Tag Archives: the internet

Why We Should Teach The Uglier Parts Of History (And Why Avoiding It Is Pointless)

Tulsa Race Massacre Sidelined Legacy of Black Wealth in Greenwood - WSJ

I am an American.

I am proud to be an American.

There’s no other country I’d want to be born in.

I say all while also acknowledging that America isn’t perfect. I’ve taken plenty of history classes, both in high school and in college. I’ve also sought out information about America’s past and the facts are clear. The United States of America does have some undeniably dark moments in its history. Some could be classified as outright atrocities.

It’s not wrong to state that those events happened and they were awful. In fact, I believe it’s critical for any country, nation, or community of any kind to admit their past failures and flaws. We cannot learn, grow, or improve as a society if we ignore those less favorable parts of our history. If we only ever know the good stuff, then we have no reason to improve and that only breeds complacency, arrogance, and stagnation. That’s something the world needs less of.

This brings me the controversy surrounding critical race theory. I know that just uttering that phrase in passing these days is sure to draw ire from certain crowds, some more so than others. In general, I try to avoid touching on topics like this when the outrage machine is still going full-throttle. Even when I do discuss something controversial, like abortion, I try to focus on the bigger picture.

Now, the specifics of critical race theory are too vast for me to get into. I’m certainly no expert, nor would I ever claim to be. I encourage people to investigate it themselves on Wikipedia. However, do not seek sources from the likes of PragerU, the Heritage Foundation, or any information source that claims to espouse the “truth” about Critical Race Theory.

They’re just right-wing propaganda pushers who are lying to you on behalf of their donors. They are not credible on this matter.

While I don’t see Critical Race Theory as being completely neutral either, it does have some relative themes. It gives greater scrutiny to how racism and past racist policies in America have had lasting effects on minority communities, even after the progress made during the civil rights movement.

That’s not an unreasonable approach to studying the past and present. After all, it’s undeniable that racism and its past effects still exist. If you deny that, then you’re just denying reality outright. Certain aspects of racism can’t be resolved by simply passing a law or enacting a certain policy. People and societies are just too complex.

Now, the way in which Critical Race Theory scrutinizes these issues isn’t perfect. In terms of analyzing and making sense of history, I think it doesn’t paint the clearest picture in terms of America’s racist past and how that past affects the present.

That said, I support it being taught or, at the very least, explored within a school. I think this is something we should teach kids and young people about in order to get them thinking about history, race, and the society in which they live. At the same time, I also think it exposes a critical element with respect to appreciating history and its many lessons.

The reason I’m bringing it up now is two-fold. Firstly, I think those protesting it are absurd and their reasons for criticizing critical race theory are equally absurd. Some are going so far as to try and ban it. Instead, they favor a more “patriotic” education for school age children. I put “patriotic” in quotes because there’s nothing patriotic about it. It’s just pure propaganda, plain and simple.

A true patriot doesn’t need propaganda to be proud of their country.

A true patriot loves their country, despite their flaws. Just like you do with someone you love, you don’t ignore those flaws and use them as motivation to be better.

The second reason I’m bringing it up has less to do with the political rhetoric surrounding Critical Race Theory. It’s being framed as though this is somehow redefining the story of America. It’s seen as somehow diminishing America’s greatness and ideals. Those who are blindly patriotic or excessively nationalistic are going to have a problem with that.

Now, blind and excessive nationalisms is a problem all its own. I won’t get into that, but I do feel that it highlights another important point about protesting new forms of study. In essence, those complaining about Critical Race Theory are working against their own agenda. They seem to forget that the internet still exists.

It doesn’t matter if efforts to ban Critical Race Theory succeed. It doesn’t matter if every American textbook removes all mentions of slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, or atrocities committed against Native Americans. That information is still out there. It’s on the internet and it’s easy for anyone with an internet connection to find.

In fact, by outright banning or opposing certain studies of history, it may only raise greater interest in it. Like it or not, people are going to get curious. Tell kids and teenagers that they should never learn about Critical Race Theory is only going to make them more curious. So long as they still have an internet connection, they will find that information.

That’s exactly why I’m in favor of teaching history that explores, analyzes, and dares to extrapolate from the uglier parts of history. It can do more than educate. It can also help us come to terms with our flaws and inspire us to be better.

