For years I was reminded of the infinite monkey theorem, which stated that a monkey hitting keys at random on a keyboard for an infinite amount of time would surely type a given text, such as the complete works of Shakespeare. Therefore, thousands of monkeys hitting keys at random … well, you get the idea.
We now have millions of monkeys, aka people, punching keys on their computers and smartphones, and all we’ve gotten are bad jokes, racist insults, half-truths, no-truths and more circulated around and around the globe. Kids can pick on other kids without leaving the comfort of their bedrooms. Political leaders can plant distrust.
Social media confirms the fact if you tell a lie enough times, it becomes the gospel truth to some people.
Just think what further damage Sen. Joseph McCarthy could have done if he’d had the ability to text and tweet his distorted allegations during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s.
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Years ago, I was fascinated with Marshall McLuhan, who was considered by some scholars to be the leading prophet of the electronic age. He saw the potential in mass media, pointing out, for example, how the invention of the printing press fundamentally changed people’s views of their world.
He explained that even though a person standing on a street corner witnesses a traffic accident with his own eyes, he often waits until the newspaper story and photo come out to tell his friends the printed version of what happened.
For the past dozen years, I’ve been worried about what effect the increased use of the internet and social media sites such as Twitter would have on society. The first casualty was people actually talking to one another.
Last summer at one of the concerts at Atascadero Lake Park, I saw a young couple walking along the path. They were holding hands. In their free hands, both were looking at something on their phones. Both had earphones plugged in. They weren’t plugged into each other.
Readership of the print media, which the aforementioned McLuhan considered a “hot” medium, is certainly on the decline.
And now with the ability of anyone (including foreign governments) to hack into our computers and manipulate information, and with an incoming president who uses social media to punish his critics and spread his version of reality, I don’t feel good about the new year.
Seems to me that the time is ripe for the Flat Earth Society to once more pursue its belief that the world really isn’t round.
Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 805-466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.