When Did I Become That Guy?

It Just Took Some Time

Gradually, so gradually I didn’t really notice, I’ve made an interesting mental shift.

You know all of those silly chain letters and urban legends masquerading as status updates on Facebook or, less frequently, links on Twitter? Well, more than chain letters: anecdotes with not at all veiled You-see-Timmies, missing children, fake news stories designed to create an indignant emotional reaction in the audience. You know, the ones you roll your eyes at and ignore or, if someone has actually posted enough of them that they’re really cluttering up your stream, you start to hide that person’s updates.

That was me. I stress ‘was’.

Sometime in the last couple of years, I’ve gone from rolling my eyes to thinking, ‘how could you possibly believe the hoax you’ve just helped perpetuate?’ to actively pointing out the ones that sadden or annoy me.

I’m not a jerk about it; at least I don’t think I am. I’ve never called someone out or called someone a name or busted their chops for not thinking before they posted. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually wanted to do any of those things.

“This seemed a little weird to me, so I gave it a quick Google…”

“I remember hearing about this in the news last year…”

“Sorry dude, but as nice as the sentiment is, I first got this one in e-mail sometime in 1999…”

“Um, sorry. This showed up in my stream a couple of months bag along with a warning…”

And I take a few seconds to research the hoax or fraud so I can provide a link or two. Or three or four in some extreme cases.

I get a few acknowledgements here and there, but most pass by uncommented and, probably, unnoticed. That’s okay.

It’s not a big part of my day, or even a part of every day, but I feel like it’s important, even if only to me, and I’ve been thinking about that a little bit.

As a parent, it’s part of my job to teach my kids to think. Not what to think, and I believe quite a few people make that mistake (a discussion for another time), but to think, as in how to use their brains.

Extending that to the rest of the world seems a little unkind, at least without a bit of explanation to go with it.

To Steal From Douglas Adams

“Anything invented before your fifteenth birthday is the order of nature. That’s how it should be. Anything invented between your 15th and 35th birthday is new and exciting, and you might get a career there. Anything invented after that day, however, is against nature and should be prohibited.”

I don’t know that 35 is the appropriate cut off anymore—we are getting more flexible just due to the pace of change we have to deal with—but that’s beside the point at the moment. Fifteen is probably still pretty good for the low end.

The generally accepted date for the creation of the World Wide Web, what most people refer to as the Internet (but that takes in more), is the 6th of August, 1991. Yup, the Internet as we know it is only 21 at the moment. But really, it’s younger than that to most of us. Google was born in 1998, the same year as my oldest child. That’s probably a good benchmark for the “modern” internet, and makes for a nice convergence as they’ll both be 15 next year (which makes me feel old, but what else is new).

Add those together and if you’re under 30 right now, the way things are is the way they’ve always been, more or less.

But don’t forget that includes people.

Those of us on the far side of 30 tend to have to think about things a little more and, sometimes, work to keep up. A different problem, but sometimes amounting to the same thing: we’re a little rushed.

Search Your Feelings

A hoax used to be really hard to pull off. It was hard to get the word out, to find people willing to believe because the evidence you presented looked convincing.

Not so in the Internet Age.

Make it emotionally convincing and post it in half a dozen places. If it hits the right emotional buttons, a few people will pick it up and repost it without checking. A few of those reposts will get a few reposts, and so on. If you’re lucky, your hoax will go viral and you can sit back and laugh about what a clever douchebag you are.

Better still, pick something you know has worked before and recycle it.

Wait, let’s make a few little changes to make it seem a little more relevant or target a specific audience. Now you’re not just being a jerk, but you’re marketing a particular worldview, pushing a position for or against something.

How can you best play on my feelings so I won’t take the time to think about it? It’s all about the spin, baby.

And now, your moment of Kolinahr

Being passionate about things is great, as long as that passion is directed by reason.

Lately, I’ve started seeing more people pointing out the hoaxes and fallacies and cruel jokes that get perpetuated by the ease of communication we have these days, and the time crunch we all seem to live our lives in. Some people are gentle about it, like I try to be. Some people aren’t. Some people just type the word hoax and attach a link.

Maybe some of those people were always there and I’m just seeing them now. Maybe some of them are recent converts, sad or angry about how much stupidity has been thrown at them or has even caught them.

Someday soon, there might be enough of them to start making a difference in everyone’s time stream, and wouldn’t that be an awesome thing?

Be well, everyone.

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