Imagine a free Disneyworld. No charge. Ride Space Mountain all day! You don’t need an MBA to know why this won’t work. On the customer side, the crowds would be crushing, and the experience would be miserable. On the business side, there would be no revenue and therefore no profit.
Now imagine a newspaper that ran wildly fake stories for which they were getting paid by the highest bidder. We understand there’s a difference between The National Enquirer and The Wall Street Journal. We also know there is a world of difference between the groups of people that read them.
Combine these ideas and you get the business model of some of our largest technology and social media corporations. Not that we need anything else to worry about. Most of us are dealing with an upside-down daily life due to a pandemic, social justice concerns, and an over the top election season. And the fact that Jon Bon Jovi is totally grey.
You might have missed the recent Dear Annie column suggesting The Social Dilemma documentary on Netflix to a family dealing with bullying on social media. Unfortunately, it was in the Extra section, not on the Op-ed page.
Two of the best books I read this summer were Move Fast and Break Things and The Attention Merchants as they laid the groundwork for this documentary. These were eye-opening for me as a parent, but they were also good reminders of a few things I learned from my parents and even from my grandmother: 1. Haste makes waste 2. Watch out for snake oil salesmen. If you have never heard “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer. You’re the product,” you may be in for a surprise.
The internet is a rabbit hole and always has been. When Alice stumbled into the rabbit hole, things got weird. Just like following along with a huge conspiracy theory online. Or believing that the systems are all rigged against us or that our votes won’t count. Warning! That may be a 20-ounce bottle of VSK, or Voter Suppression Kool-Aid we’re drinking. Any dentist worth his weight can attest that Kool-Aid rots our teeth. And there’s Jim Jones. (If you don’t know who Jim Jones was, ask someone older than you.)
Or is it a 12-ounce can of Dr. Disinformation? My mom called me once in tears because “Reva died. No for real this time. She’s gone!” Reva however was not an actual person; she was a character from the soap opera “Guiding Light.” Reva was the star of the show and had many exciting adventures. She was beautiful. Everyone rooted for her. There was scandal and intrigue and a lot of long stares. Yet my mom had gotten so wrapped up in the show she was troubled in real life over this fictitious character. Oddly enough there are people and entities out there that want us to get so wrapped up in alternate realms that we fight against each other and even against our own democracy. If my eighth-grade civics teacher were here, she would say shame on them.
What’s the bottom line?
1. Our tech tools are phenomenal and they have improved over time. But some of them need a few more guardrails. Obviously, people want to be heard and I’m a big fan of free speech but let’s face it, social media is a hot mess.
2. Critical thinking is a 21st-century skill. Kids and adults alike need to do some fact checking using credible sources on the internet. We should probably also gauge how our own online behavior makes us feel.
3. Preying on vulnerable people for profit’s sake shouldn’t be tolerated in today’s corporate social responsibility culture. Bottom of the brain stem is the lowest common denominator. We should expect more out of Silicon Valley.
4. Coaches often say, “Tough times never last but tough people do.”
Here we are, plugging along. Working, feeding our kids, buying more masks. Maybe in our hearts we know things will get better. Eventually, we’ll look back and say that weird preview we got of what a “virtual life” could look like stunk. Real life, as I tell my kids, is the OG. (If you don’t know what OG means, ask a teen.) Doing the things we love together in person, like cheering on our favorite teams, going to church, giving hugs—that’s the good stuff. We miss being together. It’s a small world after all.
Martin is a Roanoke Valley native who earned a bachelor’s degree in Health Education and a master’s degree in Health and Physical Education from Virginia Tech. She has worked in health promotion for 24 years.
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