Monday, March 9, 2020

Your Short Attention Span Is Their Greatest Asset

     One of the reasons politicians seldom keep their promises is their confidence – which has grown as the years have passed – that you won’t remember them. This is in keeping with the ever-shortening attention span of the American public.

     It has been argued that the decline in our attention span has been engineered through the various attractions of mass media and the Internet. While there is ample evidence in this direction, it’s not my immediate focus. What matters most at this time is how that decline is being exploited. Consider the following pair of tweets: the first from California Senator Kamala Harris, the second from investigative journalist Byron York:

@JoeBiden has served our country with dignity and we need him now more than ever. I will do everything in my power to help elect him the next President of the United States.

— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) March 8, 2020

Quoth Twitchy: “Wasn’t Kamala the one who accused Joe Biden of being a racist? That whole riding the bus story? It’s been a while since the first debates but we seem to remember her attacking him over civil rights....Byron York remembers it too.”
Recorded 7 days ago, with hostage-tape production values, Harris frames endorsement of Biden in terms of civil rights–same subject she attacked him on during campaign.

— Byron York (@ByronYork) March 8, 2020

     To swallow Harris’s endorsement as a selfless act of patriotism, you would have to be ignorant of her previous emissions...which is what she’s counting on. Those aware of her previous attacks on Biden’s civil-rights record will grasp that Harris is merely positioning herself for either a Cabinet post or the Democrats’ vice-presidential nomination. But how large is the short-attention-span community and how large is the mindful one?

     In 1984, Orwell included a pair of seemingly minor official announcements from the Party. The first was an announcement that the chocolate ration would be reduced from thirty grams per week to twenty:

     The voice from the telescreen paused. A trumpet call, clear and beautiful, floated into the stagnant air. The voice continued raspingly: ’Attention! Your attention, please! A newsflash has this moment arrived from the Malabar front. Our forces in South India have won a glorious victory. I am authorized to say that the action we are now reporting may well bring the war within measurable distance of its end. Here is the newsflash -’
     Bad news coming, thought Winston. And sure enough, following on a gory description of the annihilation of a Eurasian army, with stupendous figures of killed and prisoners, came the announcement that, as from next week, the chocolate ration would be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty.

     The second was an announcement, made the following day, that “the people” had held demonstrations to thank the Party for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grams:

     For the moment [Winston] had shut his ears to the remoter noises and was listening to the stuff that streamed out of the telescreen. It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grammes a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be reduced to twenty grammes a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours?

     Orwell intended thus to illuminate the importance of the Party’s grip on history: its ability to rewrite the past:

“Who controls the past controls the future.
Who controls the present controls the past.”

     ...made possible by its alteration or destruction of inconveniently countervailing records, and its incarceration and brutalization of anyone who fails to exercise the doublethink required to swallow the Party line.

     Does this help to clarify the absolutely critical importance of keeping the Internet free of government “regulation?”

     It’s been said, and truly, that the Internet’s value is at its “edges:” the nodes hanging off the ends of the wires, rather than the wires, the servers, and the protocols that govern them. The core of that value is not the Internet’s ability to connect persons no matter how widely separated but rather its amazing “memory:” the inability of any central agency to track down all the copies of a digital document or statement once it’s been posted and compel their alteration or destruction. Contemporary search engines amplify the value of that “memory” by making essentially everything ever emitted onto the Net accessible to anyone who can remember an adequate fragment thereof.

     Perhaps a total government usurpation of the Net, complete with pre- and post-emission “gatekeeping” designed to keep “harmful” (i.e., inconvenient for the Omnipotent State or its favored ones) information away from the end user, has become impossible short of dynamiting the root servers. But that end can be approached from more than one direction. If the attention span of the general public can be reduced sufficiently – say, to the point where we cannot form significant long-term memories – what use would there be in lightning-fast access to all the information in the world?

     When power-seekers can win majority allegiance by making any and every imaginable promise, secure in the conviction that they won’t have to follow through because no one will remember what they said, what will have become of “the consent of the governed?”

     So how much of the past week did you spend texting and playing mind-numbing games with your smartphone, eh, Gentle Reader?


Linda Fox said...

When people moved from hard-copy newspapers to electronic sources of news, the ability of the public to check the accuracy, or their perceptions of what they had heard, decreased substantially. Even text read from a screen is not retained as well as that exact same text read on paper. The e-versions of textbooks are neither understood, nor retained as well.

Yes, people will forget, particularly as the Official Media Masters use their access to promote the misrepresentations, errors, and lies to the public. Journalistic integrity is a dead horse - no matter how much they beat on it, she's a-not gonna go.


Most of the time this weekend was spent with the kids, chores, language lessons, attempting to pray and keep Shabbat (attempting - being married to a shiksa doesn't help).

RememberGoliad said...

For those awake enough to pay attention to this concept, it's not so much that they do but that they can, and without a universally-known way for a layman (read that computer idiot) such as myself to know it---to see edit histories, that is.

Screenshots will preserve for me knowing what I saw, but using a screenshot as proof to another of what I saw, can be countered with a snarky "nice photoshop, dude" by another, and while I don't have the knowledge to do such a thing, I know it's do-able and so that sort of attack works, with the only possible response being the one I've adopted: Not giving a flying what another thinks and becoming more and more hermitish as time passes.

Few and far between are those who remember, any more. Sad, but true.