the key word,
it’s influence, it is the power of being a laboratory for ideas, it is the power of example,
because now, because of these technologies something that works, something smart, a solution
to a problem can be shared instantly and globally, it is possible that there has never before
been such a devolution of power from institutions to individuals, potentially from large countries
to small ones, such a democratisation of impact because these tools are great equalisers.
Power is a tool, influence is a skill. Power imposes, influence inspires.   There
is an opportunity now for any individual with a wise heart and a creative mind and a commitment
and these devices to solve problems that were beyond the solution of some of the greatest
minds and wealthiest institutions throughout history.
That to me represents a kind of promise that boggles the imagination and makes it all the
more important that we be asking all the important, hard, exciting, exhilarating questions about
what these technologies mean because we’ve seen the potential to do harm but we know
and ultimately in a way it comes down to your faith in human nature and in the human capacity
for good, not just to not be evil, but to do great good, that these empower in ways
that we have only begun to see. Thank you very much. [Matt Nippert]
Thank you very much Nancy, that’s quite mind bending, my brain feels quite full, I’ll need
to relieve some pressure soon, um we have some microphones if people want to ask questions,
if anyone would like to ask a question please make yourself known and we’ll start this process,
but I’m actually going to pull rank, initially at least, and um ask, you mentioned during
your talk about how everyone, not just the great men and women of history now have their
every act pretty much from you know when they first get a phone will be recorded, um, given
your interest in these presidential figures, how fair do you think it’s going to be in
40 years time when we get the first presidential candidate who’s found to have said something
mean on Bebo when they were 12, is it going to be fair for the reporters in search of
a scoop to trawl through that sort of background? [Nancy Gibbs] I think this is why the legal fight that google
is facing in Europe over the right to be forgotten is so interesting because as a journalist
I don’t want anyone to be able to erase anything that I might think is relevant when telling
there story years from now, goodness knows, what a dream when you’re trying to profile
some candidate if we could know every thought they ever had since they were 12 years old,
having said that, to be on the receiving end of that kind of dissection I think would be
pretty horrifying and because we are all human and we are frail and we make mistakes and
we say things that are idiotic and we don’t want it to haunt us for the rest of our lives
I think that question of the right to be forgotten is going to be one of the central fascinating
legal and cultural disputes. What I wonder about, what I thought you were
going is, you know when I am working on presidential history it is a dream to get lost in the papers
in the presidential library and it’s especially fun working on presidents whose papers are
now declassified, so that we get to know things that the people covering that White House
at the time didn’t know about president Kennedy, about President Eisenhower, and about President
Truman, and many of the presidential libraries in the US have now digitised enough of the
records that in the case of President Kennedy, everything is now online, that I could be
sitting in my pyjamas at one o’clock in the morning listening to the phone call that Kennedy
placed to Eisenhower on the morning that he was going to announce the blockade of Cuba,
and, during the Cuban missile crisis, and thought there was a very good chance he was
about to start a nuclear exchange. And one president wants to hear the perspective of
the other president who knew what it was like to hold the future of humanity in his hands
and you can sit down and listen to those phone calls and it’s an extraordinary thing listening
to President Nixon’s phone calls, maybe a little less extraordinary. But a privilege and so exciting for historians
because history is treasure hunting, you know, what I wonder is what record is going to be
captured of emails and text messages and private digital communications, I am not at all confident
that that record is all going to be preserved in the way that future historians will have
access to it. Is the problem going to be that there is too
much? is the problem going to be that there’s too little? That it has been culled by the time and not
all captured, but I think that there’s going to be a huge challenge even for historians
writing about great figures much less the ones who are writing about the rest of us. [Matt Nippert]
Ok, um, open things up to the floor, um, let’s see there in the middle, the delightful sliver
hair, that’s yourself [Question 1]
Thank you very much, I’m Fickle Menbath from the university and first of all, that was
an extremely inspiring talk and what a privilege that we are the first audience to hear this
talk I am also admitting that I am an addict to the new devices, I do probably use only
other tools than the one, this one slide I particularly, probably use a lot of wikipedia
and I do use websites and here’s my question, [Matt Nippert] Just in time
[Question 1] I discussed and really spoke from my heart
in this talk and I have actually many questions but I just will ask one, so um, the tools
that are used like wikipedia and news sites, they are both knowing how people like to act
with this and obviously wikipedia is content driven by writers and news items people now
can comment and it’s a global audience that’s disrupting also how news is perceived I think,
but there’s a remarkable difference in wikipedia it’s very constructive and I talk with friends
how they perceive the views can be very angry [Matt Nippert]  But you did promise a question [Question 1]
Yeah, so the question is how do you see, how do they see that development, can this kind
of engagement come somehow more constructive? so the action of the global audience on news
sites forms of user comments, reader comments, so that is also a force to good because wikipedia
is now the 7th most read website [Nancy Gibbs] Now and the issue of really hideous comments
and trolls on, in the comment pages of any news site is something that drives journalists
crazy and it’s a certain kind of masochism to read all the comments, at some point I
was reluctant to look at my twitter feed because you know, people who were angry at some story
TIME had posted having to do with the middle East would send me pictures of mangled corpses
and write just horrible things and it’s just extremely disturbing. But I think there is actually a solution that
we already seeing that is going to address this which is that   But I think there is
actually a solution that we already seeing that is going to address this which is that
the commenting function is migrating from the news sites themselves under social platforms
and as that happens, as more and more people express their views on their Facebook pages
rather than more likely anonymously on news sites they one have to take more responsibility
for what they are saying, which I think is key, I think the anonymity is one of the things
that fuels the viciousness and the destructiveness. As people are engaging on platforms where
there, it’s much more transparent about who is talking and the conversation almost automatically
becomes more positive, not only because people are taking responsibility but because people
are much more likely to share news stories that are more positive.
