Issue No. 4
Not beating yourself up over using social media, Twitter suspending accounts for disinformation, optimism over how to solve our political divide, how a cult deprogrammer recommends you approach relatives that embrace the big lie and WIRED magazine comes out as non-binary.
Andy Nicolaides over at the Dent urges us to take it easy on ourselves when it comes to social media. Look around the interwebs and you will find no shortage of people berating themselves up for their time spent on social media or trying to concoct ways to curb their use of those platforms.
A big one is the use of Twitter. A huge amount of people are using this service multiple times a day, for various reasons. I’ve started seeing quite a few posts, or comments just as an aside in a post however, with the authors both figuratively and literally apologising for using the service. They beat themselves up for using it too much, or for wasting time ‘just scrolling’. I’m starting to question why that is. I mean, don’t get me wrong, if you’re leaving a dog or child to starve to death because you’re too obsessed with Twitter to feed them you’re most definitely an animal and you should be ashamed. If, however, you’re a hardworking individual that likes to utilise (not waste) your time flicking around Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, or whatever your service of choice is then you go for it.
Social media can be addictive and you don’t have to be Jaron Lanier to understand the ways those companies use psychological tricks to keep you coming back. However, if you can manage the urge and make reasonable use of Twitter or similar platforms, then you should give yourself a break and recognize that it’s an enjoyable activity for you. Just remember, “doomscrolling” became a well-understood and popular term for a reason.
→ Give Yourself a Break | The Dent
Twitter is serious about suspending the accounts of those who spread disinformation about Covid-19 or the vaccines for the virus. They have just shown, yet again, that they are willing to remove individuals from the platform, regardless of their popularity or government status. In these cases, they are enforcing terms of service that have already been set down, not being arbitrary or capricious.
Twitter has long banned users from sharing misinformation that could lead to harm. In rare cases, the company has permanently banned high-profile accounts, including the account of former President Donald J. Trump, over a risk of “further incitement of violence” after a mob of Trump loyalists stormed the U.S. Capitol last Jan. 6.
What is interesting is to see those who would label themselves as "small government" conservatives wanting the government to step in and prevent private companies, like Twitter, or in the case of the Parler deplatforming, Apple, Google and Amazon, from upholding their own terms of service. As I've written in the past, I believe companies should be allowed to set and enforce their own terms.
For those who aren’t aware, the Nationalist Socialist Party was another name for the Nazi Party in Germany and while I’m normally opposed to haphazardly calling your political opponents Nazis (see Godwin’s Law), Grossman lines this up quite well.
→ Twitter Permanently Suspends Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Account | The New York Times
It would be difficult to come up with a more precise and succinct description of our modern political predicament than this one by former religion advisor to Barack Obama, Michael Wear, from his new Substack newsletter. Sure, things are not exactly this simple, and there are so many dynamics at play, but at a macro level, this feels like it nails the current climate.
In an earlier post this year, I reiterated a basic dynamic in our social life that I am not the first to identify, but that I think generally holds: that conservatives have significant political power but feel embattled and resentful due to progressives’ cultural power, and progressives have significant cultural power, but feel embattled and resentful due to conservatives’ political power. That basic assessment requires significant explanation and caveats, but there’s a core truth to it that is helpful as you look out and try to make sense of our politics and broader public life.
What I like about Wear is his consistent optimism. Despite the seeming enormity of the problems that plague us now, he is always looking at how we can mitigate them. He frames problem solving in terms of developing virtues in a way that I rarely see elsewhere.
→ Power and Sacrifice | Reclaiming Hope
The following that Donald Trump has collected over the last few years continues to maintain a cult-like fervor. This has driven a wedge in many family relationships. Diane Benscoter is a former cult member who understands the ways in which people get defensive when they feel they are being attacked for their beliefs, and therefore cling to false narratives.
After decades of helping people get out of cults, she's now making something of a second career helping families apply those same strategies to everyone from hard-core QAnon conspiracy theorists to more mainstream MAGA enthusiasts who believe the election was rigged.
Benscoter’s advice is to tread gently with your loved ones who may be engaged in conspiracy theories because they incorporate those beliefs into their core identity. When the beliefs are attacked, so is their sense of self.
→ They believe in Trump's 'Big Lie.' Here's why it's been so hard to dispel | NPR
Wired Magazine comes out as non-binary in this letter from editor Gideon Lichfield.
When WIRED was founded in 1993, it was the bible of techno-utopianism. We chronicled and championed inventions that we thought would remake the world; all they needed was to be unleashed. Our covers featured the brilliant, renegade, visionary—and mostly wealthy, white, and male—geeks who were shaping the future, reshaping human nature, and making everyone’s life more efficient and fun. They were more daring, more creative, richer and cooler than you; in fact, they already lived in the future. By reading WIRED, we hinted, you could join them there!
If that optimism was binary 0, since then the mood has switched to binary 1. Today, a great deal of media coverage focuses on the damage wrought by a tech industry run amok. It’s given us Tahrir Square, but also Xinjiang; the blogosphere, but also the manosphere; the boundless opportunities of the Long Tail, but also the unremitting precariousness of the gig economy; mRNA vaccines, but also Crispr babies. WIRED hasn’t shied away from covering these problems. But they’ve forced us—and me in particular, as an incoming editor—to ponder the question: What does it mean to be WIRED, a publication born to celebrate technology, in an age when tech is often demonized?
Lichfields answer to the question of whether to take a tone of techno-utopianism or techno-pessimism is to reject the idea that tech itself is either the problem or the solution. He provides an example on a currently hot topic.
Yet debates about tech, like those about politics or social issues, still seem to always collapse into either/or. Blockchain is either the most radical invention of the century or a worthless shell game.
Instead of falling into false dichotomies, WIRED wants to be the source of information on people who are trying to make the world a better place and who are using technology to pursue those dreams.
In early December, I wrote about what I thought were overly optimistic predictions about the future as it relates to technology from WIRED’s founder, Kevin Kelly. Kelly’s track record off predictions is spotty and, while I think rejecting the binary that tech is either intrinsically good or bad, I also lack faith in the people who use the technology to do so responsibly.
I would love to believe this overall premise, but it hasn't been born out by the events of the last few years. Even scientific miracles like hastily created mRNA vaccines can't succeed if the people involved in ensuring their success don't perform their part in that process. It seems as if technological advances of the last few years have only served to shine a spotlight on our broken humanity. None of what Kelly brings up convinces me that's going to change anytime soon. I'm glad that my hope does not stem from technology or people.
I think we need to spend a bit more time on the ramifications of technology before rushing into its applications. Of course, I just finished reading 📚Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, so I may be especially primed to be thinking along those lines.