Thursday, January 26, 2017

Clouds vs. Sunshine: The Plague of Social Media

I dislike dark clouds. I much prefer sunshine. I don’t care for the gloom of dismal outlooks.  I am weary from the apocalyptic posts of a society getting its information from quips and memes.  I am so tired of seeing so many posts and comments by people claiming every morsel as “fact.”  And because their facts don’t fall in line with your facts they are clearly idiots.  And it has gotten to the point where social media is nothing more than a giant dark cloud.

Both sides are guilty, and I personally believe it is this very platform of social media that is at the root of most of the vitriol and anger and hatred out there.  It’s hiding behind a keyboard and lashing out.  It’s assuming you are right and anyone who doesn’t agree with you is not just wrong but stupid, or somehow less educated, less worldly, less cosmopolitan than you.  It’s being able to slam and slander someone else because we don’t have to face them or, indeed, have any obligation to prove our points. It’s the “I have free speech and I’ll punch you right in the throat with it,” but if anyone dare take another side, you are compelled to shut them down and try and minimize their own free speech.  Because they disagree with you?  Really?

People post memes that are utterly untrue and dare anyone to disagree with them.  They make themselves out to be fools by publicly posting what they think are killer slogans and signs without bothering to determine whether or not they are true.

We’re all guilty.

I have never before seen so many political experts—some of whom have never voted in any election.  So many champions of every constitutional right that they agree with, while stomping on anyone else’s constitutional rights if it is in conflict with whatever talking points they picked up that morning from their favorite (only trusted) news source.  Seriously, I have never seen so many people perfectly willing to swallow whatever their biased news outlets dish out, unquestioningly.  “If blah-blah-blah news said it, it’s true, and if you listen to blah-blah-blah news, you’re an idiot.”  They believe THEIR news source is right because THEIR news source is obviously the only truthful news source out there.  Do they try and verify it before posting?  Of course not.  Oh—unless they run it through a “truth mill” website, which itself has been proven to lean strongly to one side or the other.

I have never witnessed so many people throwing out falsehood after falsehood about things that are simply not true, with no more motivation than that’s what someone in the public eye told them to believe.  And those same people refusing to even bother to learn whether or not the things they are saying are true!

“I don’t believe in your cause.”
“Well you’re an idiot and a pig.”

“I don’t recognize YOUR president.”
“Well you’re an idiot and a pig.”

“My scientists say the world is melting.”
“My scientists say your science is wrong.”
“Well your scientists aren’t really scientists, they’re idiots and pigs.”

Eric Hoffer once said, “In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.”  In terms I can more easily understand, I say “If you think you’re green you’re going to grow…If you think you’re ripe, you’re already rotten.”  We do need to learn.  To grow.  But we need sources of truth, not opinions and educated guesses.

I believe a large part of the problem is that most news sources are themselves slanted and no longer try to hide their own bias.  Journalism has given way to sensationalism. They create the news rather than report it.  Or at the very least try and shape it to reflect the world view to which they ascribe.

I always thought that journalists didn’t become journalists in order to change the world.  But today, that seems to have changed.  Television correspondent Alex Thomson says “People should want to be journalists because of anger…”  He went on to say that journalists he admired “were doing it because they were angry at the way things are and they had the power to make it better.”  Writer and Playwright Tom Stoppard said, “I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.”  Shouldn’t that scare you?  It does me. It scares me to think that the ones responsible for informing the world of up-to-the-minute happenings actually want to shape those happenings.  See, I always believed that one doesn’t become a journalist to change the world, but to chronicle the changing world.  You report what is happening.  You don’t report what you want to be happening or why you think it’s happening.  That’s not journalism!  Or at least I believe it didn’t used to be.  It is my opinion that we have too many of these kinds of journalists and not enough reporters of news.

Too many people confuse commentators with reporters; opinions with news.  Walter Cronkite once said, "Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as a Bible and Playboy magazine."  But today, the line is too often not clear---if there is a line at all.

(If one thinks that media bias is all paranoia and conspiracy, perhaps reading "Bias: A CBS Insder Exposes How the Media Distort the News" by Bernard Goldberg. Or "Stonewalled..." by Sharyl Attkisson will at least offer some perspective.)

Another key factor is that no one seems interested in finding common ground anymore, or even trying to understand what anyone else is saying.  They seem only to be interested in making their point in any way possible.  Especially if it berates people who don’t buy into their own ideals. They seem only interested in belittling the other person.  As one meme stated, we don’t listen to understand—we listen to reply.

Once, in a disagreement about a particular political philosophy, when it was clear that we were at an impasse, I tried to close it out with the old saying, “Well, we will just have to agree to disagree.”  The other person would not accept that.  “No, but it’s important that you understand why you are wrong!”  And then on he went, rehashing his arguments.  He would not—could not let me disagree.  When I again attempted to simply let it end with us not agreeing, he finally resigned with, “Keith, I hope you will educate yourself better.”  So, you see, the problem was not that I simply had a different view, based on my own research and knowledge.  The problem was that I was not smart enough to see how right he was and come over to the side of enlightenment.  And that’s the problem we have with communication today in a nutshell.

Where does it end?  I am deciding right now to simply no longer fall into the traps.  As much as I would like to straighten out some of these lies, I can now see that it will not end until we choose to make it end.  I cannot change your mind.  I cannot force you to see my side of things with catchy slogans and soundbites and memes.  Nor can I change your mind by belittling you. 

Someone said that social media is the new “front porch” of the old days, when people would talk to their neighbors and friends in their yards.  I don’t believe that’s quite accurate.  The difference is, in those “old days,” people rarely talked about politics and religion, simply because it never solved anything and more often than not strained or even ended relationships.  Today, with the relative anonymity of social media, all restraints and filters are off.  Our front porch conversations with neighbors are usually arguments with people, some of whom we have never met, whom we are happy to vilify and degrade as morons simply because they believe differently than we do…or get their news from a different source than us.

So I’m laying out.  I’m biting my tongue until it bleeds if I have to.  I will continue learning—I will be a learner—I will think myself green…But I will no longer contribute to the problem.  I will not be a part of the slow-but-steady decay of civilization.  If it means I have to, I will unfollow, block, hide, or even unfriend whomever I need to in order to maintain some degree of civility and see the positive. 

That’s my revolution.  My revolution has already started.  For one day, I simply scrolled, unfollowed, blocked, or hid things that would normally make me lose my mind.  At the end of the day, I was amazed at how much less stressed I felt, and how much better my outlook was!

There will be some who will read this and determine that it is over-simplistic and doesn’t recognize the importance of their cause du jour.

Click. Scroll.

There will be some who read this and assume I’m talking about everyone on the other side of the issue.

Click, click.  Scroll, scroll.
I’m gonna be a sunshine guy.  You can keep your clouds.