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Friday, November 18, 2016

Presidential Election 2016 and the internet--the real winner

The last year has been difficult to watch, and the last few months even more so. News and quasi-news organizations have been bombarding my email with stories about the people vying for our presidency. It has been anywhere from difficult to completely impossible to screen this information for accuracy. Lies and information taken out of context and repeated until it seems true has been part of both party's rhetoric. The whole field of potential candidates were infected with it before the primary elections.

The emotions have been high, too. By the time the election finally happened on November 8th, we had a comic book villain straight out of the Batman movies running against Satan in female form. The outcome has left people deeply sad and frightened, even people who voted for the winner. There is hope, too, and kindness and gathering together. There is huge uncertainty.

I've been alive for 13 presidential elections, and this one was really different. This is partly because of an increasing gap between rich and poor, fallout of the financial crisis of 2008 and the changing international landscape, but the biggest change has been the growth of our use of the internet and social media.

Most people like to believe that the reason for our recent presidential election results can be found in the thoughts and behaviors of human beings. It feels good, in the face of a frightening and unexpected event to imagine a way that it could have been under our control, that next time we could anticipate it and make significant changes.

As human civilization has evolved, so has our ability to communicate complex ideas. Language, then writing, then printing presses, then telegraph, radio, television and now the internet, links us and allows us to learn from each other and share ideas and feelings and events. With the internet, and now our mobile phones which are ridiculously powerful computers in our pockets, we nearly share a common brain. Even the progressively smaller portion of the population that isn't directly connected via a computer is indirectly connected if they read a newspaper, watch a TV or even talk to a neighbor.

The internet of news is a small part of the entity that is the entire internet. Items that people like to look at rise to the top of any search and appear prominently on Facebook or other sites where people share information. This could be a cute baby dancing, a way to lose weight or a delicious news story, such as a powerful person behaving poorly and getting caught. We will choose to look at these things even if they are out of context, don't work or aren't true, and they will become a larger proportion of what we see. We will be less likely to look at things that are complex, nuanced, and present more than one side of an issue. What we click on is what we get.

There is actually quite a market in made to order "news". Paul Horner was featured in the Washington Post, explaining that the lies he successfully spread via Facebook and other sites around the elections were really just satire and made to be taken as such. But readers believed that people were being recruited and paid $3500 to protest at Donald Trump rallies (he invented this and even created a fake Craigslist advertisement to back it up.) He made money on stories like this, and others such as that the Amish had decided to vote for Trump. Ads on these fake news sites make a good salary for a person with a good imagination. I won't link the stories because that would, in a small way, add to the viral nature of the stories and Paul Horner's livelihood. In fact, by posting a link to the Washington Post article, which links to Paul Horner's stories and his ads, I have contributed to his success, and perhaps the success of fake news in creating misguided popular sentiment.

Humans are amazing. We have created a way to communicate instantly with a group of friends on opposite sides of the earth. But with this we have power to make fiction nearly real, with potentially disastrous consequences. On the medical side of things, I have noticed that the ability to be completely absorbed in communication that requires nothing but small movements of the hands has contributed to an epidemic of diabetes and obesity. Although entertainment that doesn't require the use of resources may be an important aspect of life in a resource stressed world, I don't think we are ready for what we have created. We are more than what we have let ourselves become. We have abilities to connect via touch and smell and eye contact. We care for each other deeply. We have let ourselves become communication nodes made of flesh in a supercomputer which does not have our best interests in mind.

Personally I am being a bit childish about all of this. The internet has let me down. It has sucked up my free time and made my patients fat and has elected people to the country's highest office based at least significantly on information which is not true. I read that we need to take to social media to unite to fight for causes I believe in, and I am questioning that. Facebook is no longer on my phone. I think several times before clicking on links. And I realize that this is a piddly and ineffective response to a problem that is huge and unacceptable. There has been tremendous good that has come out of our ever more powerful abilities to communicate, but presently I am very angry at the internet and I refuse to play.

1 comment:

herbert said...

Reading this is like being bitten... or maybe like finally admitting that those bleeding puncture wounds were something that I didn't undertake to do; rather, that they were done to me.
For three days I simply accepted the outcomes of the elections... trying for that "this, too, shall pass" state... and calmly looking at the "why" (and wherefores) I could find... and believe. Half the eligible nation voted. This was reassuring, in a way, while also being disheartening, for obvious reasons.
At some point Friday I was overtaken by a steady stream of vitriol, coming from.. ME. My heart was determined to express the bottled-up loathing, the disgust, the rage, the bitter disappointment... and then I began to cry. I wasn't sorry. I wasn't angry. I was grief-stricken... for the humans (and perhaps for the impending sense of "collateral damage" that I did foresee, based upon the logical extrapolation of the next four years), for my country, all these "others" who have been 'trained' the same way that Pavlov shaped dog-minds (and responses); by the uninterrupted imprecations of AM "hate-radio", by the entire 'news' media (and the likes of CEOs- like Les Moonves- who could comfortably say that the antics of one candidate might bode ill for the country but it was "great for CBS"), and by preposterous meme-attempts on Facebook & Twitter to promulgate "falsehoods". I cried out of a spiritual weariness... and fell asleep at dusk, which is not my nightowl self, at all.

You feel powerless as your patients gain weight and get puffy around the ankles... and I feel a similar thing, wondering about my daughter, who is too ashamed about her drug habit to make contact, even though she knows that I won't judge her, and only love her. She judges herself... and that breaks my heart. I DO know how you can stand seeing your patients draw in and hunker down, emotionally, and resist doing what they need to do. You have watched, and trained yourself; and you have emotional reserves that you MUST have, in your profession. Yet, you are willing to allow an open hurt to show... to be vulnerable, honest, and... Human. Your "piddly response" to the "huge and unacceptable" is real... and bears up like that Socratic edict- "know thyself". Your response is like the candle in the window... and may it remain there, burning steadily, amid the tumult. I'm a 73 year old hippie grandfather (who is going to start crying again) that cherishes YOUR contribution to the "hive-mind". I love you... and it's late-- and I'm going to sleep soon. ^..^