Doom Scrolling: No Way to Run a Newspaper (or news feed)

On the last day of 2020, in the evening, New Year’s Eve in fact, I found myself, like a bazillion other people, on my phone, scrolling.

24 screen grabs of the St. Catharine’s Standard from December 31, 2020 combined into one image. This doesn’t quite capture the dizzy-making effect, which is caused by text and ads jerking between top and bottom fixed in place advertising and also by the necessary focussing, scanning and re-focussing your eyes have to do because of the scrolling itself.

I screen-captured the whole thing, reproduced at right. Let’s see if I can keep writing to cover the space beside the image all the way to the bottom of the pic.

Searching for news online is crazy-making. If you subscribe to a “paper”, which one(s) do you choose? It’s hard to stick with just one, and if there are many, and there always are many, many moe, all equally accessible, or inaccessible, depending on how you look at it, nigh on impossible.

So I found myself, somewhat indifferently, reading the St. Catharine’s Standard, a modest publication from a smallish community in the Golden Triangle of southern Ontario.

I found an article and started reading and scrolling and reading and scrolling, and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling.

The reading was challenging, incessantly interrupted by ads, top and bottom border ads that don’t move, ads that do move with the text, headlines of the paper itself.

It was, in a word, dizzying. This is no way to read.

I posted this story over on Medium, where I set up an account the other day, Medium wants to be different: ad free, available with minimal distractions across devices. The Atlantic thought this sounded pretty promising.

But Medium has taken hits. I don’t know if it’s turned a profit yet. It’s surviving, trying to set up a new, better reading experience.

Personally, I’m annoyed that they expect me to pay to become a “member”, meaning read it ($5/mo.) even though I’m a contributor. So I’m not joining, not for now. I’m looking for a soapbox, not news.

Perhaps they don’t know how to monitize me with big data. I’m fine with that. I left Facebook ages ago, after being an early adopter, because Zuk hasn’t figured out that he needs to pay people something for what he’s taking from them, i.e., data.

But I digress. What are we to do about online media?

Media itself is so broken content wise, one hardly cares, wishes they’d just go away, start over.

It’s too bad Donald Trump is a complete lunatic because he’s had quite a few  right intuitions, which is why he managed to become so popular. It certainly wasn’t his intelligence, or class.

Like about media. Without question, our mass media is biased. A Canadian Conservative was interviewed on CBC Radio the other day, only because he was calling on other Conservatives to jump off the Trump bandwagon. Otherwise we rarely if ever hear from them first hand.

He was cagey about his past support of Trump, and the interviewer, you could tell, did not want to let it go. It wasn’t enough to get a Conservative flipping over to a more liberal position, he had to be blamed for not being liberal in the first place.

I myself am so entrenched in liberalism, having spontaneously leapt to the ‘left’ as soon as I was old enough to vote, that I find conservatism just creepy. I really can’t understand how people can espouse values without empathy or even a simple sense of fairness towards others.

But as I get older, I am getting more conservative. Now I like to hear them out before castigating them.

Still, a lot of people consider themselves decent people and yet cleave to the ‘right.’ And as long as that’s a choice that’s available to them, shouldn’t they also have the right to talk their particular kind of talk without being assaulted at every turn?

This is what Donald Trump, albeit in his appallingly ignorant, muddled way, means to attack when he invented the term “fake news.” It isn’t that the news is factually wrong or intentionally misleading. (That would be more Donald Trump’s style.)

What “fake” means to Donald Trump and his troll army is “bias against conservative values.”

Of this there can be no doubt, the New York Times and The Washington Post being the worst offenders.

Liberal, educated ‘elites’, are part of the critique that is also well-founded. Elites are essential to the fourth estate. Without elite families, elite schools and elite businesses, there would be no ‘mass’ media. It has always been the children of privilege who make their way into ‘the arts,’ having fortunes to fritter away in the dubious enterprise of ‘speaking truth to power.’

Of course, it is not as if there aren’t elites on the right. Indeed, those elites are, if we go by our liberal intuitions alone, worse. More secretive, richer and without scruples of any sort. Dangerous.

But conservatives are not about to get all analytical and self-critical on us any more than the liberal media are going to start coming clean about their own biases.

News is “fake” (in the metaphorical sense” for other reasons too. The media are addicted to trauma. Thy seek out disaster and promote fear. A forecast of grey skies tomorrow becomes “Deadly storm threatens civilization.”

For Donald Trump, it must’ve been so obvious. Not a good thing to say about him, no matter what he did. It struck me as odd that he continued to do press conferences and hire press spokespersons who could not deal with issues and reporters questions in an intelligent and fair way.

