Monday, March 30, 2020

Quickies: Too “Informed” Too Fast

     It’s still rather early, I didn’t get much sleep, and I’m coping with a fair amount of pain, but duty calls with an iron voice...and an observation that deserves wider reflection:

     People should know better by now, yet they seem to fall for the hype every time—including many conservatives. The promise of the tech age and the ubiquity of smartphones and the internet was that it would arm people with relevant information and rational courses of action. Rather, it has done the opposite—magnifying doubts and fears about everything and everyone.

     In most cases, the only thing that information technology has done is cause people to become less tethered to reality. Screens now replace people’s senses, and the algorithms embedded in social media do people’s thinking for them.

     The author, Auguste Meyrat, is talking about public reactions to the Wuhan virus and developments in its propagation and remediation. While the virus itself is a problem of note, the problem Meyrat cites above is also significant.

     Yes: our senses, and information propagated by pre-Internet / pre-smartphone means, can mislead. However, the new informational realm, with its continuous “news cycle” and utter ubiquity, can do that plus instigate surges and panics. That danger was less before the current era simply because the pre-digital mechanisms were less prompt and (dare I say it) less efficient.

     While we are capable of turning it off, few choose to do so for very long.

     There’s already been a lot of talk about the effect of the smartphone on the cohesion of the microscopic societies of our families. My opinions are on record. The larger question of whether today’s hyper-intensified communications media are destabilizing macroscopic society is harder to address.

     I’m certainly not going to advocate being less informed. But leavening our communications gestalt with plenty of direct interaction with others seems imperative. The stubbornly persistent characteristics of “real life” are a sovereign antidote for fast-moving rumors, wild theories, and ominous speculations that can knock our thinking caps askew.

     Just now, owing to “social distancing” – which really must end soon if we’re going to have an economy and a society worth having after all this is over – it’s hard to get even a dollop of the “real life” I’ve prescribed. Indeed, our “real lives” are what the “social distancing” regimen is intended to thwart...and in that lies a seed that could easily blossom into a conspiracy theory of breadth, depth, and power. Once again, it’s time to call the Buddha macro:

     Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it – no matter if I have said it! – except it agree with your own reason and your own common sense. – Siddhartha Gautama, a.k.a. the Buddha


pc-not said...

Thanks for the link to Meyrat's analysis, Fran. The comment section is especially interesting.

Linda Fox said...

I have to agree that much of the imposed restrictions are not so much for our benefit, but to keep us separated, and - from their viewpoint - neutralized.

Thank God for Blogs, Social Media, and Video/Audio Chat/Podcasts. It all makes up the Dissident Media (that would be a great name for a group blog).

I'm trying to think of this time as Prep - personal, physical, and mental. I'm working to clear the decks of the things that have been holding me back from full participation. Also, have you noticed that the federal government, by Trump's direction, is using this crisis as a way of:
- Building up strategic supplies - medical, oil reserve, etc.
- Removing regulations, and shoring up American production of essential items.
- Neutering the opposition
- Cooperating sufficiently with the Leftists that he tamps down further attempts to unseat him

If I were the conspiracy type, I might ask whether the current crisis, by keeping the Elite from meeting, is being used to undercut effective opposition - for me, that would be a plus. I don't see Trump as a dictator nor power-hungry; I expect that he will maneuver the Left to explicitly remove power after the crisis is over, which would prevent another Obama from governing with "a pen and executive orders". They will do it to spite Trump. We will all benefit from keeping that power out of the hands of Leftists.

Linda Fox said...

As far as media increases fear, it is a double-edged sword:

For the fool, it increases his foolishness
For the frightened, it increases his fear
For the wise, it increases his knowledge
For the brave, it leads to greater courage

It all depends on the input, what the output will be.

Paul Bonneau said...

"I’m certainly not going to advocate being less informed."

Well, why not? :-)

"The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors."
-- Thomas Jefferson