Feb 3

Standard

My first thought in reading the pieces for this week was that these are all strategies that everybody needs to apply to the rhetoric surrounding this upcoming election. The amount of unverified and unsupported claims and flat out bullshit spouted by not just the candidates but by tons of people in the media in staggering. I know who I’m thinking of, but that isn’t exactly the point here. More importantly in this context, what we’re talking about in general is the need for people to examine their sources. To think critically. Actually, what the combined list of readings for this week really points to, alarmingly, is the need for people to be reminded to think critically. Excuse me, sir? My colleagues and I in this field got together, and it’s looking like you’re out here just swallowing whole every single thing you see online. Please stop. I didn’t think that this habit of taking for granted that everything you see is true was a new thing. I thought it already had a name. I thought it was called being gullible. You might say that people of my general age grew up in a time when we got to mess around with computer and the internet and learn their ways, making us predisposed to have strong “bullshit detectors” and that would certainly be true. I spent way too much time on my family’s computer during my teenage years. Any computer really, wherever I could get time on one. My friends and my classmates and total strangers and I spent a lot of that time exploring. We directed each other to things of shared interest, conferred with one another with varying degrees of privacy, schemed and planned and chatted and speculated, and sometimes tried to trick each other. We’d use new or fake accounts to impersonate someone or invent a totally new identity, always to a different end but always inherently with the intent to deceive. Not in a scary murderer or catfish way, but as a way of play. The same way kids ask each other to join the PEN15 Club or ask them to pronounce I-C-U-P. Like a knock-knock joke or a jump scare. Setting up your friends, messing with them. Of course some people are worse than others and do and have used the internet and anonymity to do awful things, but that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m getting at is the need, as a navigator of this communication-scape, to evaluate everything that came your way. Every invitation, every declaration, (especially of love, those were dangerous [and mean]) every fact(oid). Everything. Because it could all be somebody else messing with you before the big reveal at school the next day. Over time, the skills, or not quite skills but ways of being (literacy is probably the right word) turned into something incomparably valuable in terms of living and working in a world that has turned increasingly toward digital networked everything. But this doesn’t mean that myself and all the animals I went to high school with should be the only people who know how to use the internet. All those little tricks that I mentioned before, the schoolyard games, happened before any of us knew anything about the internet, and for generation before that. Ever heard a joke about a guy having a bridge to sell you? The central premise here is gullibility. Somebody believing something, without credible evidence, that they shouldn’t. One of the readings mentioned the author’s daughter and a conversation (probably embellished from real life, if not entirely contrived for the purpose of making this exact point, mind you) about how the internet is different from a library book because it is unreliable. I would argue against that point. Maybe in a time when everyone had a sunnier impression of the world in general it was thought that people in publishing could be depended on to tell the truth without an angle. But even with the vetting process that we all hope (perhaps naively and largely with no actual evidence or experiential knowledge of our own [think about it]) goes into publishing a book, its a personally ill-conceived and distinctly unacademic strategy to believe everything you read in a book without corroborating even well-argued claims with other sources. Therefore, double checking to make sure the website you’re reading isn’t some new skill that I picked up because I lucked into being born in the 80s. It’s just the natural extension of a skill we’re all supposed to have learned in life to the realm of web publishing. Critical thinking and close reading and problem solving are all things we’re supposed to have been taught in school, and should have learned to apply to different situation in our lives. Granted, somebody who isn’t familiar with how websites work might not necessarily have the tools and the literacy to know how to go about vetting a source like that, and that is where the one reading from the Salon.com editor is really useful. I’m sorry if this is getting a little ranty. Talking about detecting bullshit has really drawn out a lot of frustration I feel like every day of my life. I’m done now.

 

-Matt

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