A good example of this is the recent relevance of the Tulsa Race Massacre. There’s no getting around it. This event was a horrendous moment in American history and one that reveals just how ugly racism got in this country. Growing up, I never learned about this event. Most people probably never would’ve learned about it, had it not re-entered the news amidst recent pushes for racial justice.

This moment in history was awful. There’s no getting around that. Even if you’re an American who wasn’t alive during this event, we should still acknowledge it. We should still learn from it. That’s how we’ll get better. The past has so many painful lessons and we’ll never learn those lessons if we try to gloss over them.

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Filed under Current Events, history, outrage culture, political correctness, politics

A Cyber Attack Managed To Shut Down A Major US Pipeline: Why We Should Be (Very) Concerned

In general, fearmongering is not productive. It’s one thing to raise awareness or express concern about an issue. It’s quite another to say that it’ll lead to the end of the world as we know it and everyone should drop what they’re doing immediately to address it.

One is a serious, substantive conversation.

The other is outright panic porn mixed with doom-saying.

This is why certain alarmists are hard to take seriously. I believe that climate change is real. I believe it’s a serious issue. However, I think those who just publicly yell about how awful the situation is and how terrible it’s bound to get aren’t helping. They’re just making it easier for people to write off valid concerns as fearmongering.

I don’t want to fall into that trap whenever I talk about issues I think warrant serious concern. At the very least, I’d like to raise reasonable awareness about an issue that may very well affect large swaths of people, both locally and globally. Even if an issue is urgent, we can’t let fearmongering obscure the issue.

Having said all that, I want to state outright that we should all be very concerned about the recent cyber attack on a major pipeline in the southern United States. You may not have felt its effects yet, but it’s likely you’ll notice the next time you have to gas up your car. To appreciate just how serious this attack was, here’s the story from Reuters.

Reuters: Cyber attack shuts down U.S. fuel pipeline ‘jugular,’ Biden briefed

Top U.S. fuel pipeline operator Colonial Pipeline shut its entire network, the source of nearly half of the U.S. East Coast’s fuel supply, after a cyber attack on Friday that involved ransomware.

The incident is one of the most disruptive digital ransom operations ever reported and has drawn attention to how vulnerable U.S. energy infrastructure is to hackers. A prolonged shutdown of the line would cause prices to spike at gasoline pumps ahead of peak summer driving season, a potential blow to U.S. consumers and the economy.

“This is as close as you can get to the jugular of infrastructure in the United States,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, research professor and managing director of the Climate Policy Lab. “It’s not a major pipeline. It’s the pipeline.”

Now, before you start freaking out about the possibility of terrorists hacking major utilities, it’s worth looking at this attack in context. This was not an attack done in the mold of the movie, “Live Free Or Die Hard.” These criminals were not Hans Gruber or some super-hacker in the mold of “Tron.” This was a ransomware attack.

For those not familiar with cyber crimes, a ransomware attack is when someone gets into a network or a specific computer and installs a piece of software that effectively locks all your drives. The only way to unlock it is to pay the hacker a certain sum of money, often in Bitcoin.

In general, these cyber-criminals are out to cause chaos and destroy entire countries. They’re just looking for some money. I guess in that sense they are like Hans Gruber.

For most people, there are established procedures to protect against ransomware and to weed it out. However, that’s just for personal computers and basic IT infrastructure in an average company. This attack hit a major utility. That fundamentally changes the context of this attack.

Ransoming someone with poor computer skills is one thing. That person will only suffer so much loss and frustration if they cannot save their data. A major utility is very different by orders of magnitude. Utilities like the Colonial Pipeline are critical for the basic functioning of our infrastructure. Shutting them down, even for a brief period, can cause a lot of damage.

On top of that, you’d think that a major utility would have some pretty robust cyber security, but you’d be distressingly wrong. Major government networks are still routinely hacked and hacked successfully. While most of these attacks are after personal data, the idea of a more malicious cyber attack is not an unreasonable concern at this point.

If a simple ransomware attack can disrupt a major pipeline, then what could a more coordinated attack do? It’s a disturbing question with equally disturbing answers. Remember, those who attacked the Colonial Pipeline were just after money. Imagine if they were looking to cause serious damage and loss of life.

This kind of cyber attack is not the stuff of science fiction and sub-par Die Hard movies. It has happened in the real world, the most famous being the Stuxnet attack that crippled Iran’s nuclear weapons program. That was a government-on-government attack that had major geopolitical ramifications.

