17. Mind Control — Part Two

Last week I suggested that when it comes to news, information and media, we’re now living in a ‘Post Truth’ world.

There is more information available to us today, and from more sources, than at any time in human history — and it’s all there at the push of a button.

Yet when we see information being spread that goes against what we know, when we see stuff that’s wrong being pushed as right, and when we see truth being trashed, we find ourselves accepting it, or worse, being sucked in by it. How is that possible?

Maybe the problem is overwhelm. We just don’t get time to think, we now see so much stuff and so often that we’re forced into making snap judgements. We have a thirst for information, so we go to the fountain planning to take a sip or two, instead we find ourselves in front of a fire hose getting drowned. 

Having gallons of water blasted into your mouth isn’t drinking and it won’t satisfy your thirst. Neither will it increase your knowledge.

It’s true that media, information — knowledge, has always been controlled by others. “Knowledge is Power” is a well-worn phrase. For that long period in history when the majority couldn’t read, and books were chained up in the libraries of kings and religious leaders, “Ignorance is Bliss” defined most peoples level of knowledge.

Later, when literacy and mass-media delivery became widespread, the power base shifted. Sure, the minority kept a greater share, but now the consumer also had choices. I mentioned it before. Now we could choose to turn on the TV or radio, and decide which station to tune in to, now we could choose which newspaper to pick up from the stand and read on the train. 

Unsurprisingly we made our choices based on what felt comfortable. Radio 4 or Radio Caroline? The Telegraph or The Sun? To put it bluntly; small print informative reading or tits on page three.

That’s where lazy thinking took root, and that’s where the rot began.

Alexander Pope wrote a poem called ‘A Little Learning’. In it is a line that fits my thinking:

“There, shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again”

He was referring to the ‘Pierian Spring’, a metaphorical source of knowledge mentioned in Greek Mythology. 

I think that metaphor stands today. We take ‘shallow draughts’ of ‘learning’ day in day out, cautiously sipping from the edge of the torrent. We never drink slowly and deliberately, we never truly satisfy our thirst for knowledge. As a result we stay under the influence, vulnerable and ignorant. 

Today we sip not from the ‘Pierian Spring’, but from our smartphones and tablets. They are switched on and with us 24/7. Notifications ping in every time someone posts on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. We may even have alerts for subjects we’re interested in. A lot of us stay intoxicated.

How did that happen?

What were you doing fourteen years ago? Maybe you can’t remember the specifics, but it shouldn’t be difficult to recall where you were living or what job you were doing. Tony Blair was in No10, George ‘Dubya’ Bush was in the White House. It’s not that long ago really is it? But here’s a couple of things that happened in 2006 I’m betting you’ve forgotten.

In July 2006 Twitter was launched.

In September that same year Facebook opened its doors to the non-student world and launched its News Feed.

That these events would change the world was guaranteed when, just a few months later, Steve Jobs walked on stage at Macworld and held up a strange new device called an iPhone.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the iPad didn’t come along until 2010, the same year Instagram launched.

Just stop and think about those facts for a second. Can you imagine a world without iPhones and Facebook? No, me neither, and yet that world existed not so very long ago.

It took newspapers decades to achieve readerships of a few million people.

It took Facebook 14 years to reach upwards of 2 billion. Today half the population of Europe and nearly three quarters of the population of North America have Facebook subscriptions.

The President of the United States of America has 86.7 million followers on Twitter.

Human history is rich with events that changed peoples lives forever. The births of Jesus and Muhammad, The Renaissance, The Industrial and American Revolutions, World Wars. 

A couple of internet companies and a gadget manufacturer shouldn’t even be mentioned on the same page, and yet their impact on the world has been just as dramatic, and will be just as long-lasting.

Fourteen years ago the majority of our information and news came from long-standing traditional media sources. Most had a bias and didn’t try to hide it. Left and Right, Liberal or Conservative, we as consumers knew what we were getting. Laws and codes of conduct kept things civilised most of the time.

Today it’s the Wild West. Anyone with an iPhone can create a ‘news’ report and distribute it globally in seconds. Anyone with an opinion can send their rants to hundreds. Anyone with an agenda has more power than they could ever have dreamed of. Just like the Wild West it’s a lawless country.

Next week we’ll ride out in search of the outlaws. I hope you’ll join the posse.