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Digital Divisivity


NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics The US — indeed most societies that were formed after the late 1600s — are adversarial in nature. Take a fleeting look at US politics and you see this writ large.

Pro (american) footballer, NY senator and one time vice presidential candidate Jack KempBut there’s adversarial and there’s out right combative. The two are different. Now deceased pro (american) footballer, NY senator and one time vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, a personal hero, corrected an interviewer regarding the democratic nominees during his vp bid with “…they are our adversaries, not our enemies” or something close to.

But it’s occurring to me that the increase is digital communications in increasing people’s combative natures. We’re going from being loyal opposition to being extreme antagonists.

I think it’s because the proliferation of information and its ease of access is making us, as individuals, think and believe we are correct in all things we look up on the ‘net, and more than correct, we are right, as in morally, ethically, unequivocally and by birth-right, justified and absolved in any position we take because we, by golly and by god, looked it up on the internet.

Let me give you an example.

Long, long ago (the 1980s or so), New England went through an incredible winter. There was one particular storm that The Boston Globe, a journal of record (at the time, anyway), measured in Shelbies.

Shelby ScottNo, a “Shelby” isn’t some arcane Boston Brahman or MIT or Harvard or ancient Greek or Roman measurement system. It’s based on one Shelby Scott, a retired WBZ-TV news commentator who lived on the Cape and who was (kind of) wheeled out every winter storm to report on how much snow we received because (for reasons I don’t know) she was given the monicker of “The Doyenne of Boston Weather” even though she wasn’t a meteorologist.

Anyway, that storm in the 1980s? The Boston Globe measured the total snowfall at “two and a half Shelbies“. It was a joke and a tribute to a long standing, well known and respected local news commentator.

But take a moment and notice everything that’s in that fragment. It’s “two and a half”, not “2.5” (meaning words, not numbers, meaning it was geared for different parts of the brain). And it was measured in something social, meaning that an understanding of a Shelby meant you were part of a group, you were identifying with a specific culture and part of a recognized milieu.

The measurement itself brought people together because Shelby Scott’s exact size was always something for debate. She was a petite woman but, as Johnny Carson would say, “How petite was she?”

Now that's New England weatherThe inexactness of the measurement gave us reason to bond, to gather, to joke and cajole and pat each other on the backs and debate and laugh at the end and even if we disagreed we parted as friends because weather is, after all, weather.

But now?

Too much detailA recent look at shows agonizing detail. It’s wonderful.

But do we really need it? Is your life better because you know the weather in 15 minute chunks?

I mean, it’s great if you want to argue about the weather, that kind of specificity is…wonderful. Right?

And I’m sure there’s some kind of satisfaction in being correct on some tidbit, some minutiae, some trivial matter. Aren’t there games that reward you for that?

Trivial PursuitBut wait, those were designed to bring people together.

I mean, together as in “let’s do something that causes us to value each other as equals” rather than “let’s each sit around feeling smugger than everybody else because we got some meaningless scrap of information that will be completely irrelevant in 15 minutes one nanosecond faster than everybody else I’m sitting with.”

Feelings of superiority, even in such trivial matters, bring us apart. Especially in the young, who’s near full time use of digital technologies has been reported to cause atrophication of the social parts of their brains (because much like a non-used muscle, it shrivels up without use).

The young Adolph HitlerAnd we all know where juvenile feelings of superiority end up, right? I mean, you don’t need the internet to figure that one out, do you?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. 2013/10/10 2:27 am

    Joseph, nice item from the heart. I suspect interacting with data more than with people contributes to lockdown thinking. However, I even more suspect that it’s not the access to web or other data that narrows people’s awareness of what’s out there by way of snow or political games. No, I suspect a more basic driver is at work. Mostly, I’d be looking at a phenomenon noted widely that we tend to gather with others who agree with us, and thus we end up shutting out ideas — and even more critically, shutting out the experiences of others, especially experiences coming from people who live different kinds of lives, or whose parents, friends, relatives, etc have had widely differing lives, and thus have widely different perspectives to report. Not to argue, simply to report. From diverse exposures, we stand a better chance of coming to see there can be an array of rights and wrongs to consider, and an array of measures to assess. That whole human array slows down the quick retort and the snappy soundbite solution. The quick fix likely fits the slogans offered by folks with an agenda, who may not have much interest in any one of us trying to come together to care for each other as members of our society. If this comment leaves one wondering what side this comes from, that may be the point — we all come from ourselves, which is both unique and also belongs to the many-sided culture and country in which we live. Ultimately, caring for each other is always a burden, in any culture or country. The question is, do we want to live in a place where we don’t care for each other, where we don’t lend a hand to lift a burden, don’t put our youth through school, don’t help our people live better? The context is, to keep those value-laden actions at top of mind, even as we puzzle out how to do it amidst the dailiness of our lives and considering the differing abilities we each may have at any moment to contribute to that shared enterprise that we all deem “ours.”

  2. 2013/10/10 2:40 am

    PS: Nice picture of one youth who, during his life, made quite a mark on history and on many millions of people. It’d be interesting to see an age/recognition arc across readers here as to who might be that particular youngster. Or to see a pitched battle over whether who or whom would be more grammatical in the prior sentence, bearing in mind that it’s been said that the noise of disputation varies inversely with the importance of the dispute, or words to that effect. Cheers to you and yours, Joseph…

  3. 2013/10/10 9:52 am

    Thanks for reading and commenting.
    Yes, people who congregate with others of like belief is familiar (and note my use of congregate).
    I do agree that a simple willingness to be exposed to other’s thoughts, opinions, beliefs, etc., whether to simply appreciate them, review them critically or integrate them into one’s own metaphysic, is missing in today’s world. Much more so than I read in history, anyway. And that’s noting that all cultures were (much more) xenophobic until the advent of mass transportation.
    Aye to all your points, indeed.

  4. 2013/10/10 9:52 am

    So far few seem to have noted the picture, except one fellow who wondered why I wasn’t wearing glasses in the photo because he’d read that I’d been wearing glasses since early childhood.
    Really not sure how to take that.

  5. 2013/10/10 9:56 am

    And thanks to Lilian Druve & Peter Loong of Sweden for the Like. Muchly appreciated.


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