If you’re like me, and why wouldn’t you be, your consciousness has changed over the last few decades.
You remember a time, when news was a newspaper, or perhaps, a 24 hour cable TV station. CNN to be precise. There was exactly one of these stations. Cable TV exposed you to other news shows and stations, but you probably never watched them. PBS and National public radio may or may not have been part of your info diet. Maybe you are one of the ten people that watched CSPAN.
If you were an internet pioneer, you might have done IRC (look it up; it’s real time chat) or usenet (topic based forums).
You who remember a life before cell phones. You who remember pagers.
How did we think back then?
In a word, differently.
There’s a part of the human mind delighted by novelty, by chance, by gambling, also known as the periodic reinforcement schedule, which is a fancy way of saying you do something a bunch of times and sometimes but not all times you get the result you want. I recall a joke, about a drunk plunging quarters into a candy bar vending machine at a casino, yelling at someone interrupting, “don’t stop me, can’t you see I’m on a roll?” The drunk is so drunk he doesn’t get that he isn’t winning; he’s just buying something.
So, our social media, our email applications, our messaging applications, the 24 hour news cycle, all plug into this.
Our consciousness is fragmented. We aren’t winning.
You’ve probably seen the headline, if you haven’t read the story, and that’s a problem, too, that click bait fake news consumption surpassed the consumption of real news from real news sources in the days before Trump’s apparent electoral college win. The clickbait journalism model represents the ground floor of the race to the bottom of the forth estate.
So the most wealthy and powerful nation on Earth will now be ruled by a climate denier. His first appointment is a vicious criminal anti-semite being roundly praised by the KKK and the Neo-nazis that we have been told not to worry too much about by the many Trump voters who seemed to enjoy his melody, while paying little or no attention to the words in the songs he sang.
If you’re like me, at some point, the news became an addiction, an obsession, something you checked constantly, because with smart phones, you could. Perhaps like me you often read actual journalism, so you knew things. You knew that Iraq didn’t attack us on 911, before the war, and you knew there would be no WMD, because you’d read the reports by the UN arms inspectors. So many things you knew, and know.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t know those things and act on that knowledge. But I think the reality our information technology is now at odds with fundamental mental hygiene.
I would like to sit behind a firewall that batched my information in ways that made sense for a sane and productive life. Short of tornado warnings, local shooting events, and amber alerts, there is no need to become aware of every outrage on the planet the minute it occurs. I’m reminded of pioneers of the atomic age poisoning themselves with radioactive materials, because, they were presumed to be safe. We are the pioneers of the singularity, of the age of pure information, and a very large minority of voters have just accidentally selected a man who thinks global warming is a Chinese hoax as president.
Somehow, we have poisoned ourselves.
Not sure what to do about this, but here’s my short term plan:
- Maintain my subscription to the NYT.
- Only read news at the end of my work day.
- Only consult social media while standing up my workstation. Avoid it entirely as much as possible. Set distribution to friends only. Puzzle out what to do about an author platform later.
- Read books. Library books. Paper books I buy. E-books. Listen to books. Walk. Listen to music. Think.
- Donate money to groups to protect targeted populations. Planned Parenthood. ACLU. Southern Poverty Law Center.
- Attend non-violent protests. Periodically call my representatives. Vote in all elections.
- Wear an array of identifiers that mark me as a safe place. So far, I have a Black Lives Matter pin and the safety pin. I’ll be adding more icons in the days and weeks ahead. These markers do not make me feel better. My demographic has allowed a horrific thing to happen. I don’t get to feel like a decent person for at least four years. Perhaps longer.
- Do my work.
- Abstain, to the degree I am able, from the self-congratulatory liberal echo chamber.
- Attempt to rewire my brain to be more like the brain I had in my twenties, which didn’t ache to check a series of glowing buttons on my pocket computer / tracking device every five minutes.
I’ve done this once before, but gradually got sick again, like an alcoholic who starts up again, only drinking one glass of wine with dinner. Then two. Then a bottle. Then two.
I’m gonna live a life with more individual conversations. Less holding forth to small audiences of like minding people generating micro-payments to a giant corporation.
Feel free to chime in below, on how you plan to change your life, in this new world we find ourselves in.
I want to know!