And, and we see that, you know, if you did a breakdown of the stories that people share
on Facebook they are much more likely to be positive stories than negative stories and
so people are still going to get angry, they’re still going to debate and dispute which is
healthy, it is what you want and what these technologies facilitate, but I think as we
migrate to a global common in which people have to be themselves, it reveals who they
are, that that is going to have a profound civilising effect and that the age of the
anonymous trolling in comments pages may over time diminish while the power of debate on
social platforms grows. [Matt Nippert]
Alright, another question. Up the back there [Question 2]
I do have a slight story to tell that I promise you that the question I ask relates directly
to TIME [Nancy Gibbs]So you can blame me [Question 2]
Right, so I’m allowed to do this, I am with a group of academics who are teaching an experiment
if you like, in a room with stage 1 students, 100 odd students who sit around tables and
there are two lecturers in the room sorry we’re not lecturers, we’re facilitators, so
we’ve changed the relationship between us and the student and we have noticed around
those tables there are 3 kinds of students, there is the student who when were talking
or putting things up who still write things down a piece of paper and ironically, they’re
mostly young women, there is another group who sit there with a device in hand but it
has a keyboard on it and they are taking notes on the keyboard and we provide everything
electronically, but they’re taking notes on a keyboard, and there is a third group and
we call them the post digital native, they sit there with their cell phone and when we
are speaking or showing something they take pictures but they don’t write anything down,
so what we’re confronted with, and we’re not quite sure how this is working we have these
three groups in the room who appear to be processing information differently from each
other and yet they sit around the table and discuss things together. Time magazine has come, TIME is coming out
with a range of platforms so you probably are experiencing something similar who are
buying, those who get your material from the page, from a device screen of different sizes,
the question I’m asking, have you done any studies which show for example that people
are processing, looking for and processing information differently and therefore learning
differently depending on the platform that they’re using to access the information because
we don’t really know. Can you help us? [Nancy Gibbs] I think that in your classroom what’s different
is that your students are being presented the same information and they are choosing
to record it, to capture it differently. In the case of TIME it’s the great, you know,
the reason that I think of this is such a golden age is that we can adapt the content
to the platform that suits it. So arguably reading a 25,000 word investigative
piece about hospital costs in the US is better experienced in print than it is on a phone
and I don’t choose that example at random, the most successful best selling issue of
time in the last couple years was actually the longest story we have ever run which was
Stephen Brill’s incredible story Bitter Pill about why hospital costs in the US are so
high, that kind of longform, along with photography and graphics that content is especially well
suited to print. My magazine cannot deliver an interactive
graphic. One of the platforms we just launched a couple weeks ago is called TimeLabs which
is an open source site for data visualisation and interactive graphics that print isn’t
just good at, it actually can’t do, so there is a kind of story that we can tell um that
is perfectly suited for your phone. If you’re waking up in the morning and you want to know
what are the 5 most important thing that happened overnight, you need to know before you leave,
and you just need that kind of digest that’s ideal for this device, if you want to experience
something that you’re to interact with, that’s going to be better on a desktop or a laptop,
if you want to lean back and get lost in in a story that takes you someplace that may
be better suited to print and so even though we’re creating content and some content lives
on all platforms we actually can also tailor content to the platform I can’t put a video
in my magazine but when I put that magazine on a tablet I can embed a video in it and
so this is kind of a, this is a wonderful thing, the stories that we are fascinated
by are the same, the ability to add new dimensions to our telling of that story where the content
is actually different depending on the platform is the reason this is such an exciting time
to be in journalism. So I think that that is, you know that is a different model then
than what’s happening in a classroom where the content is all the same. What we haven’t figured out, we are still
learning is um where the opportunities to invent whole new ways of delivering content
on platforms that either haven’t been invented yet or that we haven’t realised or other great
storytelling platforms. One of my campaign correspondents is, one of the ways in which
he is covering the ahh, the candidates right now is on Snapchat, we were not doing that
4 years ago now and there will undoubtedly be new platforms and new channels on which
we are still reporting, still interviewing people, still profiling people, still telling
stories but the way that the kinds of readers and viewers were able to access is going to
broaden enormously because there are people who only happy to consume content on this
platform or this platform or this platform and we are now able to reach them on all of
those. [Question 2]
Alright, sorry to hog this but if I may then extrapolate your answer into my issue, are
you suggesting for example that maybe academic institutions should experiment by having classes
with students who are familiar with the phone, your daughter who has nothing but the phone,
will come into a class but someone else who perhaps uses a different kind of device will
come into a different kind of class where we can share our common knowledge through
different devices. [Nancy Gibbs]
Well, I suspect you will, it’ll be interesting to see if you see different outcomes. [Question 2] That’s what we would test for [Nancy Gibbs]
Depending on whether some analogue form, some digital form, you know I think, obviously
all of us adopt these technologies at different paces and in different ways and umm when I
was teaching in University it was, they had just started wiring the class rooms with wifi
and so all of my students were suddenly at that time on their laptops and I was convinced
that half the time they were on Facebook, it was not that they were taking notes, they
could appear to be in class and may or may not have been taking paying attention. I now
watch students ahh and love the fact that in real time they can challenge me if I make
a mistake or if I say something I’m sure about that they they will be researching in real
time to add a dimension to something and tell me you know what, that didn’t happen in 1967,
it happened in 1969 because here I have the original document up on my screen, it’s very
humbling and I this experience with the young people in my Newsroom who, you know the speed
with which they are able to track things down, find things out, is, is amazing and so I think,
I think we’re going to see obviously our classrooms transformed, our newsrooms transformed, our
factory floors transformed, there is no place that I don’t see us grappling with different
ways that people absorb information, process information, share information, because again
these, the tools are just too powerful to leave outside the door. [Matt Nippert]
Yes, another question after, woman in the back there? [Question 3] After that, do you believe that there is a
future for TIME, the physical magazine? [Nancy Gibbs]
Absolutely, absolutely, partly because there are things that print is still just better
at than other platforms and partly because um that red border that you saw, is, defines
the most powerful real estate in journalism, when we put someone, or put an idea on the
cover of time, very often that in, of itself is a news story and I will get a report the
next day of hundreds or sometimes thousands of news stories written about the fact that
this person, when I was in India to interview Prime Minister Modi, who we put on the cover
and it was amazing to see the impact in a country of a billion people the impact that
it had, that their prime minister was on the cover of time and there isn’t a digital corollary
to that yet and so it’s very important to me to maintain the power and the vibrancy
of a print, it’s, it’s an economic challenge because the model is shifting so much but
it is absolutely true that there is an audience for each of these platforms sometimes it’s
an overlapping one, sometimes it’s different one but I always hear from people about how
print is still the format that they prefer for um for experiencing certain kinds of content
so I’m pretty optimistic in fact that, that time’s print expression is going to be healthy
for a long time. [Matt Nippert]
Beyond that very hopeful topic we’ve got time for one more question, ideally an uplifting
one, I think that is if you’re not too depressed, there we go, down the front here [Question 4]
You talked about a change in empathy, have you seen or noticed a change in values or
even morals? [Nancy Gibbs]
I hadn’t, not that I have, I haven’t seen any research the suggests that we have either
collectively gotten better or worse as a result of these technologies, it, it.
I’m inclined to think that human nature is human nature and I think there are ways in
which the connection that these tools give us, maybe it keeps on a toes, maybe there
are ways in which it makes us behave better because we’re all monitoring and watching
each other um maybe the fact that we lie on our social feeds ahh is an expression of aspiration,
that we hope to live up to, I don’t think, I don’t think that this technology has made
us less moral, I’m not sure it has made us more moral, I do think to go back to where
I ended that, the ability of these tools to help us live meaningful lives, if we choose
to use them that way. The ability of these tools to help us lift
other people up and make a difference in our communities or in our world, the power that
it gives us to do good is an enormous opportunity, so the potential is certainly there, I don’t
see any evidence I don’t know if anyone has measured it, I don’t know if you could but
the fact of that potential, to use these technologies to as is already happened lift hundreds of
millions of people out of poverty, which is happening, and to bring vital healthcare to
people who did not have access to it, which is happening um and share ideas that will
also empower and lift people up, which is happening, I am inclined to come down on the
side of the angels and think that, that these will be a force for good at the individual
level, that it will allow us to, to be our best selves and find ways of taking our best
selves and doing great good with it that would not have been possible without them.
Thank you. [Matt Nippert] Well thank you very much, as a too long didn’t
listen version of your lecture I can take away the key takeaways that the kids are probably
alright, technology is increasingly sort of unmistakeable for magic and we should all
go on summer camps. Did I get that about right? Thank you very much, Fulbright, Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and the US Embassy and also of course most thanks of all for Nancy, now
thank you all for coming, it’s been a most stimulating evening.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *