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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 1/31/21

Good morning,

I hardly know what to do on Sunday mornings, now no longer having Trumpian tweets to comment on. Today I offer some observations on technology’s grasp on us.

Observation #1

I was on the Peloton bike the other day and on the screen appeared the accomplishments and milestones of fellow riders, with instructions to “give them a high five.” I ignored this while peddling furiously to keep the pace with an instructor half my age. But the request didn’t go away. Going through my mind (other than, “please, lord, let this end soon”) was whether it might be rude not to comply—after all, within my power was the ability to grant a tiny bit of happiness and recognition to some anonymous fellow rider, with the mere touch of the screen. Then again, I wasn’t about to allow this device to dictate my actions. Eventually I relented. Call it a low bar to easy compliance. Call it acquiescence to the power of social media. Call it a need to belong. Basically, I behaved like a well-trained lab rat.

I don’t “like” stuff in social media. But I can now understand the draw, as it practically begs for participation. And it’s SOOO easy! What’s the harm? Is resistance, as the Borg would suggest, futile?

Observation #2

On our trip last weekend to Montecito, we stopped at a charging station at the Miramar Hotel. The next thing you know, Andrea was getting non-stop ads on Facebook and Instagram, advertising the Miramar. We have all experienced this. How many times have you searched for something on your browser or discussed something in your home, only to find ads appear on your phone? Our computers and phones are monitoring sites we visit and places we go in order to push goods and services our way. Sometimes we may be inclined to make a purchase we may not previously have intended. While this might result in an inconvenient or expensive extravagance for some, it is a human response and often a spur of the moment purchase. But this sort of predatory practice has an even more profound impact on those who succumb to these natural human weaknesses but lack the financial capacity to bear the cost of the decisions they are pushed into.

Observation #3

This week I saw a picture of the fellow with the Confederate flag inside the Capitol building with a notation identifying him by name and indicating he was both a registered Democrat and a Biden supporter. It went on to note that “you won’t this reporting on mainstream media.” It was followed by many supportive comments on “how true this is.” Only it wasn’t. I searched this guy’s name and picture. He’s identified repeatedly as a right wing extremist and a Trump supporter (not surprisingly). But the false description developed a life of its own. On the Internet, apparently, lying is never having to say you’re sorry.

The Atlantic published a story back in 2018 called “The Grim Conclusions of the Largest-Ever Study of Fake News.” The conclusion is that false information outperforms true information. Indeed, they conclude that falsehood dominates Twitter. False news in their study was 70% more likely to get retweeted than accurate news. A false story reaches 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does.

Who says it isn’t time for the industry—and government—need to label stories for their truth and inaccuracy? Who doesn’t think that a platform has some responsibility for the damage being caused to our democracy each day by the falsehoods disseminated and amplified? Lots of work to be done. I’m hoping our leaders will rise to the challenge. Anyone taking bets?

Enjoy your Sunday,


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