The world we live in today is very much absorbed in the here-and-now.
Modern technology has given us access to a virtually infinite amount of information, and social media allows us to keep up with all the latest news in realtime.
To compensate for this overwhelming amount of information, we’ve drastically reduced our attention spans. Driven by the fear of missing out on some amazing video or juicy piece of gossip, we skip over people who post long statuses and skim over headlines instead of reading full reports.
Twitter based their entire business model off of this phenomenon, creating a service that forces people to express themselves in 140 characters or less. Our unwillingness to to be patient on the internet is causing an increasing number of very real problems.
For one, there’s a shitstorm of questionable or straight up fake content out there that is designed to take advantage of our headline abuse.
The biggest value of the internet is that it gives us access to unprecedented amounts of information. But ironically, our predictability and quick emotions have created a growing industry of misinformation.
The trend is also affecting the so called “reputable” news agencies, which have rapidly degenerated to a point not too far above sleaziest of tabloids. The key word here is sensationalize. It’s so important I’ll give you the full definition (courtesy of my MacBook dictionary):
sensationalize |senˈsā sh ənlˌīz| ; verb: (esp. of a newspaper) present information about (something) in a way that provokes public interest and excitement, at the expense of accuracy
So what are the two best ways to “provoke public interest and excitement” in our society today?
The first is pop culture. There’s an army of paparazzi all across the country just waiting for an athlete, musician, actor or other public figure to do something crazy, or dumb, or funny, or ya know… whatever honestly.
Reality TV has made us obsessed with these people, to the point where many people have to know what’s going on with their favorite celebs all the time. Hell, Samsung even made an entire app just for people to follow around Lebron James, who has a promotion agreement with the company.
The second way to “provoke public interest and excitement” is, unfortunately, anger. This anger is typically fueled by politically-poisoned social issues.
See, politicians have also realized that we’re not willing to put in the time to do any real research into what they’ve actually voted for and against in the past (to be fair, it’s tough for the average working person to keep up with), so their best tactic to get your vote is to get you mad.
First they have to get you mad that their primary opponent isn’t extreme enough in their political views. That’s pretty much how the Tea Party emerged and how Eric Cantor, who was on his way to House Majority Leader, lost to an economics professor from Randolph Macon College (Cantor spent more on steak dinners than Dave Brat did on his entire campaign).
People were mad that Congress has been ineffective and Cantor, who had realized the only way to get things done was to compromise with the Democrats, was blamed for being to weak of a conservative. People were mad that he didn’t “stand up for his ideals”, whatever that means these days.
Once the primary is won the real fun starts, because the candidates get to make you mad about stuff the things you’re most sensitive about: social issues. Guns, abortion, religion and education, gay people getting married. Most people have very strong views about these things, and these views are almost always closely entwined with our emotions.
Most people don’t vote for someone because they particularly like that candidate, they do it because they dislike or distrust the other guy even more. Get people mad about something that the other guy did some time in the past, and you win yourself votes.
Rather than basing our vote off of candidate’s long-term record, we base it off some random 30-second sound bite. And we wonder why Congress is so ineffective…
The media is complicit in this farce, because they know that discussing the issues that make us emotional will get them more viewers, so the news industry has become political polarized, with the major stations becoming more and more biased one way or the other.
Meanwhile, both parties are quietly screwing us all. Do you remember when we bailed out Wall Street after the housing bubble burst causing the recession in 2008? Well after that happened, legislation was passed letting investment banks know that the government would no longer bail them out for any risky investments they made (like the derivatives which bankrupted so many of them).
Well, late last year, the House of Representatives quietly repealed this provision, allowing banks to move their riskiest assets back into government-insured accounts. A few people reported it, but it went widely unnoticed for the most part.
Why didn’t it spark the outrage it should have? Because legislation, provisions and the general proceedings of Congress are on almost everyone’s filter of things not to read as we fly down our news feeds.
Need another example? How about the USA FREEDOM Act, which was passed by Congress after the Snowden revelations to end the NSA’s practice of mass collection of American’s phone records.
Well at least that’s what we were told it would do. But by the time it actually passed, the legislation was so watered down that it is virtually powerless to stop the mass collection of phone data.
Or how about our entire economic system, which is based off of the constant accumulation of debt?
When central banks set their interest rates super low, everyone borrows and spends a lot of money.
But when everyone realizes that most of the money being spent is money people don’t actually have, the bottom falls out.
That’s what happened in 2008. A piece of legislation designed to give more people access to housing ended up just making it very easy to give out home loans, even to people who banks knew couldn’t afford the payments.
But they gave out the loans anyways. Why? Because the government promised to pay them back for any losses. Banks went crazy giving out these toxic loans, and everyone started buying houses with money they didn’t have, slowly inflating the housing bubble.
Then one day, somebody realized the emperor had no clothes, and the housing bubble burst, dragging the economy down into a recession which screwed the average American pretty hard.
The banks, on the other hand, got bailed out to the tune of $1 trillion. The rich got richer, the poor got poorer. And this was definitely not the first time something like that happened. In fact, just 8 years before the housing bubble burst, we went through a similar downturn when the dotcom bubble burst.
This constant accumulation of debt causes cycles of inflation and deflation, but they happen over a number of years, so most people are unaware of the cycles, preferring to discuss only how the market has performed in the past few months .
The European Union has gotten so desperate to get people to spend money that their central bank recently set the standard interest rate for banks to -0.1% (yes that’s a negative sign), meaning that banks will actually lose money if they try to hold onto their cash instead of loaning it out.
The bottom line is that history repeats itself because we allow ourselves to be so consumed in the present that we forget about the past.
We’re so obsessed with staying “current” that we have blinded ourselves to the long-term trends which are really hurting us the most.
It’s basically a massive societal drug addiction: we opiate ourselves with material things to help us avoid confronting the serious problems that we all face together these days.
Rather than trying to do something about these problems, we get drunk off retail and high off social media, feeding the cancers of our world, rather than treating them.
We need a collective awakening to these issues. Otherwise, one day very soon, we’re going to reach a point when these cancers are no longer treatable, no matter how much we pray for recovery.