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Archive for June 19, 2020

Ponderings of an old coder

June 19, 2020 4 comments

With the world going off the rails, I figured I could share my 2 cents. It’s not a post about any single subject or situation – but rather me looking at the world of information, news and how words like truth and fact is becoming increasingly meaningless. Looking at the Internet right now – I’m not sure I like what I see.

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I grew up with modems, C64 and Amiga machines, so networks was nothing new

As much as I hate to admit it, the utter chaos that has manifested lately, is largely the Internet’s fault. It’s acting as a magnifying glass that is presently warping perception on a scale never before imagined.

I grew up with BBS’s (BBS = bulletin board system. You connected via your phone line and could read news, download software, chat, email etc. back in the 80s) on Commodore machines; So the transition from BBS systems to the Internet was not that big of a deal for me. But I never imagined that technology would change the world into the proverbial battleground we see today.

“Mankind has never had access to so much information, yet we have never been more misinformed and misguided than right now. It is an amazing paradox”

But back in the 80s and 90s our values and motives were different. Innocent and naive even. I grew up with Carl Sagan’s Cosmos as inspiration,  and at school we were told about this utopian future we would all have; with vacations on the moon, flying cars and peaceful coexistence as mankind transitioned away from the accumulation of wealth to perfecting ourselves. The Internet was supposed to be a step in that direction, of global communication and cooperation.

Interestingly, Elon Musk seems to be the only one who refuse to give up on the dream, recognizing that to truly be masters of our own fate – we have to get off this rock. The rest of humanity seems content with the same “bread and circus” shit show that has been playing since the early bronze age. Or so it feels at times anyways.

Absolute potential also includes darkness

But for all the glorious potential the internet was supposed to bring, it has also fostered some deeply disturbing and dark stuff. It is a space where everyone can build a platform, where only technical insight (or money to buy it) holds you back. We have repeatedly witnessed core human values, common decency (if not humanity) being sidestepped for wealth and personal gain. Morality doesn’t even factor into technology any more; It’s only in the face of complete annihilation that companies agree to change their ways.

The unfortunate side-effect of our technological wild-west, means that organizations that would otherwise have died-out in the pre-internet age, simply because their values were not compatible with reality – suddenly have the power to be represented side by side with established organizations. Organizations that have paid their dues and stood the test of time. Nature has a way of sanding down bad ideas, but the laws of nature and karma somehow don’t apply to cyberspace.

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In the Norwegian myths that my mother would read to me as a child, Loki caused havoc not by force or violence, but through his skills in “mixing lies with truth”. The god of influence ..

Right now it’s possible to cheat evolution if you will, leaping straight to the finish line with ideas that haven’t been tested by reality (or even worse, ideologies that failed miserably, only to reappear from the shadows later). So where respected and reputable news organizations have spent decades or even centuries cultivating their craft based on rock solid values — anyone with a computer and web skills can suddenly compete on equal footing. It is quite frankly terrifying. The only thing more terrifying is the idea of censorship and “managed freedom of speech”.

From paper to HTML

In the midst of all the information, you would imagine the older and more mature news outlets to be a safe haven. But alas, the change from paper based news to digital content turned journalism on its head. Journalism used to be fact oriented (hence the name, journal, a write-up of events). The only column that held personal viewpoints or reflections on current events were the editorials. For which the editor was personally responsible. Journalists held a high standard of ethics, that no matter what – the truth must be told without bias. The whole idea of a journal was to describe events as accurate as humanly possible, so that the reader could make up their own minds. There was a bond of trust between writer and reader.

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Newspapers was hit the hardest by the advent of the Internet

All of that is gone.
Since newspapers have had to compete with radicals of every sort, kids trolling out of their moms garage, hackers, celebrities, and professional spin doctors — people who can afford to influence millions of people with zero accountability — newspapers had to relax their moral compass to survive. Which also involved some “financial contributions” from various parties to keep the wheels going, all of which has contributed to the information nightmare we experience today.

UntitledI have become a political refugee. The left I belonged to and took part in for 30 years -is not the left I see today. The left I grew up with were champions of life, fairness and practicality. Fearless men who never backed down from a fight, yet lived by a moral codex where dialog should be sought by all means – and violence only used in self defence. And in journalism, the truth no matter how ugly it might be, must be told. Nothing must be held back on bias.

Today we face a new breed of liberals who classify words as violence while obsessing over punishment of ancestors long dead; a breed which just happens to be the first generation to grow up with the internet 24/7. There is a very real battle taking place inside press offices right-now; one where half-baked, semi-fascist ideas have somehow made it through the back door, disguised as values of piety. They are not. They are seeds of of hate that have already led to books being burned, and inconvenient facts erased from history.

It is said that those who do not learn from past mistakes, are doomed to repeat them. Well by erasing past mistakes en-mass, how exactly will future generations learn anything? Except not to erase history perhaps. You would imagine the burning of the library in Alexandria, from which 6000 years of human history went up in flames, sending us headlong through 2000 years of amnesia had taught us something.

Mankind has never had access to so much information, yet we have never been more misinformed and misguided than right now. It is an amazing paradox, because information was supposed to set us free. Instead it has torn us apart.

Reflections

If you take the time to read the words of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, a philosopher emperor that lived around 180 AD. Read his meditations and notice the weight and gravity of his wisdom. Consider the quality of his personality compared to our leaders today, and take into account how little knowledge he had at his disposal. The man died in his early 50s, yet his wisdom stands as a monolith compared to our own pebbles.

“We are all fellow-citizens: and if so, we have a common city.
The universe, then, must be that city; for of what other common city are
all men citizens?”

We need to teach our kids how to digest information. Developers are used to consuming vast amounts of information, but kids these days grow up in a torrent of data they cannot possibly digest without guidance. The subtle but important difference between knowledge and wisdom. A fact is a status report, a description; wisdom is a recognition of somethings innate nature. As a society we need both, because right now “the fact wars” raging online is doing irreparable damage to real people. Real lives.

Facts informs you of what you can do, but wisdom reminds you of what you should do. It doesn’t have to be more difficult than that.

We probably need a reminder, all of us.