It was as if, and perhaps this is obvious to all and sundry already, he wanted the press to be against him. Driving a wedge between truth reporters (as biased as they may be) and the public, opens the way for laying down your own truth. And we know how much Mr. Trump is dedicated to making his own reality, no matter how preposterous, offensive or dangerous to others.

But here’s the kicker.

Usually I am hyper-sensitive to the bad news hyperbole of the media, and hyper-critical, but lately I’m finding that instead of putting my phone away and watching/listening to less news, I’m actually doing more and more.

What did somebody call it the other day on the radio? I think it was Jill Lepore on The Current, talking very fast, very intense, I had to turn it off. Anyway, she confessed to what was it? Doom trolling? Or doom scrolling?

Ya, been there… Am there.

Anyway, let’s just say the reading experience online is so dissatisfactory, we are literally dying from distraction. And longing for something, anything better to come along.

Paper.

Love it.

Can’t get it where I live. Not anything of substance anyway. None of the ‘big’ papers, even the ones not that big that are not so so far away (Winnipeg, Thunder Bay) don’t deliver here.

Forget about the Globe and Mail, the Montreal Gazette, the Vancouver Sun.

Are they so broke they can’t afford to throw a few copies into a baggage compartment to get them out our way?

Could someone not create a social enterprise to ship newspapers to us lost souls up here?

Which brings me, on the size of screen I am currently working on, to the end of my screen-grab compilation.

If we have to scroll, perhaps this is the way to do it. Woodblock print by Utamaro (1750–1806) ”Wakatsuru of the Wakamatsuya”. Retrieved from https://www.fujiarts.com/cgi-bin/item.pl?item=903496#top 14 January 2021.

Exile is the only way to handle a despot

It would be below degrading to Napoleon Bonaparte to be compared to the outgoing U.S. President and beyond flattering to Mr. Trump, however both invoke the gnarly problem of what to do with an irrepressible charismatic megalomaniac.

The solution for those allied against Napoleon in the early 1800s, whose wars resulted in millions of deaths and untold economic losses across Europe, was exile.

Indefatigably confident and ambitious Napoleon spawned conflicts throughout Europe and ignored treaties and conventions alike. He plundered museums, installed his own people to rule other countries and reinstated slavery in France’s overseas colonies. Sound familiar?

When finally defeated, Napoleon was exiled to Elba, an island in the Mediterranean, where he was allowed to keep his title of Emperor and rule the island, supported by a generous stipend. He soon escaped, returned to Europe, amassed an army and regained power for the notorious 100 Days, until two allied armies forced his retreat to Paris where the people had turned against him.

painting of Napoleon staring out to sea on the island of Saint Helena
Napoleon on Saint Helena, watercolor by Franz Josef Sandmann, c. 1820 Ref: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon

He abdicated and the British put him again into exile, this time on the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, 1,870 km (1,162 mi) from the west coast of Africa. They also took the precaution of sending a garrison of soldiers to uninhabited Ascension Island, which lay between St. Helena and Europe. He died 5 years later.

2021? Really? Who cares?

Perhaps it is the intended effect of crazy people like the Dejected Cheeseburger to drive the rest of us to apathy.

It really is impossible to respond to the inane patter coming from the Whitehouse. One just throws up one’s hands.

Two conversations over the holidays had such effect, both reported to me by relatives after their conversations with other relatives, one in the US and the other in Alberta (no surprise). During both conversations a relative invoked Mr. Trump in  a reverential tone, as if he were a saviour from the corrupt, lying Democrats determined to steal the election and plunge civilization into Soviet-style socialism.

Wow. Breathtaking.

This madness is not going to end anytime soon. Between the wilful blindness, hysteria or brainwashing of so many people and the media’s complete failure to get a credible grip on reality, I’d say we are doomed to more ‘crazy town’ for the rest of 2021.

Which means we need to take real steps to protect ourselves.

 

 

Life through “Windows”

Microsoft founder Bill Gates might never have expected that within 40 years of founding Microsoft and its groundbreaking interface, Windows, that the entire world would be partitioned behind “windows” both virtual and real.

Today, as never before, something stands between us and reality, whether it is the screens of our various devices; tablets, laptops, desktops, phones, or the windshields of cars for curb-side pick up, or the barriers found everywhere in stores, libraries and banks, or simply the windows behind which we remain indoors, inside, cut off from the world.

Bill Gates might have hoped that software would serve as a window where otherwise there was a wall, opening up the world to us. Arguably, it has come to have the opposite effect, becoming a barrier to real experience.

Windows are everywhere and one must ask what effect they are having.