Also, that’s just an attack we know about. I don’t think it takes an elaborate conspiracy theory to surmise that there have been other attacks like this that have not been made public. Some of those attacks might be many times scarier than either Stuxnet or the Colonial Pipeline.

This is all serious cause for concern. With each passing year, the world is becoming more connected and more tech savvy. An entire generation is coming up in a world where the internet is everywhere, both in industrialized nations and in developing countries. Like every generation before it, there will be conflict. It just won’t be fought in the same ways we’re used to.

If it’s possible to shut down a country’s pipelines, electricity, and communication networks without ever dropping a bomb or deploying a single troop, then we can’t assume it’ll never happen. We also can’t assume that it will, especially if we actively work on addressing the issue.

We managed to do that with nuclear weapons. We should make a similar effort with cyber attacks. We just learned that hackers can disrupt a major utility using a type of attack that is almost a decade old. Let’s not wait for another bolder attack on a larger target.

That still doesn’t mean freaking out and trying to live off the grid. It just means doing the necessary work to improve computer security, both on a personal level, as well as a governmental level. I don’t claim to be an expert in either, but if we can all do our part by just not having such an easily guessable password, we can all make a difference.

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Filed under Current Events, politics, real stories, technology

A Message To Those Who Whine About The “Mainstream Media”

There are certain institutions and organization no one wants to defend. Usually, there’s a good reason for that. Who would ever want to stand on the side of the IRS, insurance companies, or oil companies? I don’t deny some will make the effort, but it’s often born of questionable motivations.

Now, I’m not out to defend any of those organizations or the people they pay to protect them. In fact, I’m going to try very hard to not take a side here. That may not be possible because in this case, I’m going to try and be balanced on an institution that has only become more imbalanced over the years.

I’m referring to “the mainstream media.” Yes, I put that term in quotes. There’s a good reason for that.

I’m also aware that people talk about “the mainstream media” the same way they talk about hemorrhoids, traffic jams, and malignant tumors. You’re unlikely to find anyone who will come to their defense. It’s why trust in “the mainstream media” is at an all-time low.

However, is that entirely the media’s fault?

Don’t get me wrong. The modern media is a mess and definitely needs a top-down overhaul, but I’m not smart enough to discuss that at any great length. Instead, I want to focus on those who constantly whine about “the mainstream media.”

You hear it from liberals who claim right-wing news sources peddle disinformation and outright propaganda.

You hear it from conservatives who claim left-leaning news sources basically treats anyone to the right of Jimmy Carter a fascist.

You basically hear it from everyone from every side of the political spectrum. Either “the mainstream media” is actively undermining democracy or they’re an unofficial arm of an oppressive government. There’s no middle-ground or nuance. No matter your politics, you’ll find an excuse to hate them.

I’m sorry, but I have to call bullshit.

Again, this is not me coming the defense of mainstream media. This is just me saying there’s legitimate criticism of modern media institutions and then there’s just bullshit whining. The latter has grossly overwhelmed the former as of late.

I see it in comments section and social media. It takes many forms, but it often boils down to this.

“The mainstream media is covering up the truth!”

“The mainstream media is spreading lies!”

“The mainstream media is attacking [insert favorite politician/pundit/celebrity]!”

“The mainstream media is destroying the country I love!”

Trust me, it gets more hyperbolic and vulgar. In some cases, real people faced outright death threats because of peoples’ hatred for “the mainstream media.” Even after the death of Rush Limbaugh, the hate isn’t subsiding. It’s only going to get worse.

That’s because it’s easier than ever to basically customize your news feed. If you want to only hear news from a right-wing bias, you can do that. If you only want to hear news from a left-wing bias, you can do that too. If you just want news that’s uplifting, there’s even a source for that too.

It’s not entirely a result of the internet. This has been happening since the rise of talk radio. People learned that you could garner a large, loyal audience by telling them the news and opinions that they want to hear. They won’t care how factually accurate it is. They just want to hear what makes them feel good.

That’s not inherently wrong. We’re human. We have our biases. There’s no way around it.

The problem is that, because people are having their biases satiated, they’re becoming more antagonistic towards anything that doesn’t do exactly that. That means any news that isn’t their preferred news is “the mainstream media” and “the mainstream media” is always bad.

