Wednesday, March 1, 2023

I Saw The Best Minds of My Generation...

...destroyed by social media.

First off, sorry not to post lately - I took a short break and went on a camping trip.  More blog fodder. Why do so many small businesses such as campgrounds, fail to invest in infrastructure and instead take as much cash out of the business as they can and use it to buy depreciating assets like useless monster trucks, jet skis, and four-wheelers?  I am not impressed when the owner of a campground comes roaring up in a $30,000 four-wheeler, but won't bother to fix the broken sink in the restroom.  One represents an squandering of capital, the other an investment in an ongoing concern. You let the business fall apart and eventually people stop coming and it is worth nothing.

But I digress.

It seems in recent times, the world has gone insane due to social media.  Basic concepts that 50 years ago we had all agreed upon, have been thrown out the window.  You know, things like "Communism doesn't work because... humans" or "Nazism isn't just a bad idea, it is a horrific one" or perhaps "Racism and antisemitism are just plain wrong."

We thought these basic problems were solved, particularly after he had vivid demonstrations in real-life to teach us.  But perhaps a new generation has come up, taught that all of that is ancient history.  When I was a kid, they showed old films from World War I, with the Kaiser marching at a rapid clip - because the frame rate of hand-cranked movie cameras was slower and when played back at the "modern" 24 frames-per-second, so everyone in those "olde timey" films looked silly marching along at 1.5 normal speed.

It was pretty grainy color, too.

Of course, today, you can watch those same films on YouTube, frame-rate corrected and even colorized and it is startling how "real" it looks today.  But old Black-and-white films of World War II make them seem like ancient history.  Maybe they have colorized those as well - most I see are still B&W perhaps as an editorial choice to make it look like "ancient history."

When I grew up, we didn't play Cowboys and Indians, but Nazis and G.I.'s - as we had some old military equipment my Dad brought home from the war, including a real Nazi helmet from El Alamein with a neat bullet or grenade hole in it (cool!).  The Nazis always lost.  So World War II seemed like recent history.  Today, I have friends down the street who were born in a Nazi work camp.  But the WW II generation is slipping off the mortal coil rather rapidly and the lessons learned in that era are fading quickly as well.

It seems we forget history pretty quickly.  We forgot all about Vietnam when we invaded Iraq.  Putin forgot all about Afghanistan when he invaded Ukraine.  Sadly, no one really cares or remembers what happened in Cambodia under Pol Pot.  Maybe we have become inured to violence and degradation.  Or maybe, as I speculated before, human beings just go nuts every so often and start killing each other.  I hope to be out of town when that happens.

I mentioned before - and it is no original idea of mine - that each new type of media seems to generate this type of cognitive dissonance.  Whether it is the printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, television, the internet, or social media, people don't seem to be able to handle these new forms of communication - at least at first.  And at first, it seems people are willing to believe almost anything that comes from this newfangled form of media.

I noted before that in the Revolutionary War era right up through the Civil War, pamphleteering was all the rage.  People would publish "anonymous" pamphlets.  Often, these pamphlets were not unlike the type of "news" put out by Infowars or Tucker Carlson.  The publishers published over-the-top outright lies about their opponents but like today, didn't expect people to take it too seriously - after all, it is just like political humor and can't you take a joke, bro?

So they put out pamphlets about Lincoln saying horrible things about him.  Maybe most people took that sort of thing with a grain of salt, but I am sure some others (particularly the intellectually challenged) took it to heart, particularly if it aligned with their preconceived notions about the world.  And even those who don't believe the B.S. are aware of it, like background noise.  Say, maybe there is something to this "Hunter Biden's Laptop" thing, although like Trump Indictments, it seems to waver and disappear into the ether whenever you try to reach out and hold it concretely.

Over time, though, I think people became more skeptical of print media.  The newspaper magnates were know to have biased views and you bought a paper based on whether its views jibed with yours - which is why even small cities had two, three, or more hometown newspapers.  But people were aware of "Yellow Journalism" and sensationalism and tabloid journalism.  You don't read the New York Post to be informed, you read it for entertainment value.  So the power of print may have faded away over time.  Probably the fact no one reads anymore added to its demise.

