Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

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Social Media’s Biggest Lie


This time it was the news that made the news. This time, instead of hearing about the killer’s social media from an investigation, we heard it in real time from the killer himself. He made social media the very essence of his crime.

I wondered how a psychopath had a social media network. Then it all came back to me. News reports of senseless killings over many decades. And how, until now in the age of social media, all those killers were described as “loners.”

Maybe it began with Columbine (April 20, 1999). Although the influence of social media wasn’t as obvious there because it was a shared psychosis and seen as an extreme folie à deux. Maybe, but they were loners.

However, since Columbine, the extensive usage of social media has been the common element the news has given us in lieu of the more cryptic term, loner. Yet, for all this data we have learned nothing about how these disturbed people became out-and-out psychopaths.

Instead, we are left with a pile of meaningless social media connections. As though there was some understanding of the actions of these psychopaths that could be gained by exploring their social media movements.

Far too many people seem unaware that we become human only though interaction with other humans. This interaction is not only what makes us human, it’s what keeps us human.

It would also seem that most people are unable to distinguish the unreality of social media’s virtual interactions from actual face-to-face, one-on-one human interaction. The news media acts as though social media gives loners real connections.

What nonsense! It’s their actions, not their social media connections that identifies people as loners. It’s their lack of real human interactions that labels them. But what is real for such disturbed people?

They each have their own reality. The rest of the world calls it virtual but that has no effect since the disturbed think it’s real—just as they believe their grievances justify the use of weapons.

Social media is “… the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” —Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why we experience more from technology and less from each other.

Disturbed people without real friends are as likely to harm themselves as others. Using social media to deceive ourselves into thinking virtual is actual human contact will end in disaster.

We could avoid some future disasters if we remove the possibility of interrupting live broadcasts. This seven-second or profanity delay has been available for decades.

The NRA’s big lie is anyone can own a gun without any need for proper training. That is the same as saying any idiot can use one, which turns out to be true. Using it correctly is another story.

Social media’s biggest lie is that virtual friends can help with real problems. Guns don’t solve personal problems, people do. That is, real people, not virtual people.

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Reality Losing Ground


Humans have always lived in two worlds: the real and the unreal. In the beginning, for both the species and the individual, the unreal was largely confined to dreams. Learning to distinguish the real world from the dream world was, and is, a first step in becoming human.

That’s how it was for millions of years. Then came storytelling, which become myth, legend, and history. Some of it was about reality, some was symbolic (representing reality)—and some was fiction. Much of it was a mixture of all three.

Humans have always had the option to prefer the unreal to the real, even to impose their unreality on other’s reality. What’s different today is that the unreal is everywhere and everyday more people prefer it to the real.

And more people will do so tomorrow, because the unreal is rapidly gaining ground on the real. If you doubt the advance of the unreal, just look at the hype surrounding 3D. The unreal has become so much closer to the real, it has a new name distinct from the word “real.” Today the word is virtual.

While it may be gaining, virtual is still a long way from reality. Its similitude is almost exclusively visual. It succeeds because of the amazing human ability to suspend belief in reality. Dreams, to take the opening example, also feel real as we experience them.

To many movies may appear realistic, but there are no odors. War on screen may look real, but there is no stench. There are no breezes in outdoor scenes; no heat or cold; and gravity is just clues from the director. Even the sounds are divorced from reality: stomachs don’t rumble and bowels don’t break wind—unless a particular sound is exaggerated to “heighten reality.”

Yet, it’s no wonder more and more people prefer the virtual. There they have far more control and it’s entertainment—so they happily ignore the difference. But the fact remains we have to live in the real world, and immersion in the virtual may undermine that ability. How long can they ignore the difference and preserve their humanity?

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