Back when Dubya was president, I read Slashdot every day. My wife worked as a journalist and then as a technical writer in the semiconductor industry and she mocked me when I told her about some cool thing I’d seen: either the “news” was like six months old or the story had misrepresented whatever the development was. Any semiconductor story along the lines of some great new manufacturing process or some cool chip or a company merger or…well, anything, it was old, wrong, or both. I eventually gave up on Slashdot and turned to more established news sites.
A couple of years ago I signed up on Facebook. This year, it really seems to me as though Facebook has become (was always?) precisely as useful as Slashdot. My feed is full of posts about horrible things that happened a while ago, or not really the way the post says, or both, and lots of people just getting exercised in unproductive ways. I’m older, now, and so are my friends, so at least nobody’s commenting with “first!” or the other puerile Slashdot memes.
And it’s gotten so bad that now when I look at nominally reputable news sites, the headlines and ledes are as sensational and obnoxious as Slashdot’s. Just to see if I’m maybe rose-tinting the past, I went and looked at Slashdot this morning. Nope.
I’m not a journalist, nor even a writer. When I write something, I tend to bury the main point down in the fifth or sixth paragraph after a whole lot of context-loading. I lay out points and expect other people to connect them the same way I do. I am the reason that TL;DR is a thing. I’m actually okay with that, because I’m not vain enough to think that even if anyone read all the way to the end they’d actually do anything different in their lives because of anything I say. This blog isn’t so much for the world as it is for me. Someplace to write things down and think about them, and then come back months or years later and see what I was thinking about.
So, here’s what the whole pattern looks like to me, now. Seems to me that there’s a set of youths who think that everything is simple and they know all the answers. I remember being one of those youths, and I have never stopped encountering them. They are, in my experience (this means it’s anecdote and not data) cis white males with economic privilege. I suspect that this is because that’s “normal” and everyone who isn’t in the normal set has their assertions questioned, their experience denied, and their voices muted on such a regular basis that they don’t assume that they know everything. And what happened with the Internet and with social media was that it served to amplify this privileged voice. Unfortunately, the privileged voice is not always right. Frankly, there is only a very narrow set of relatively uninteresting topics where the privileged voice has any standing or hope of being appropriate, let alone correct.
And now the yammering manbabies have proliferated beyond Usenet, Slashdot, Reddit, and 4chan. They’re the BBC, Washington Post, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune. They’re Anonymous and Occupy. The Weekly World News shut down — I think because so many other publications were producing wildly inaccurate hyperbole-fueled items. A successful republic requires an informed electorate. I don’t think that’s possible any more.