Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Technology and political hysteria

Photo by Ben Margot for AP

One obvious downside to having so many people linked in on the internet: They now have the means to be dumb and hysterical faster than ever before. People using a cell phone or a tablet can in effect quickly become part of a mob, spreading rumors and misinformation electronically.

Computer technology is inevitably just another way for people to be neurotic, always in touch with others and/or the information/misinformation grid. I often see people pushing their infants in strollers and/or walking their dogs, completely ignoring them while they send and receive messages. What happened to Be Here Now?
At McAllister/Divisadero a few years ago, I saw people at the four corners of the intersection talking on cell phones and/or punching in messages on phones. is already trying to debunk all the rumors and misinformation on the Boston bombing. Salon has posted a worst-reactions-to-the-bombing list. David Sirota hopes the bomber turns out to be a white American, which would make it so much better! There are links to sites where you can learn how to make a pressure cooker bomb, including an al Qaeda newsletter.

Tim Redmond at the Bay Guardian admits he has nothing much to say about the bombing ("It's hard to know what to say about the Boston Marathon bombings..."), but he goes on to say it anyhow, along with an opportunity to score an unconvincing political point against the drone strikes.

A comment to Redmond's post:

This kind of thing happens in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan every day. Why aren't we all shook up about that? The only difference with Boston is that it shatters our arrogance and our illusions of invulnerability. It happened to us instead of someone else. Why don't we get upset about those that die from texting or drunk driving here on any given day? Why don't we get upset about those Americans that die on any given day because they couldn't afford proper health care? Where's the outrage over those lives taken by gun violence in this country every day? (Yes, I ask that as a responsible gun owner that has no problem with reasonable limits, background checks and such.) Hundreds or even thousands of children all over the planet starve to death every day. How come that doesn't piss us off?

Because that would make us all crazier than we already are. There's a bottomless ocean of pain and suffering in the world, and you can't take it all on.

There's evidence that too much "news" is actually bad for you. You have to ration it and try not to take it too personally.

As an old guy, I've lived through a lot of national hysterias, going all the way back to the McCarthyism of the 1950s, when we got solemn lectures about the threat of communism in grade school and did duck-and-cover drills to be ready for war. I never took it on as a kid. I just assumed---correctly, in retrospect---that it was just some grownup crap---they were always going on about something!---that we kids didn't really have to worry about.

But the commenter gets one thing right: We can't assume a right to either privacy or to safety when we go out in public.

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