The Dryden Observer

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EDITORIAL: The Great Turning Away

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.

By Chris Marchand
In these first few days of the new year, I feel as though we stand at a crossroads of multiple avenues of absurdity, roads on which some of us will continue, while others — weary of the game, what it’s become and where it’s taking us — will turn away.

I feel strangely conflicted over my fascination with characters like Ted Kaczynski, whose once laughably-paranoid ideas about modern technology’s effects on human society are starting to seem sort of prophetic — though inadmissible in any discussion, on account of him being a serial-murdering domestic terrorist and all.

One person’s ‘crazy’ is another person’s ticket to the White House, I suppose.

The past year, with its Senator Lynn Beyaks, its Logan Pauls, the exhausting exploits of Donald Trump and even the ever-so entertaining local ‘Turkeygate’ chip away at what I call the meritocracy of ideas — the concept that the most reasonable, balanced and evidence-based views rise to the fore, pushing less reasonable, less likely arguments to the margins where they belong. 

That’s not how it works at all anymore.

I’ll declare my personal bias up front — imagine if it was once your job to curate a variety of reasonable viewpoints on issues, to run interference between reliable information and the aberrant notions of the often mentally-ill on behalf of the information-seeking public. 

Once, we were editors.

That’s not how it works at all anymore.

I’m as guilty as anyone of falling under the spell of this creeping cultural malaise, fueled by a reckless use of fear and emotion in every online headline, combined with an addictive delivery system that warps our perception of ourselves and each other.

I have an uncle whose views on the world seem irreconcilably at odds with my own. The funny thing is, when I interact with him in the real world, I’m reminded of his warm humanity, his amazing sense of humour and of how much we actually have in common with each other. This, despite the fact that in a digital realm, we can’t even be friends.

What is lost between looking someone in the eye versus typing some words at them into a box? Eye contact, body language, a million years of subtle and painstakingly evolved social cues.

Former Facebook Executive Chamath Palihapitiya recently addressed the Stanford Graduate School of Business to talk about why he believes society needs to do some important soul-searching around social media.

“It is a point in time where people need to hard break from some of these tools and the things that you rely on,” said Palihapitiya. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedlack loops that we have created are destroying how society works. No civil discourse, no cooperation, misinformation, mistruth. We are in a really bad state of affairs, in my opinion. It is eroding the core foundations of how people behave, by and between each other. I don’t have a good solution. My solution is that I just don’t use these tools anymore.”

Is 2018 the year we rein-in this multi-headed beast?

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