Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Internet stream

Pretty often I wish America could return to the good old days of network neutrality and ‘equal time’ to all viable candidates in an election. 

Now we have Citizens’ United where corporations and the One Percent can spend their millions to discredit opponents just so they can get more influence… 

Oh, sorry.  That happens now and then.  The idea that corporations are people who can direct elections then influence who they get elected gives me such heartburn sometimes it just burbles up, you know? 

What I meant to say was that in this new electronic era where there are so many sources for information it absolutely wears me out reading and watching everything that gets pushed my way online, on television, in ‘fricking movie theaters, for Pete’s sake — along highways, and right there in your pocket or purse on that very convenient mobile device one can communicate on, and, of course, on which retailers can reach you while you are shopping.  

Indeed, I find the dumpage of data we all put up with day in day out a real violation of my time.  I’ve got to tell you, I don’t answer the phone much anymore.  I’m usually in the middle of something, and by golly, that’s what I’d like to keep doing right then.  If somebody needs me, feel free to leave a message.  I’m not very good at waiting to see who called, but more often than not its a robo call and no message is left.    

I respect those friends who tell me they have deliberately limited their screen time for emotional reasons.  The lovely Cindy Lou has said for years, after reading the editorial section in the Dayton Daily News, ‘You know, I really don’t like people very much.’  Actually, she used stronger language, but I wouldn’t want you to give the wrong impression of Cindy Lou. 

Okay, so after this personal tirade, I realize that we ain’t going back to no 1960 when we saw a vice-president sweat on television and lost the election.  The more rocks we turn over in the internet stream, the more varied sources we find.  I am sure that in the old days white separatists and the Klan did well enough distributing newspapers and flyers to promote their worldview.  I remember seeing a KKK regional ‘newspaper’ in grade school, an issue that on page 1 compared the cranial capacity of apes to black folks.  But the truth is, I didn’t see many ‘anti-stuff’ publications when I was growing up because those groups didn’t know how to find me.  At least I think so.  Nowadays extreme points of view get equal billing on the internet via interesting and engaging websites and social media posts.   

I can tell you this:  My grandkids have a much easier time finding absolutely anything on the internet whenever they want.  They do, indeed, impress me.  And that’s what concerns me as a grandparent.

My problem is that with all the stuff out there, how do young people learn how to sift through what they find, and how do they evaluate it?  In 60 seconds I can locate on my computer specific data that answers a question in a variety of ways.  How do I assess what to believe?  And heavens:  How do we teach the kids?  Torre and Alex and Ellie and Noah are going to have to assess what is right, wrong, good, bad, just okay, and absolutely excellent in a very short amount of time.  

And if they just go for the first hit, then what?  What bad could come of that?  Pick one.  No need to look any further.  

I could tell them what I do to answer a question these days.  Personally, I’m comfortable with checking at Wikipedia first for an overview of a subject, then visiting a few of the article’s links to see how content holds up.  Kids will be taught techniques to evaluate sources, I am sure, but having been a teacher for thirty+ years, my experience is that many, many students will take the easiest path provided.  If the first couple hits on a subject are unsavory, I’m afraid that’s what the kid will use as a resource.  That’s what the student will learn.  Flowing water finds the easiest path. 

Truth is, I always figured the universe of acceptable facts would get clearer as civilization grew older and more mature.  And as a country, when we realized that social security, Medicare, fair wages for middle class workers, affordable education, taxes that pay for needed infrastructure, and environmental protections were good for us all, Americans would be stepping all over ourselves getting the right programs in place for the benefit of the people.  

But as we have learned, that not how it goes.  Who needs to help citizens requiring health insurance?  That’s just big government.  Screw it.  If people go broke tending a sick kid, that’s a family’s problem, not the government that represents them. 

Shoot, the Republican controlled house just voted for the 50th time the other day to destroy the Affordable Health Care, better known as Obamacare, even though tens of thousands of Americans are better served under its protection over just the last few months.  

How about working for a health care fix?  Not so much either.  Surely the GOP can’t have a President from the other side of the aisle have political success.  The GOP mantra: cut assistance to those people who need it most because it’s the Christian thing to do — folks should stand up on their own — while doing nothing to cut government welfare given to farmers, the oil industry, and other multi-million dollar organizations.  

The idea that groups can pick and choose ‘facts’ that fit their worldview, while the majority of specialists in the field see it another way, sure sounds like a path to bad outcomes for generations to come.  

Surely my two daughters were imbued with my value system as they grew up.  That’s good.  But the world was simpler then.  

Now, with so many ways of hearing about so much alternative reasoning, how do we get kids to learn a reasonable way to think, using the accumulated wealth of the ages to make the right decisions?  

I wish I had an answer.  I surely don’t.  

Today’s elder ideas: The good thing about science is it’s true whether you believe it or not. 
Neil deGrasse Tyson

We are entitled to our own opinion. We are not entitled to our own facts.
Sen. Patrick Moynihan

image:  My Mac at Cumberland this winter.