Waiting for a new dawn
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, before democracy-damaging partisan politics, before autocratic rule, the opioid epidemic, rampant gun violence and a new populism that was supposed to benefit common folks, but has benefitted the elite and their stock portfolios.
However, while reliving a distant past might work for a glamour cat, it is not helpful to mere humans as we enter a decade expected to be more 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 new respectability to uninformed opinion,” the author John Lawton has noted.
He is bang on about that, and he is supported by Christopher Wray, the latest FBI director, who has urged citizens to be savvier consumers of news.
“Well, look, there’s all kinds of people saying all kinds of things out there,” he said in a Dec. 10 interview. “I think it’s important for the American people to be thoughtful consumers of information and to think about the sources of it and to think about the support and predication for what they hear.”
That is nifty bureaucratic subtlety, but beneath it is an urging for people not to swallow the crap being pumped out by political parties, governments 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 disinformation campaigns is a serious threat to society, in fact to democracy itself.
A new report from Oxford University’s Internet Institute says that the 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 it to manipulate information and public opinion is big business. The Oxford study found that in the decade just closed political parties and governments spent half a billion dollars researching, developing and implementing psychological operations and public opinion manipulation over social media.
Somehow, we all have to accept that while social media sites can be fun and interesting, they are not places to gather the high-quality information needed to form thoughtful opinions. Events such as elections, humanitarian disasters, military crises and changing climate are too important to leave to discussions based on junk information.
Says the Oxford report: “A strong democracy requires access to high-quality information and an ability for citizens to come together to debate, discuss, deliberate, empathize, and make concessions. Are social media platforms really creating a space for public deliberation and democracy? Or are they amplifying content that keeps citizens addicted, disinformed, and angry?”
It is a world of disinformation and anger that leaves so many yearning for change, or a return to what used to be. But nothing will change until we start paying close attention and decide that it is important to form our opinions from evidence-based facts.
The new year and new decade bring plenty of hope that we will not be sucked in by disinformation campaigns and create much needed change, although 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.