…And That’s the Way It Is, This is Walter Kronkite, CBS News…

Thoughts on social networking’s 24/7, in-your-face reality

I got to thinking the other day. Lots of different things, but chief among them these two thoughts:  no way am I going to publish my original editorial today, it’s not ready for prime time, and I wish there was a way to dramatically demonstrate to folks just how different the world I grew up in was from the world we live in today…

I think I found one.  It’s not as dramatic as I’d hoped.  If another, more mundane example were readily available I’d prefer that for my demonstration, but I think the example below will suffice.

However, before sharing that example with you all, a few words.

My thoughts along the lines of then vs now (my formative years and the society that surrounded it vs the world I live in now) generally find ‘now’ wanting.  Of course, I wasn’t all that positively inclined back then either.  So much so that my early morning negativity, usually set off by a read of the NY Times at the breakfast table, got me banished from that same table.  I suspect it’s a personality trait: the glass is half empty (but I am hoping someone will come along and fill it).  My negativity is born out of a belief that we are capable of being so much better;  it’s not really negativity, its disappointment and frustration.

Discussion around here has centered on – conventions and bad behavior, discrimination, the impending Moon Landing anniversary, the validity of various forms of protest, reconciling public behavior with personal perception, anti-semitism, living in a science fiction world that is not the science fiction world you grew up believing would comprise your future, family matters, business, other mundanity and

thoughts on the ways in which the internet and social networking may be negatively affecting us.

Which brings me to the video below that I’d like you to watch and reflect upon. However, before getting to that, a few more words:

I am obviously not the only person to ever point out the potential dangers of these technologies.  Among other issues there is sensory overload to consider, the assault on privacy, bullying whose reach far exceeeds the playground, the loss of shared experiences, the persistence of bad information (not to mention the easy spread of propaganda), the casual distortion of truth and fact, and, the thing I personally believe is affecting us the most, the always on, in-your-personal-space and in your face social interfacing.

Studies have suggested that individuals react to things they see online as if they are taking place within one’s own brain, not as something removed from themselves, which explains at least some of the virtriol we so often see and read.  That terrible comment you just read is not coming from a person reacting and responding to an opinion they disagree with, it’s coming from a person desperately attempting to rid their minds of thought that doesn’t belong in there.

We also know that social networking’s appeal works on the same principal that gambling does – you get a little shot of dopamine when someone agrees with you, you get addicted to that pleasurable feeling and seek more.

This is a bad combination – an environment that you react to as personal space, a compulsion to engage, an overload of information that distorts perception and reception.

How is that different from the world I grew up in?  Two things:  Lack of information and the ability to divorce oneself from the proceedings, not as a flounce, but as a normal part of your daily existence.

Obviously, no computers back then (no personal computers);  Fax machines were about the most efficient way we had to share documents and images, and not even every business felt the need to have one.  We had phones, CB radios, regular AM and FM radio, VHF and UHF television (some cable, maybe ten channels between them if you were ‘lucky’) newspapers, news magazines, that was about it.  For a more familiar reference – Weird Tales was in hiatus, Amazing and Fantastic, Analog, F+SF, Galaxy, Galileo, Asimov’s, Asimov’s SF Adventure Magazine, Unearth, Questar, Star Warp, Omni and New Worlds were on the stands, and it would be close to the last year of publication for many of them.

“Social Separation”, for lack of a better term, was a well-practiced art;  it was not possible to contact, track, follow someone 24/7.  When someone didn’t answer the phone, there often wasn’t even a way to leave a message and the art of socially greasing the wheels was well practiced and understood.  Of course the person you were trying to reach was there and not answering, but you couldn’t prove it, and everyone accepted the little white lies offered as lubrication, if only because everyone was using the same excuses when they needed some down time, weren’t ready to tackle emotional involvement, needed to decompress, wanted to gather more info first, had other more important things to deal with.  Breathing space.  We had time to catch our breaths back then.

There was actually a brief time when I used to love to go to the airport, because it meant I was legitimately out of touch, could put aside everything and enjoy a good read (and a smoke) free from unexpected interruptions.  Now if I want to achieve the same peace and quiet, I first have to share it with the world, explain my reasons and hope that thousands of people will respect it and, at the same time, I am cutting myself off from the now and will have to deal with catching up when I return, often to little avail as the story has moved on at breakneck speed.

It’s no wonder that child-rearing advocates are recommending limited engagement with the internet for kids; it’s no wonder that an increasing number of “electronics free” vacations and events are being offered;  there’s recognition that the always-on, always-engaged ways of the world these days may cause some harm, despite its many advantages.

And now I bring you Walter Cronkite, at one time the most trusted individual in the entire world, and the CBS Evening News from March 26, 1979.  This will serve as a reminder to my cohort of the way things used to be.  It will be instructive for younger generations when compared to the way 24/7 “news” is delivered these days.  Some things to note and watch for :

No shiny sets, no headline crawl, no decollatage, a white male anchor, a white male newsman, another white male newsman, a female newswoman and a black male newsman (yes, 1979); not one single piece of talking head commentary, no round-table discussion of the events covered, no anchor’s editorializing, no digital overlays.  Also, pay attention to the parties involved and their actions vis-a-vis then vs now in the coverage of the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord signing;  note the quote from Arafat regarding Sadat’s assassination (he was assassinated two and a half years later).

And that’s the way it was….

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