Do You Hear Me, Do You Care? What Are Words For?

About a year and a half ago, I started journaling what I actually do throughout an entire day. Every day, somewhere near my bedtime, I have spent a few minutes noting what I managed to do throughout the day. Two days ago, I realized that I was getting close to the completion of my Bardic Grade studies, and thought it would be interesting to take a short step back and see where things have gone – not just in my studies, but within me. Naturally, I stepped over to this little journal of “things done” and started reading.

I spend a lot of time at my computer keyboard. From just a short reflection, I would say a rough calculation is a little more than two-thirds of my average day. Of course, a lot of that has to do with my job as an Assessment Analyst. I spend time pulling data, analyzing trends, starting studies, and looking at the trends developed from those studies. Seemingly, I am prized for my analytical abilities. But there are certainly times I wonder.

Pursue it further and another thing you’ll find
Not only are they deaf and dumb they could be going blind and no one notices
I think I’ll dye my hair blue

Two of my three degrees are within the field of Information Systems. Back when I started my Bachelor’s degree (2000), the field was growing and expanding its base of ability. The knowledge sets were already in place, though several other aspects would eventually grow from all of that. Data mining, once feared in the mid 1990s by the general public, had taken hold in the background of the daily processes that people brought their daily world around. The Information Age had truly started. Big Data at that time was a slippery, somewhat unknown concept. Of course, that has changed, and Big Data is now a firmly entrenched aspect of everyone’s daily lives, even if they are not aware of it.

The explosive growth of social media was the final piece of the Big Data puzzle. People wanted to declare themselves online. Facebook profiles gather all kinds of information that is willingly supplied by its users. But that’s something for another conversation. The more insidious aspect of social media is what people post. Quite a few years ago – and still in some aspect of “vogue” – was the process of taking pictures of the meals that individuals were about to eat. I never really understood all of that, but those posts are data-mining gold. It shows trends of what people eat, their tastes, and the timing of their dining out experiences. And that’s ust a small example.

But there’s another aspect of it as well. While our social media habits provide all kinds of data points to corporations on what we – the general public – are willing to consume, where, and when; we also talk about topics with our social media friends. We post our opinions on our Facebook walls about all kinds of topics. Sometimes, conversations ensue in the reply threads. Sometimes, arguments erupt. But the frequency of that is not always that great in comparison to the number of posts that are made.

But what becomes of those conversations, debates, and arguments? Are opinions changed? The probability of that is extremely low. More often than not, we seek people who agree with our perspectives. Those that disagree, tend to be shouted down, rather than listened to. Or even worse, they get removed from the Friend’s List and are blocked from being able to see what we post. In essence, we turn Facebook into a social media echo chamber that we calibrate accordingly through the culling of the herd through unfriending and blocking.

And given the wide use and acceptance of social media as a way to stay connected with the majority of our friends, we are starting to lose the concept of critical thinking. We do not want to hear dissenting opinions. We want to hear the people that agree with us. There’s no thought or credence given to the other side of an argument.

When I taught in the classroom, I did my very best to provide space and time for the opposite point of view. I cannot say with certainty that I did a great job at it, but I know that I tried. After all, I am just as human as anyone else. I do have my biases. And I am just as guilty of creating a Facebook echo chamber on my own wall. I am not claiming to be a saint in all of this, whatsoever.

We are currently in the heyday of the Information Age. You can turn anywhere and get stories about this point of view or that one. Information flies past us on every neews site, news aggregation site, podcast, streaming radio station, instagram post, and what else might be out there. This past election cycle is an example of all of that. The problem is not the amount of information, but rather the veracity of that information. There are news parody sites that are held up as factual information. There are many people out there that distort the facts to provide backing for their own opinions. Many of these people make a living off this disinformation. The result of all of this is a growing degree of cynicism concerning the information that is available to the general public.

I might as well go up and talk to a wall
’cause all the words are having no effect at all
It’s a funny thing am I all alone
Something has to happen to change the direction

What little filters through is giving you the wrong impression
It’s a sorry state I say to myself
What are words for when no one listens anymore

I am not sure that there is any way to change this imbalance to the information world. At least not in a way that keeps the freedom of the information we have. Certainly laws can be created to staunch the flow of disinformation, but who gets to decide what is disinformation and propaganda and what is not? Recently, I posted a story about a Water Protector who may lose her arm after being hit with a concussion grenade. I was told by an acquaintance that it was merely propaganda. That she was actually part of a group of these “violent protests” that were creating bombs with propane tanks. Now, I am not going to get into the veracity of what I am pointing to here. The point of the example is this – the storyline as I received and disseminated it came from within the camp of the protestors. The storyline that my acquaintance was using to refute my point came from the Morton County Sheriff’s department – the opposite side of the protest. There was no neutral party covering this to report one side or the other. Why? ┬áBecause the mainstream news media has ignored the Dakota Access Pipeline protests since the protests started. With no news coverage, there is no third-party neutrality to accurately report the news. Thus, both sides of the story are susceptible to inaccuracy and exaggeration. Which is more accurate? When the veracity of something cannot be determined, the cynical attitude of what is or isn’t news begins to creep into the equation.

Media overload bombarding you with action
It’s getting near impossible to cause distraction
Someone answer me before I pull out the plug
What are words for when no one listens anymore

My mundane job falls into the world of Information Sciences. The vast tornadic whirlwind of information, disinformation, accurate facts, propaganda, and the deafening sounds of the world-wide echo chamber came about from my realm of study. We scream into the digital winds from our keyboards, comfortable within our homes, and the ergonomic chairs of our office environments. Others take the streets, attacking the basis of the economic world, determined to bring down what they have come to perceive as the deadly corporate beast that threatens to destroy and enslave us all. We are all affected by words. Words that come straight from the Tornado of Information. Accurate or not, this spinning vortex informs our worlds – immediate and distant. And it is this beast of Information that I fear. More than a Trump presidency. More than fascist tendencies from people, governments, and mobs. And while others may disagree, this Tornado of Information is a product of the Storm. And, in my opinion, it is the immediate effect of where we are right now. And while I would like to offer a way to destroy or tame it….I have no idea how that can be done. Because this Tornado of Information is derived from a human trait that has always been difficult to tame and destroy – gossip.

My lips are moving and the sound’s coming out
The words are audible but I have my doubts
That you realize what has been said
You look at me as if you’re in a daze

It’s like the feeling at the end of the page
When you realize you don’t know what you just read
What are words for when no one listens anymore

What are words for when no one listens
What are words for when no one listens it’s no use talkin’ at all

(*) Quoted material comes from the song “Words” by Missing Persons.

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