Does it matter if online information is true or false?

Does it matter if online information is true or false?

Photo by Josh Marshall on Unsplash

Nowt as queer as folk

This north of England expression, although probably also Welsh, is said to emphasize that people sometimes behave in a very strange way. 

No kidding. 

We were bonkers before lockdown and now, well, just check out all the fails on Youtube. 

Yes ma’am, there is a battery in the car, not just the one in the key fob’.

Our blissful ignorance is so complete that it is a miracle that we figured out how to make a car in the first place.

Thanks in large part to this capacity to be ignorant, there is another famous quote first attributed to Mark Twain in his 1897 travel book titled “Following the Equator: A Journey Around the World” where in chapter 15 he writes 

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar

Pudd’nhead Wilson was the name of a fictional character in a novel Twain published a few years before the travel book. 

However, in 1823 Lord Byron published several cantos of his epic satirical poem “Don Juan” wherein the one-hundredth stanza of canto 14 included the lines 

‘Tis strange—but true; for truth is always strange,

Stranger than fiction: if it could be told,

How much would novels gain by the exchange!

How differently the world would men behold!

So we have known for a long time that people are the source of much craziness, more even than can be conjured in the imagination of great writers of fiction.

And nothing has changed. 

We are as mad today as ever and it looks worse for our attention span is that of a gnat. 

We are only interested in the bizarre or peculiar or some poor bugger falling off his skateboard onto his gonads. 

Then, of course, we believe everything we hear or see, especially online. 

Our common sense left the building with Elvis and no matter how unlikely the scene it must be true given that truth is always strange, stranger than fiction.

Does it matter? 

If we are entertained and no animals were harmed in the making of the film, then presumably it doesn’t matter. 

We can be entertained by fact or fiction in equal measure. The important thing is that we enjoy it so that we click the like button. 

Of course, if there is contention or opinion involved then we are in, for human beings are addicted to drama. Just a brief look into any family will tell you that. And we are much more likely to want to argue with each other than we are to agree. Just for the pleasure of something to argue about. 

This requirement for entertainment and drama has fuelled a whole industry that in its modern form is open to anyone with a smartphone and some botox or the aforementioned skateboard. 

Ask an evolutionary biologist about this phenomenon and she would say…

“Sure, makes perfect sense. We are designed to notice the unusual because that gave us an advantage in finding food and water. Our curiosity also helped us develop smart ideas and solutions to no end of problems back before agriculture. Youtube is an obvious extension of that instinct”

Ok then, that is interesting. 

It means it is instinct to like boat ramp fails and crazy Russians overtaking at 120 kph on an ice-bound road.

It is also ok if the clip is true or made up? I’m still just following instinct.

“Well yes,” says the biologist, “only along with the curiosity and eye for the unusual goes the ability to test. No point in picking out a purple fruit if it is going to give you stomach cramps. We added the ability to understand if unusual was useful. We learned how to understand if what we had seen was of any use to us.” 

Ah, so the unusual is put into context. That makes sense. 

Presumably, the truth matters now in order to establish the context. What might start off as amusing because it was different or odd becomes the subject of investigation in case there is something in it for us, an opportunity perhaps. 

If the truth is that there is nothing, it is actually just an idiot on a skateboard with more bravado than skill, then the laugh is enough. No problem, move on with a chuckle.

Russians killing themselves and innocents is more serious, especially if you live there.

Our biologist again. 

“What should happen is that we make an instinctive call as to how much attention to pay and when to engage in finding out more. We learn when to let curiosity be added to what we already know to explore the odd coloured fruit. There is a knowledge base we tap into and add to that keeps us safe.”

This seeking knowledge is critical. 

Around the world, people have lost sight of what actually made us humans in the first place, this ability to understand unusual things and put them into context. 

Current knowledge per individual is remarkably weak. 

Most people seem completely unaware of the realities of how life works. What delivers things to their doorstep how it comes about and the consequences of decisions that they make. 

Disengagement with the truth of matters is a problem. But not the only one .

Growing inabilities 

Inability to discern truth from fact. 

Inability to pay attention to anything other than what will fuel our need for drama or amusement. 

Inability to stay with something that requires more than 15 seconds of attention. 

Inability to give something some serious thought. 

It is time to do something about these inabilities because they play into the hands of people wanting authoritarian power rather than anything to do with our best interest. This is where the truth matters. When the democratic process is undermined. 

We still need to eat the odd coloured fruit and celebrate the wonderful weirdness of folk. 


Comment below if you feel the urge and please share with your online folks

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