Introspection from an Author Protagonist

Under the Masks

The Palm Trees of Silicon Valley

“The human spirit must prevail over technology.” ~ Albert Einstein

As many of you know, I am the main character of my novels: Caryssa Flynn. Yes, the author is the protagonist. Although heavily fictionalized, the story in Masks of Morality and Monster behind the Masks is based on my real-life experiences.

I am that woman who moved from Boston to California twenty-five years ago for a job promotion that brought her to Silicon Valley. Caryssa (me) loves the global tech-hub in the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s in her heart and soul, the main impetus of the career path sending her on an emotional cross-country journey

Learning the intricacies of computer-internetworking technology in a fresh, intellectual environment was the most fascinating and fulfilling experience I had during my career. Working in the Customer Development & Competitive Intelligence areas of Bay Networks (Nortel) and then senior-level marketing for a few tech-start-ups long ago set the course for my career success.

I even loved the nondescript golden foothills of San Jose marked by isolated patches of green that ring the fields once pitted with the cherry and plum orchards of Santa Clara county. I loved the sun-drenched palm trees that grow against the backdrop of the office buildings, and the rush of excitement each time my name appeared on the byline of an article I wrote, published in top-tier tech magazines.

But this was before a few things happened: I traveled overseas. I became a mother later in life and saw the world through the lens of a forty-something parent. Then a dawning consciousness emerged in Silicon Valley as people realized that their continued success isn’t necessarily making the world a better place.

It was before I ever had to ask, “Can democracy survive the Internet?”

Much of the technology derived from the super information highway is making us more distracted, invading our privacies and imposing mind control on billions while enabling fake political ads over social media. Even the tech elite admit Donald Trump got elected due to Facebook. Perhaps technology has been compromising our democracy for quite a while on either side of the spectrum.

Iconic beauty blended with the politics of Silicon Valley
(Uber received $3.5 billion from Saudi Arabia)

The narrative arc of my story goes deeper than this. To me, these issues are the end result of a bigger problem: That great marvel called the Internet was invented by DARPA, the Pentagon’s mad science program. Originally founded in 1958 by Eisenhower as the Advanced Research Project Agency, (ARPA) the D was added for “defense” in 1972. Despite many efforts to remove the D, it remains today. DARPA develops terrifying killer robots, advanced weapons, and futuristic technology that seem straight out of a Star Wars film.

Let me back up for a second; For the record, I never was and still am not anti-technology or anti-government. How could I be? Technology drove my career, and my husband works for the U.S. Government. My protagonist is an eclectic technology evangelist who built support for a critical mass of computer networking technology such as FDDI, ATM, Token Ring and all speeds of Ethernet. She is merely warning people of certain questionable government technologies that are spying on and killing people in the deceiving name of “national security.” Simple as that!

However, it’s not so simple. That the CEO of Facebook is now metaphorically considered as a Sith Lord is just a small part of the major challenge. There’s tech elite questioning how sustainable it is that the military is a primary source of innovation in our society. The industry Eisenhower warned us about has wrapped itself so tightly around the digital revolution with such hidden malice it blindsided people.

Including me.

During my apolitical days working in the tech sector in Boston and Silicon Valley, it was not transparent how rooted in military contracts the valley has always been. That Silicon Valley was built on the business of war, meant nothing to me. Until I brought a child into the world and connected the dots right back to the almighty semiconductor chips I sold directly out of college in 1983.

What’s interesting to note, is the moral message of Star Wars is that the “Dark Side” is whoever has the most powerful military. The Death Star in the film is meant to symbolize the evils of military technology, and resemble the Pentagon or our Atomic bomb. The hidden narrative is actually critical of certain technology and its ability to improve the world.

Isn’t it a contradiction that the technology we love derives from the military? Most every technology starts off with a benign, even respectful purpose. Until it gets wrapped around the DoD and goes to the dark side.

There is good science; and savage science. There are good cops and bad cops. Likewise, there’s good technology and downright inhumane technology. When did mad science become seen as an accepted science? Such as implanting chips into human bodies or brains?

Today, the sexy Silicon Valley that lured me three-thousand miles from home is experiencing a crisis of conscience. As you read this post, many tech CEOs are reckoning with the effects of the valley’s technology and fleeing the area, attending conferences called “Responsible Technology,” or finding ethical and spiritual guidance at retreats, including Esalen in Big Sur.

A former Google project manager has said, “The CEOs, inside they’re hurting. They can’t sleep at night.” Similar to the Phantom of the Opera, it’s like someone removed their masks and the hideous parts of their inventions or funding streams were exposed.

Throughout my novels, I juxtapose the surreal beauty of Caryssa’s life, her joyful family and surroundings, with the violent cultural undertones of America’s perpetual wars. The main storyline of my debut starts off thirteen years after Caryssa moved to the west coast, five years after she left Silicon Valley. The trilogy will end with The Masquerade Ball, slated for release in 2020.

My “masks” themed trilogy carries a message that your first instinct will be to mistrust. That message is, Together, we can change the world. If we take off certain social masks or at least become more selective of what type of face we choose to portray to the world.  

We all wear masks. Just scroll through social media sites. At times I have the urge to stand up and clap wildly while saying; “What a performance! Bravo! It’s almost flawless!” Almost.

It’s like a huge act replete with the “like” counters in the audience.  Imagine, if instead of using this vulnerability against one another while putting on a show, we all accept each other as we are. Maybe a strong wind will blow everyone’s mask off—whoosh! True faces exposed, wrinkles and all. Only our authentic, beautiful selves revealed.

Of all the masks we wear, be it the Oscar the Grouch airing out dirty laundry over the Internet, the Albert Einstein know-it-all, or the perpetually “happy” persona; there’s one mask I try to lift off in my writing. One common mask tucked into our costume drawer, the one I believe we all need to retire the most: The “American Exceptionalism” face. It only leads to the facade we are somehow God’s chosen people to bomb the world to peace.

The exception deception superiority complex is used as a justification to continue using technology as a weapon. It’s hurting foremost our own people. As George Lucas tries to convey in those Star Wars movies we have come to love: progress and innovation only happen on the Dark Side when it comes to military technology. A stockpile of weapons cannot bring victory.

America: A multimillion-dollar brand

Despite the cherry-blossomed childhood and amazing opportunities I’ve experienced; Despite this fun-filled life I live today; the idea that America is so unique it deserves impunity from violent acts here or abroad under a veil of “spreading democracy and freedom,” is ludicrous.

As an analyst of high-tech for years, I had focused on what corporations have the “best technology.” We run our nation like a corporation. Measuring “success,” whether for a person, a company, or a nation based on crude, short-term grasps for money, power or influence is neither sustainable nor wise.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks like this: It’s eye-opening to listen to what people around the world think of American unbridled capitalism seen as a dehumanized system where power is enabled through violence. It’s why we have so many heartbreaking mass-shootings perpetuated by the NRA’s myth we “need” so many guns.

So yes, I am the protagonist of my novels, delivering what may seem like a political diatribe expressing my beliefs through fiction. My personal opinion runs counter to established views in America; the most warlike nation in the history of the world. In this, I feel I’ve succeeded in removing my deeply conditioned social mask. I write with a passion for change, for the country I love the most. The one I was born and raised in: America.

If you insist this sounds “preachy,” no problem. I’ll just slip another mask on to protect myself from the judgment of evil spirits. Happy Halloween!

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