The more I read the news, the more it looks to me that four words are becoming obsolete and destined to be dropped from our vocabulary. And those words are "privacy," "local," "average" and "later." A lot of what drives today's news derives from the fact that privacy is over, local is over, average is over and later is over.
Lord knows I have no sympathy for Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, but the public disclosure of a private recording of his racist rants underscored the fact that in a world where everyone with a cellphone camera is paparazzi, everyone with access to Twitter and a cellphone voice recorder is a reporter and everyone who can upload video on YouTube is a filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure -- and fair game.
It is now so easy for anyone to record, film or photograph anyone else anywhere and share it with the world (without an editor or libel lawyer) that we are all now on Candid Camera. You cannot assume anything is private anymore. Which is why it is not surprising that I now often hear regular people -- not high government officials -- saying to me in conversation: "This is off-the-record." Huh? What are you, secretary of state? I start to imagine third-graders on play dates talking about their teacher and asking each other, "Are we on the record or off the record? Is your cellphone or Google glasses recording this?"
The Associated Press reported that Sterling's racist remarks were part of a conversation recorded by his lady friend (by mutual agreement) on her cellphone, some of which she then sent digitally to a friend of hers for "safekeeping," who then leaked it to TMZ, a gossip website.
The always smart Bill Maher on his "Real Time" show of May 9 rightly noted, "Now that Americans are getting wise to the dangers of being spied on by the government, they have to start getting more alarmed about spying on each other. Because if the Donald Sterling mess proved anything it's that there's a force out there just as powerful as Big Brother: Big Girlfriend. ... In an op-ed in The Washington Post, Kathleen Parker offered one way with dealing the modern world's ubiquitous invasions of privacy: give up. She wrote: 'If you don't want your words broadcast in the public square, don't say them.' Really? Even at home? We have to talk like a White House press spokesman?" It may be so.
Local is over for the same reason. Everything and anything controversial you say or do anywhere in today's hyperconnected world can immediately go global. Beyonce's sister Solange starts kicking and swinging at Jay Z inside a hotel elevator and the attack is captured on surveillance video -- bam, global. And you don't have to be Solange for your slap to be heard round the world. On Monday, Google News carried the following story: "SANTA ROSA, Calif. (KGO) - A Santa Rosa mother is accused of assaulting a boy she believed was bullying her daughter." It doesn't get more local than that, but it went global thanks to Google. Anyone who tells you that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas is pulling your leg.
I've been arguing for a while now that "average is over." It has to be when every boss has cheaper, easier, faster access to software, automation, robots, cheap foreign labor and cheap foreign genius that can produce above-average so easily. Everyone needs to find their unique value-add, their "extra," and be constantly re-engineering themselves if they want to obtain, or advance in, a decent job that can't be digitized.
Consider this article published in The New York Times on April 23: "EASTON, N.Y. - Something strange is happening at farms in upstate New York. The cows are milking themselves. Desperate for reliable labor and buoyed by soaring prices, dairy operations across the state are charging into a brave new world of udder care: robotic milkers, which feed and milk cow after cow without the help of a single farmhand."
Overnight, an average farmhand went from knowing how to milk a cow to having to learn how to program and operate the robotic cow-milker -- to keep a job. That takes above-average skills.
Finally, comes the news that scientists have concluded that "a large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable. ... 'Today we present observational evidence that a large sector of the West Antarctic ice sheet has gone into irreversible retreat,'" said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at the University of California, Irvine. ... "'It has passed the point of no return.' "
As I've noted before, when we were growing up, "later" meant that you could paint the same landscape, see the same animals, climb the same trees, fish the same rivers, visit the same Antarctica, enjoy the same weather or rescue the same endangered species that you did when you were a kid - but just later, whenever you got around to it. Not anymore. Later is now when you won't be able to do any of them ever again. So whatever you're planning to save, please save it now. Because later is when they'll be gone. Later will be too late.
Later -- like private, local and average -- is over.
Thomas Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times.
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN