Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I Blame the Internet

I’ve been thinking about a lot of the divisiveness and polarization I’ve seen lately. I’ve been thinking about a lot of the strong opinions…and downright weird opinions I’ve seen lately. I’ve thinking about the marked increase of people believing weird conspiracy theories lately. And I have one thing to blame for it.

The Internet.

Don’t get me wrong…I love the Internet. For me it’s the library that never closes. I can go there to look up anything and usually get a decent answer…even if it’s one that I wasn’t expecting. It’s the mall that never closes…and that has older or specialty items that most brick and mortar stores don’t want to keep in stock. And it’s a way to keep in contact with people who are hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away from me. But for all my love of the Internet, it’s caused some very serious problems over the past few decades, which have led to not only our current state of political polarization, but the whole anti-vaxxer controversy.

And it’s time we talked about it.

The good thing about the Internet is that it gives everyone a voice. The bad thing about the Internet is that it gives everyone a voice…even people who should just keep their mouths shut because they don’t know what they’re talking about, or they’re jerks. Or both. If you’ve looked at the comments page for any magazine, newspaper, or online forum, you’ll see what I mean.

It used to be that because of space limitations, the “letters to the editor” section only printed a small sampling of the letters, and those from nutcases were weeded out. But now, with the “unlimited space” of the Internet most of those online forums are letting everything through unless it’s been specifically flagged as abusive. And this is a problem for many reasons…not the least of which is that sometimes bad information can outshout good. Or even allowing bad information to show up in the first place lends it an air of possible legitimacy, which it doesn’t deserve.

Perhaps it’s “too much trouble” to moderate these forums, but maybe those in charge could take a page from the print side, and just limit the amount of feedback they publish, and only show a sampling of what they got…an intelligent sampling.

Here’s the other problem…it used to be that if you had some whacked-out conspiracy theory, if you had some piece of misinformation or disinformation that you were spewing, or if you were just way out there in general; you were surrounded by enough “normal” people that they could talk you down from where you were with facts. Facts that came from places we all agreed were reliable sources. But now, the Internet has provided these people with easy access to the other people out there who share their opinion or believe their misinformation; and once you’ve got a group of 10,000 on the Internet, you feel a sense of legitimacy.

I used to joke that the situation is so bad that you could probably find a group that thinks that picking your nose and eating it not only isn’t gross, but that shares recipes. This was a joke until in checking this out, I found numerous links to articles suggesting that this actually wasn’t so bad after all. On the more serious side, I’ve heard of “support” websites for people with anorexia and bulimia that give them tips on how to hide their symptoms from “busybodies.”

And what constitutes a reliable source? Is it simply one that agrees with your already-held opinion? Is it the one with the best graphics? With software like Photoshop, anyone can easily and cheaply create a professional-looking graphic and put it out there as “truth”; and people will believe it without taking the time to double-check it…or won’t believe the fact-checkers because they’re “obviously biased” and “are part of the conspiracy.”

I said earlier that sometimes I get an answer that I’m not expecting. That means one that didn’t fit in with what I had originally believed. When that happens, what do I do? Well, I check for more information. I check to find out if this new information is really true.

But…the Internet also allows us to only look for “sources” that “prove it false.” It allows us to back further and further into our little corners, without considering that maybe we’re wrong and that the other person might have a point.

The result has been the divisiveness and polarization we’ve seen in the years leading up to this election season.

I said in the beginning that I blame the Internet. But in reality, the Internet is only a tool…one that can be used well or foolishly, for good or for evil. In reality, I blame laziness and our inability to be challenged by another opinion…our inability to accept the fact that we may be wrong.

Or as Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Friday, October 21, 2016

Decent Roommates, Falling in Love, and Elections

Every time I hear someone complain that they don’t feel like voting because they’re not excited by either presidential candidate, I don’t know whether to sigh, laugh, or just smack them upside the head with a 2x4. Same thing when I hear people complain about not knowing how these two candidates (and there are only two viable ones) got nominated.

Let’s start with the second issue first.

Those candidates that you aren’t thrilled with got nominated because a majority of the people in those parties voted for them. Pure and simple. Maybe they weren’t your first choice, but they were someone else’s; and they were the first choice of enough “someone elses” that they got the nomination and your person didn’t.

Now let’s move on to the first issue.

When I think about this, I think of the roughly 35 people I lived with in the 14 years between leaving my home in East Orange back in 1974 and getting married in 1988. Now, if 35 people seems like a lot of turnover, consider the fact that if we’re talking about a three-bedroom apartment, that means only 18 *sets* of roommates over 14 years. But that leaves out summer subletters and a few *four* bedroom houses…not to mention roommates who were replaced because they graduated or spent a semester abroad. When you consider that, I didn’t do so badly. I even kept one set of housemates for *two years*.

Why do I think about the 35 or so people I lived with between 1974 and 1988? Because some of you are looking at choosing a president more like choosing a spouse or live-in lover than choosing a roommate. And let’s face it…the president is more like a roommate.

I don’t have to be all excited over a potential new roommate, I don’t have to be in love with a potential new roommate. They just have to be acceptable. They have to be clean, pay their rent on time, and not be a putz. That’s about it.

Over those 14 years, I’ve had some really good roommates and a few really bad ones. I’ve had a roommate who we asked to leave, and roommates who made me feel unwelcome in the house that had been mine for two years before I invited them to move in. There were people who I was thrilled to be getting as roommates, or to be moving in with; and there were people who were “good enough for the moment.”

And except for those few cases where either we asked someone to leave, or I decided to leave myself, they all pretty much worked out.

And then I met the Best Roommate Ever.

But, as I said before, in choosing a president, we’re not choosing a spouse or a live-in lover, we’re choosing a roommate for the next four years. We don’t have to be totally “in love” with the candidate. All that’s necessary is that they pay their bills, are clean, and aren’t a putz. So maybe your first choice candidate didn’t get the nomination.

Suck it up, deal, and pick a roommate who’s not a total putz!

Otherwise, one might be assigned to you who is.