Which brings us to things like radio and television.  Again, we see the rise of the great dictators following the popularization of radio.  David Sarnoff, a young Russian immigrant, took radio from is nascent two-way form (like the CB radio of the 1970s) and invented broad-casting and the concept of the nationwide network.  One transmitter, many receivers.  One voice, many listeners.   Audio communication spoon-feeds ideas to people at a rate determined by the speaker, not the listener.  Unlike print, you can't skim or skip over pages to cut to the chase.  And this is why I don't listen to "podcasts" - they are a bunch of hooey.  You try to listen to one, hoping to get to "the good part" but they just blather on, apparently loving to hear their own voices, and you keep listening, hoping for that hit of dopamine.

I mentioned before that we crossed Kansas once and the only radio was Rush Limbaugh on AM.  He kept talking about how he was going to say all this great stuff but never got around to saying it.  He was talking about talking.  Talking but not saying anything.  We turned it off.  He was social media before social media - people kept listening hoping for a hit of dopamine.  Or maybe they could call in and get on the air and say, "Mega-dittos, Rush!"

Television of course amplified the effect of radio.  You can edit any piece of video to show what you want to show - often just by clipping off the start and end points.  Want to show an example of "Police Brutality?"  You just take the video and cut off the beginning part where the "perp" argues with the police, reaches for an object, tries to wrestle with the cops and makes a grab for a cop's gun.  You leave in the part where he is slammed to the ground and then add captions saying he was a good "kid" (age 30) and was just walking his dog or whatever.   This is not to say police brutality doesn't exist - it does.  But you can manufacture a controversy (and a lawsuit) with a cleverly edited video.  And since most bystanders don't start recording until shit has already gone down, half the editing is done by default.

Video can create a false narrative.  Yet we believe (or believed) that it would do the opposite - expose the truth and make everyone agree on what happened and see reason.  I guess people felt the same way about radio, until people like Father Coughlin arrived on the radio.  Funny thing, he started spewing a lot of nonsense toward the end of his career, including antisemitism and they "canceled" him.  Nothing old is ever new again.

And I suppose when print first came out, you saw everything in "black and white" and thought that would create a truth that everyone would agree on - writings would teach everyone the truth and superstition, rumor, and conspiracy theories would melt away.  Yet, printings like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or Mein Kampf illustrated that lies had long legs on them - perhaps longer than the truth.

So it was with the Internet.  We thought this great new form of media would liberate us, and it ended up enslaving us.  We have access to the greatest database in the history of mankind, and yet we debase ourselves by wallowing in the worst sort of dreck - conspiracy theories, lies, outright lies, innuendo, gossip, and speculation.  Send Nudes!

Social Media seemed at first to be a friendly thing.  Indeed, they talked about "friending" people, right off the bat!  So you would hook up with family and friends and communicate on a daily even hourly basis.  And we realized very quickly why it was better to see and meet people only occasionally.  It wasn't helpful to know what all your friends and family members were thinking, doing, eating, or whatever, 24 hours of the day.  Facebook was bad enough, Twitter was even worse, as it reduced "Social Networking" to bathroom stall graffiti.

I think a lot of people saw through this right away.  And over time, I think more and more people will as well.  The younger generation - the reviled Millennials and Generation-Z, were born into this shit, pretty much.  These are people who got their first smart phone in Kindergarten.  They learn early on, that not much you read on that little glowing box is actually true.

As a kid, I thought this was an institution, not something novel.

I was raised on television.  Saturday morning cartoons, with a bowl of Captain Crunch, was a weekly ritual in our house (that and Dad grousing that we were rotting our brains out and would go blind sitting so close to the set and why didn't we go outside and get some fresh air and play?).  I didn't realize at the time that it was a recent invention in 1967 when I was seven years old.  Tje advertisements were all aimed at me, and I begged and screamed to get my parents to buy the things advertised on television.

And I realized that the television lied to me.  One incident in particular still sticks with me today.  Chocolate Quik had an ad where they said it made "little chocolate explosions!" in your milk - accompanied by a doctored film showing just that - the amusement of a boy nearby.  I wanted exploding chocolate milk too!  My mother said it was just fake, but I insisted - and maybe she gave in realizing it was a teaching moment.  And sure enough, when you put two spoonfuls of the vile chocolate powder in the milk, it just sank to the bottom, like sludge.  Maybe it was defective?  I really wanted to believe!  We all do.

It seems a lot of people today are still raging true-believers, too.  They watch television or look at social media and swallow every sort of nonsense, hook, line, and sinker.  The commercial stuff is bad enough - it just empties their pockets.  But the "social" in social media has devolved into social warfare, where people are encouraged not to just disagree with their neighbors but hate them and perhaps go to war with them.

And maybe the commercial part isn't just emptying their pockets.  A 40-something man loses a chunk of money on speculative investments he read about online.  Rather than have a Chocolate Quik moment and realize they have been lied to, he doubles-down his bet by blaming his downfall on social issues.  Transgender Jews formed a cabal to steal his money!  Bring down the social structure!  Democracy is no longer worth saving!  It is appealing to believe that nothing bad that ever happens to you in your life is remotely your fault.

We have lost an entire generation, it seems, to social media.  And it isn't that they have gone down one rabbit hole, but a plethora of them.  Sure, the far-right with its neo-Nazi, antisemtic, white supremacy, MAGA election-denying, anti-vaxxing, conspiracy theory nonsense is the worst of it - and seems to draw in the largest segment of lost souls.  But there are similar bottomless cubby-holes online for Al-Qaeda wanna-bees or Brides of ISIS.   There are some younger people who, after making a slew of bad choices in life (student loans, shitty grades, pointless degrees, crappy jobs, low work effort, drug use, etc.) decide that only a Communist takeover of the world would make their life complete.  Like I said, it is appealing to believe that nothing bad that ever happens to you in your life is remotely your fault.

It is also appealing to be part of a "movement" even if the movement isn't moving you anywhere. People like to subsume themselves to a greater cause - making a noble sacrifice for their country, their God, or their Führer.  "There are greater issues at stake!" the stoner living in Mother's basement says between bong hits.  Maybe he'll take the AR-15 his Uncle bought him and hitch a ride to Kenosha this weekend.

I know this because I met many such dudes (and they are usually male) in my lifetime, particularly when I was younger.  These are people who could solve all the world's problems but couldn't balance their own checkbooks.  Sounds a lot like Lenin and Trotsky!  Maybe there is a pattern here - if you can't get your own shit together, then go out and save the world.  Externalize.

But as I noted before, the greatest deed you can do as a human being and as a part of a civilization is to indeed look after your own needs first.  It is not "selfish" but selfless, as you are not creating a burden to the rest of society.  Believe me, the world has enough agitators and "Community Organizers" to spare.  We don't need another one.  If people looked after their own shit, well, the world would be a better place and oddly enough, a lot of our social "problems" would be solved.  What creates social problems is when people give up and blame their problems on "society" - which is an easy cop-out.

The question remains as to whether the effect of Social Media is temporary or permanent.  It is hard to say - the printing press was invented in 1436, but of course, there was not a lot of printed matter to go around as not a lot of people could read at the time.  It wasn't until education became more universal that printed matter had more of an impact.  It isn't just a coincidence that slave States forbid teaching slaves how to read.  Powerful stuff, that printer's ink - intoxicating, too.

Each new advance in media seems to occur on a shorter and shorter cycle, and I think our infatuation and disassociation created by each form of media is shorter as well.  There are still some hardcore people out there on Facebook who are willing to believe whatever "Meme" comes down the pike - and I doubt they will ever change.  But many of them are quite old as well.

For a lot of people, the insurrection of January 6th was  Chocolate Quik moment.  I noted before some friends of mine discreetly removed their Trump yard sign that day.  A lot of people who were willing to "look the other way" turned away in disgust after that event.  Maybe "owning the libs" was a fun game to play, but overthrowing the government was a step too far.  Political humor suddenly didn't seem so funny, particularly when it was mean-spirited or encouraged violence.

But there are still hard-core adherents, of course,  Someone had to vote for "Our Miss Margie" Green or Lara Boobert.  People hang on every word of Ms. AOC - "Did you just hear what she said about DeSantis?  She destroyed him!" - or some such drivel, reducing the governing of our nation to professional wrestling match trash-talking.

Time will tell, but I am not sure that "culture wars" are enough to boost DeSantis or the GOP in general into office.  The results of the last election cycle should be enough to demonstrate that.  What little power the GOP has has been squandered with pointless grandstanding "investigations" or at a State level, introducing ludicrous "bills" most of which never see the light of day, but disturbingly a few actually do.

I think, by 2024, people will be less concerned with drag shows (which are on television for chrissake!) and punishing Disney, than with bread-and-butter economic issues.   That is, of course, unless the GOP can successfully blame the cratering economy on drag queens.

And you know what?  Some folks in America would believe that!