Posts Tagged ‘Social media’

THE PERILS OF BELIEF

A famous dictum, espoused by Aeschylus and repeated by former U.S. senator Hiram Johnson (California), states that the first casualty of war is truth. In our time, social media, faux news organizations and politicians have rendered truth a severe casualty. They’ve bombarded it—even shredded it—with belief. Even basketball stars have joined their ranks.

Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavaliers stated that the earth is flat. “This is not even a conspiracy theory,” he said, although an unknown “they” want us to believe that the earth is round. The Golden State Warriors’ Draymond Green gave his own take, surmising that the earth could be flat. “I don’t know,” he said, desiring to appear reasonable. “I haven’t done enough research.”

Research? Gazing out the window of an airplane at 35,000 feet on a clear day—NBA players don’t always fly at night—reveals the earth’s curvature. Or does that mean the earth is merely bent?

Don’t look just to some athletes, though. Donald Trump claimed his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever. Photographs and other evidence disproved that. White House press secretary Sean Spicer replied, “That’s what the president believes.” Will presidential beliefs—heedless of fact—commit the United States to domestic and international policies ranging from reckless to disastrous?

Often, truth is a click or two away. Many people refuse to go there. A widely circulating email purportedly by Warren Buffet claims that members of Congress receive their salary for life. FactCheck.org reviewed these claims two years ago. Its conclusion: false. Members of the House and Senate qualify for retirement benefits after five years and only for a portion of their salaries, which max out at 80 percent after virtually a lifetime in Washington.

Belief has a cousin called deception. Making the rounds of Facebook is a video from NumbersUSA demonstrating that U.S. immigration policy cannot solve global poverty. Roy Beck, the organization’s founder/president, uses gumballs in glass containers to colorfully demonstrate that America’s taking in one million of the poorest of the poor each year will not put a dent in the problem.

Beck is right. Poverty must be solved locally. However, the video represents a political shell game. U.S. immigration policy has never been about alleviating global poverty. We accept people who can contribute to our economy along with refugees. We limit their numbers, which is our right and obligation. But this video imitates a magician drawing attention to one hand while the other prepares to pull a coin from your ear. It can lead many Americans to want to shut off immigration entirely or support draconian measures for reasons having nothing to do with the reality of American immigration policy.

I have no problem with belief in the religious sense. I demonstrate that each Friday night in synagogue. Faith enables individuals and communities to discover and reinforce meaning in their lives and connect to something greater if not entirely knowable, even as science dramatically increases our knowledge base.

Still, faith must co-exist with reason, not replace it. In secular matters, belief offers a poor substitute for rational analysis based on facts. And facts do exist. I pray that we demonstrate the wisdom to know when each approach is appropriate, particularly when individuals explore cyberspace and Washington makes decisions involving the economy, human rights and geopolitical policy.

Want to take something on faith alone? Believe that you’ll enjoy my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht, available soon.

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CAN WE TALK?

I’ve been looking at photos of myself. My friend Ellen Newman took them. I’m not playing out the Greek myth of Narcissus, who fell in love with his image in a pool of water. I need an updated author’s headshot for my new novel The Boy Walker, officially launching this February. Alas, like most people, I see images on screen that don’t match those inside my head.

Oh that we could all look like Hollywood stars! Of course, movies and TV are about illusion. The camera often loves our idols only after extensive assistance from hairdressers, makeup artists, costume designers, the occasional apple box on which to appear taller, and a cinematographer’s skilled adjustment of lights and camera angles.

Beauty of the soul is another matter. It’s found on the inside and requires some searching out. This takes effort. So we often drift towards what lies on the surface, deceiving ourselves that “what you see is what you get.”

I see a parallel with technology. Oh how easily we fall in love with bells and whistles. Millions of people can’t do without tech’s equivalents of the Kardashians and the housewives of New Jersey. Technology often seems to exist for its own sake. Anything that can be programmed must be worthwhile. “I exist, therefore I’m meaningful.”

Here in San Francisco, headquarters of social media, Heaven help those who don’t prostrate themselves to the gods of code. A recent article in the Chronicle explained that many adults take classes to relate to younger, twenty-something programmers. Said programmers can be quite dismissive of anyone who doesn’t speak their language. It’s like the old ‘sixties protest: “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Lacking patience and basic communications skills, they turn off to their clients—the very people who pay them. This can throw a digital monkey wrench into the plans of anyone trying to get a website going.

Am I now an official curmudgeon in spite of using an (old) iPhone? Check out any restaurant. It’s a rare table at which one or more—or all—diners under thirty aren’t engrossed with their devices. Older folks, too. They text, tweet, comment on Facebook or engage with email. The world must know what they’re eating and drinking, and when they go to the bathroom. Right now! Rather than talk, they flash their screens at each other.

Ideally, technology makes communicating simpler by rendering physical distance irrelevant. Yet often it increases emotional distance. People seem increasingly challenged to converse face to face. It’s hard to engage a person whose device puts someone supposedly more exciting a click away. I’m reminded of cocktail parties where guests keep looking past each other to search out more enticing partners for sharing empty smiles and inane babble.

As to my author photos, I’m satisfied. Still, they’re just digital representations. For the real me—the real you—you have to dig deeper. This post—a somewhat long-form use of technology—can help. But it’s no substitute for meeting in the flesh, taking time and making the effort to really get to know someone. There’s just no app for that.

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Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com.