By Jim Poling Sr.
The new decade dawned with many of us hoping for change. Or perhaps for the way things used to be.
Arriving with the new year was a film version of the musical Cats released in theatres a few days before Christmas. A memorable scene has Grizabella the Glamour Cat lamenting the loss of life the way it used to be.
“I remember the time I knew what happiness was” she laments in the Andrew Lloyd Webber tune Memory . “Let the memory live again.”
Times certainly were happier before climate change beforedemocracy-damaging partisan politics before autocratic rule the opioid epidemic rampant gun violence and a new populism that was supposed tobenefit common folks but has benefitted the elite and their stockportfolios.
However while reliving a distant past might work for a glamour catit is not helpful to mere humans as we enter a decade expected to bemore chaotic and violent than the one just passed.
It also will be a decade in which information manipulation and outright disinformation confuse fake and fact wrong and right.
A challenge of the ’20s will be to become smarter about the information we consume – so we can form more intelligent opinions.
“The irony of the Information Age is that it has given newrespectability to uninformed opinion” the author John Lawton has noted.
He is bang on about that and he is supported by Christopher Wraythe latest FBI director who has urged citizens to be savvier consumersof news.
“Well look there’s all kinds of people saying all kinds of thingsout there” he said in a Dec. 10 interview. “I think it’s important forthe American people to be thoughtful consumers of information and tothink about the sources of it and to think about the support andpredication for what they hear.”
That is nifty bureaucratic subtlety but beneath it is an urging forpeople not to swallow the crap being pumped out by political partiesgovernments and corporate entities working to turn debates and decisions in their favour.
The message is: Get smart. Get genuine news and information tied to properly sourced facts.
Manipulation of public opinion through deliberate disinformationcampaigns is a serious threat to society in fact to democracy itself.
A new report from Oxford University’s Internet Institute says thatthe number of countries using media manipulation campaigns has increased 150 per cent over the past two years.
Social media is a huge source of disinformation growth and using itto manipulate information and public opinion is big business. The Oxford study found that in the decade just closed political parties andgovernments spent half a billion dollars researching developing andimplementing psychological operations and public opinion manipulationover social media.
Somehow we all have to accept that while social media sites can befun and interesting they are not places to gather the high-qualityinformation needed to form thoughtful opinions. Events such aselections humanitarian disasters military crises and changing climateare too important to leave to discussions based on junk information.
Says the Oxford report: “A strong democracy requires access tohigh-quality information and an ability for citizens to come together to debate discuss deliberate empathize and make concessions. Aresocial media platforms really creating a space for public deliberationand democracy? Or are they amplifying content that keeps citizensaddicted disinformed and angry?”
It is a world of disinformation and anger that leaves so manyyearning for change or a return to what used to be. But nothing willchange until we start paying close attention and decide that it isimportant to form our opinions from evidence-based facts.
The new year and new decade bring plenty of hope that we will not besucked in by disinformation campaigns and create much needed changealthough not necessarily a change to the way things were.
Grizabella the Glamour Cat offers hope at the end of her midnight lament:
I must wait for the sunrise
I must think of a new life
And I mustn’t give in.
When the dawn comes tonight will be a memory too
And a new day will begin.”
It is a new day a new year a new decade and change will come
if we work for it.