There are a lot of reasons why we might be feeling shaky; our sense of groundedness, reality, truth even, is based on direct experience. Second hand news, things seen online through so-called “social” media, are a poor substitute. In a doubtful world, self-doubt runs rampant.

One is reminded of the phrase, “though a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12), which has inspired so much creative work, including a rather dark film by Igmar Berman.

It isn’t as if we haven’t been wrestling with the idea of mediated experience since Plato’s cave, whose chained dwellers know only what they can infer from the shadows cast on the cave walls. The windowless room and prison cell have long been condemned for their inhumane sensory deprivation. Today, the confines of prisons are no better than long-term care homes, both acting like petri-dishes for growing deadly virus. Windows, which promise relief by way of visual access to “the outside,” are in fact no solution at all.

If today feels worse than yesterday, which felt worse than the day before, and that day also worse than the day before it, one has to ask what accounts for that, including whether the tools we are leaning on to help us see and and better understand what is going on around us are not part of the problem.

What we need are doors not windows.

Why I am voting Green in the upcoming election

by Robert Labossiere

I find election time difficult. I didn’t used to. I used to know what I believed in, and which party was closest to that. I have voted the same way federally ever since I turned eighteen, many, many years ago. Provincially, same thing, except for one time when fear got the better of me and I voted “strategically.” I regret that because as it turned out, everybody else was just as scared as I was. I could have stuck with my party and things would still have worked out just fine. Voting out of fear is not a good idea.

But things have changed. I don’t have to worry about parties, loyalty, strategy or any of that anymore. Today, there’s only one issue and only one party that stands a chance of dealing with it. The issue is the environment, and the party is Elizabeth May’s Green Party.

I’m grateful. Things have gotten a lot simpler.

No more colour confusion; red, blue or orange. No more ideological splitting of hairs; conservative, liberal, socialist, far right, alt right, middle, left. Nobody really knows what any of those categories stand for anymore anyway.

No more geographical divides; West Coast, Alberta, Prairies, Quebec, Maritimes, in which where you live and what you do is somehow supposed to be more important than what other people do in other places.

No more commodity issues; pipelines, oil patch, grain, pigs, timber, milk, fish, as if we don’t need all of it OR alternatives that work, make sense, create jobs, support longer lives and a better standard of living for everyone.

No more free trade nonsense; special deals in which we agree to get screwed on some things in exchange for being able to screw others on other things. Tell me please, are we for or against China, the E.U., Indonesia, Mexico, South America or the US? for or against milk, aluminum, steel, cars, lumber or beef?

But best of all, no more crazy people, and their crazy, crazy talk. No more comparing every upcoming political candidate to that miserable Scrooge masquerading as a President south of the border. No more ridiculous showoff bullies threatening every sane person around them while shaking hands with despots.

I’m also grateful that I don’t have to listen to any media BS running up to election day. No more worries about misinformation, disinformation, what’s being reported and what isn’t, whether it’s the Russians meddling or the Ukrainians. No more Facebook news, fake or otherwise.

No, for this election at least I don’t have to listen to a single newscast, op ed or call in show in the vain hope of figuring it all out. For once I don’t have to make a “best guess” about who might be worse or better on corporations, immigration, taxes, child care, seniors, health care, veterans, marriage, abortion or religious costumes.

I don’t have to try to figure out who is more right or less wrong about any of these things. And it’s not that these things don’t matter. They do. But the fact is these things will always be issues needing careful thought and management by government. That’s what we pay them to do and any elected government, ANY, is going to manage them as best they can.

I’m not worried about eliminating political choices. We have options and freedom to choose. But for that freedom to mean anything, for your choice and my choice to be meaningful, depends on us having lives, long lives, generations of them. And right now that’s looking doubtful. Climate change is real and increasingly dramatic. It may be irreversible. But we still have a choice now, the choice to try, to do our damnedest.

I was struck by something a climate activist said on the radio the other day. At the end of the interview she asked the host, “What are you going to do different tomorrow?” He answered, “I don’t know.” And she said, “That’s what worries me.”

That worries me too. I don’t know what I can do tomorrow that is not the same as I did today. It feels like everything I do is part of the problem and nothing I can do will make enough difference to matter.

The good news about this election is that right now, I can do one thing that I know 100% is going to make a difference. I can decide to vote Green.

By voting Green, I can be confident that decisions on all the familiar political issues will be brought into alignment with an overall objective, a goal, a climate action program we all understand and can stand behind.

I have to ask, Who doesn’t want to save the planet? Who doesn’t want to say Yes to letting saner minds prevail, trusting our elected officials, and getting the job done?

That’s why, to me, there is only one way to vote in the coming election. Green.

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