So much confusion When autumn comes around What to do about October How to smile behind a frown? It's hard to settle down It's so bemusing Will they cancel the parade? We marched each October Now they say we were never even saved We must be very brave. The October Symphony, Pet Shop Boys
After almost seven months of hardcore isolation, I decided to go up the coast to celebrate my birthday week with a few days of photography, relaxation, hiking, and separation from the madness of the connected world. It was therapeutic. I filled my days with pursuits that enriched me and didn’t waste my time on things like the debates, Twitter drama, or the general busyness that eat up our days. The time away reinforced just how empty so much of the stories we allow to eat up our time truly are.
Of course, I didn’t skip baseball or its younger, hipper cousin: The T20 Cricket. I have been watching the Indian Premier League (aka IPL), which is like the MLB of T20 Cricket — an exhilarating, fast-paced version of the game I grew up playing. The games are being played in the UAE to empty stadiums in a bubble that would make the NBA proud. They are being broadcast on Hotstar, a hidden asset inside Disney’s empire. (In the first week alone, 279 million people watched IPL games.)
While on Hotstar, I ended up watching a movie about the life of MS Dhoni, who rose from the backwaters to become an iconic and legendary cricket player. Beyond the Bollywood tropes, it was actually a fun movie to watch. Dhoni, who is still playing and leading one of the IPL teams, was portrayed on screen by Sushant Singh Rajput, who is from the same part of India as Dhoni.
Normally, beyond what my parents tell me, I pay little or no attention to Indian pop-culture or politics. In a weird twist of fate, today I learned that the actor had committed suicide, and his death has become a bit of political witch hunt and media circus. The New York Times reports that the whole situation is quite murky. It seems the story is being used to distract from the real problems, including over 100,000 dead due to coronavirus, an economy that is slumbering, and ongoing disputes with China.
The whole situation only reinforces my long-held belief that we are living in the golden age of half-truths. A tiny bit of facts and liberal innuendo, combined with the fact that the media has to fill the proverbial airwaves (television networks, newspapers, websites, and social platforms), the facts and truth have become a victim of noise-saturated society. Media has gone from being the pulpit of Walter Cronkite and instead has become a tool for inducing dopamine.
Take the news of the POTUS being hospitalized after being infected by COVID-19. If the mixed messages from the White House apparatus were any more mixed, we might call it a Long Island Iced Tea. The consistent stream of half-truths over the past few years have undermined the credibility of whatever is coming out of the most important office in our country. So it is hard to trust what one hears about the news. What a shame.
The sad part is that, in 2020, we are all complicit in weaving this web of half-truths. Media outlets need to fill their airwaves, so they turn ambiguous tweets from chief executives like Tesla’s Elon Musk into what resembles a fact-based news story. The headline is juicy enough for folks to tweet or share, or reshare. We are pumping the social media algorithmic engine to get more attention focused on such stories. And then we are onto the next one, whatever it may be.
Social media has a big role to play in this, especially Facebook. I find it ironic that they dropped a big document this weekend criticizing the Netflix movie, The Social Dilemma, offering seven reasons on what film got wrong. Now, I am no fan of Facebook. But I am also not that big on opportunists, who happily benefitted from Facebook in the past before reinventing themselves as apostles of good.
“In the rarefied circles that these deca- and centi-millionaires inhabit, how popular would it be to be identified with the platform that (in the public mind at least) led to the 2016 election result and, to this day, helps prop up an unpopular president? ,” writes Antonio Garcia-Marquez, a former Facebook employee turned writer, who plays a teflon thorn on Twitter. He is right. There seems to be a cottage industry in peddling Facebook hate led by faux gurus doing a Tony Robbins imitation.
That said, it was not initially clear to me why Zuckerberg & Company give a damn about this movie. Why are they going out and discrediting Netflix? What is their motive? I have not read any good explanations. But I can tell you that Facebook’s memo has about as much nutritional value and substance as Subway’s bread. And then it hit me — they are essentially adding to the fog of misinformation.
They know that the media is desperate to fill its space, so their counterpoints will get attention and will help create an alternate reality. It’s the same thing happening on the other side of the planet using the tragic death of a young actor. It’s what is happening with our leadership in this country. This is what is happening every minute of every day in our present age. Already, I could use another break.
“What is the cost of lies? It’s not that we will mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that, if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all.” Valery Legasov, the chief of the commission investigating the infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster. (The Cost of Lies.)
October 5, 2020. San Francisco.