(Featured image: The Prologue and the Promise, Robert McCall)
The movie Back to the Future in the 1980s imagined a millennium with flying cars and hoverboards. My “Utopia” is more pragmatic and less fanciful. I don’t want flying cars. I just want some irritants to go away and some basic problems solved. I wants some checks that are sitting right in front of us, forgotten, to be cashed.
Why social media is responsible for our fake news crisis.
We will talk about social media, I promise. But I want to first tell the story of Dan Rather’s fall from grace.
Dan Rather spent decades as the CBS Evening News anchor, one of the big three for nightly news. In 2004, on 60 Minutes Wednesday, he reported on the Killian Documents: a series of memos that were critical of George W Bush’s service during his time in the Air National Guard. It turned out that there were many reasons—including the use of modern typeface—to doubt the authenticity of the memos. Eventually, CBS News recanted the story, fired the producer, and forced Dan Rather to move up his retirement. The entire episode came to be known as RatherGate.
A highly respected decades-long career in news was capped by a “-Gate” because of lack of devotion to fact-checking. Of course no one believed that Dan Rather’s team forged memos themselves. Instead, what people were objecting to was their lack of editorial judgment. Given their giant megaphone, they had the responsibility, as a publisher, to be a gatekeeper for factual news.
Platform or publisher?
Why, then, do we not hold social media companies to the same standard? Why do we let them get away with spreading fake news, propaganda, conspiracies, and hate speech through their platforms?
At heart, I would argue, is a semantic confusion. We generally don’t hold pure platforms accountable for the content that is carried on their wires. For instance, if I was to receive a death threat over my cell phone, not for a minute would I think to blame my wireless carrier, Cricket. The fault would lie with the threat-maker, alone.
On the other hand, we can and do beat up on newspapers, cable shows, even bookstores, that carry objectionable content. As publishers, we expect them to have volition and exercise choice.
Parents of teenagers will be familiar with the turn in their child’s personality: from playful, precious little pets they turn into blasé know-it-alls who can barely be bothered to raise an eyebrow to your fussing.
Well, you little smart-asses, there’s a lot you don’t yet know.
How to be an adult
You cannot call yourself an adult until you are able to do these things. I’m aware that many 40-year-olds would not fit this bill. Nor did I, long after my teenage years. But these are the rules. Fail this test, and you are not yet an adult in this here modern world. To be an adult you must:
Be able to open a bank account, deposit and withdraw money.
Have a credit record enough to get a credit card.
Personal grooming: learn how to shower, use deodorant, floss and brush, regularly without anyone nagging you.
Learn to drive and have a license.
Learn to break out of a procrastination cycle. Make todo lists for yourself on something more substantial than sticky notes and check them off.
Exercise regularly. Get outdoors.
Be able to provide meals for yourself: this includes grocery shopping, refrigerating when needed, operating the cooking range and microwave, and cooking basics like pasta, rice, eggs, oats, etc. Have a passing familiarity with spices.
Make grocery lists so you’re not going to the store for each item.
Maintain a set of email addresses and stay on top of spam.
Keep passwords secure, don’t use the same one everywhere, and come up with a way to manage them. Don’t use “password”, “123456”, or your birthday.
Don’t post embarrassing pictures or opinions on social media.
Learn to hurry when needed. Learn to get out of the house without needing to remind yourself of each item separately—keys, phone, money, etc.
Periodically put things away and pick up the room. Organize your things and neaten up. Dust.
Wash your sheets once in a while. Lay your towels flat so they dry.
Learn how to file a claim for insurance.
Stay in touch with friends and family.
Learn how to be polite, greet people and bid goodbyes. Learn how to congratulate and condole. Be able to make pleasant small talk with hairdressers and store clerks without goggling like a fish.
Catch onto social cues: be aware if you’re being perceived as a boor, a bore or a bully; be able to detect deadpan humor. Catch on if you are being used. Detect if you are being flirted with. Catch on if someone around you needs help; help them.
Know the capitals of several major countries and their currencies. Know what languages are spoken there.
Keep your phone charged.
Learn to use Google. With quotes.
Keep up to date with major news. Be skeptical of headlines.
Be sufficiently aware of the world so you can detect conspiracy theories. Be aware that sometimes people with platforms will lie to you.
Learn how to vote. Vote.
Develop hobbies so you’re not relying on drugs or alcohol to fill up the empty hours.
Learn how to kick a habit; any habit. Learn how to break out of addictive cycles, whether it is smoking or video games or gambling. Learn to shake yourself free.
Learn how to save and invest your money. Don’t run up thoughtless debts.
Be on time most of the time.
Learn to do laundry and dishes. Try not to send your money or phone or keys through the laundry cycle too frequently.
Be nice to people by default. Don’t be nice if someone’s harassing you or using you.
Visit the doctor for wellness checks and don’t eat too much junk food. Get your shots.
Eat your cereals with milk.
When you travel, immerse yourself.
Exercise moral judgment. Make sure it is your own.