I wish I could write that with more sarcasm, but this is a serious issue and one with deeply distressing implications.

This is part of why it’s becoming increasingly harder to convince people that a certain news story has been debunked or discredited. It’s also why people will cling to certain issues, citing only uncredible and bias sources, long after they’ve faded from the headlines.

You cannot reason with someone who clings to an unreasonable source of information. You also cannot have a civil discussion with someone who sees anything that doesn’t agree with them as wrong, evil, or a conspiracy by shape-shifting lizard people. I swear that last one is an actual conspiracy theory. I wish I was joking.

For this reason, I’ve had many unpleasant conversations with people who are otherwise decent human beings.

For that same reason, I’d like to send those people, as well as those who side with me on most arguments, a simple message.

The mainstream media is not out to get you.

The mainstream media is not out to destroy your way of life.

The mainstream media is not some evil organization run by a cabal of supervillains.

In essence, whining about “the mainstream media” has just become code for whining about certain people or organizations that don’t agree with you politically or ideologically. It’s a knee-jerk reaction that gives people an excuse to dismiss every point they make, even if it’s right, accurate, and completely credible.

It’s pathetic that people are that insecure about their politics, but it’s also dangerous. The events of January 6th at the Capitol is proof of that. I’m not saying we should all start trusting the media at every level. I’m just saying that there’s a better, more balanced way to get a clearer view of our world. You’re just not going to get that view if you only ever listen to Infowars.

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Filed under Current Events, media issues, political correctness, politics, psychology, rants

Why Starlink Is The Next Step In The Evolution Of The Internet

Say what you will about Elon Musk. Believe me, a lot can be said about a Tony Stark wannabe whose wealth is on par with Jeff Bezos. Not all of it is flattering, either. I know I’ve expressed a strong appreciation for him in the past. I genuinely believe some of the technology he’s working on will change the world.

I don’t deny that he can be eccentric.

I also don’t deny he says dumb things, often on Twitter.

The man has his faults, but thinking small isn’t one of them. You don’t get to be as rich or successful as Elon Musk by being careful. You also don’t create world-changing technology by being short-sighted. Love him or hate him, Musk has changed the world. He’ll likely change it even more in the coming years.

Some of those changes are years away. A product like Neuralink is probably not going to become mainstream in this decade. However, there is one that’s likely to change the world a lot sooner. In fact, it’s already up and running to some extent. It’s just in the beta phase. Some people can already use it and it’s already proving its worth.

That technology is called Starlink and I believe this will change the internet in a profound way.

Now, you can be forgiven for not keeping up with all of Elon Musk’s elaborate ventures. This one isn’t quite as sexy as brain implants or rockets, but it’s every bit as groundbreaking. If you value internet speeds that don’t suck or lag, then it should be of great interest.

In essence, Starlink is the name and brand of a new satellite-based internet service provider that Musk is creating through his other ambitious venture, SpaceX. The goal is simple on paper, but resource intensive. Instead of the messy network of ground-based hardware that most providers use to deliver the internet to hour homes and businesses, Starlink will deliver it from space.

It’s actually not a new idea or product, for that matter. Satellite based internet service has been around for years. In terms of speeds and utility, though, it just sucks. At most, you’d be lucky to get speeds on par with old school 3G wireless. For some people, that’s better than nothing. For most, it’s not nearly enough to maximize the full power of the internet.

Starlink is hoping to change that. Instead of expensive satellites with high latency and limited bandwidth, these new brand of low-Earth satellites promise to deliver on speeds at or greater than the best 4G internet providers.

On top of that, you don’t need the same elaborate infrastructure and or cell towers to deliver it. You just need a constellation of satellites, a receiver no larger than a pizza box, and a clear view of the sky. If you have all that, you can get the full breadth of the internet. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of the desert or at the top of the Empire State Building. It’s there for you to access.

Make no mistake. That’s a big deal for the 3.8 billion people in the world who don’t have internet access. Whether due to lack of infrastructure or funds, it’s just not an option for them. It’s not just underdeveloped third-world countries either. Even here in America, there are large swaths of the country that have little to no reliable internet access.

It’s a big factor in the ongoing divide between rural and urban areas. If you live in a small rural community full of good, honest, hard-working people, they’re still going to struggle if they don’t have reliable internet. They’ll struggle economically, socially, and financially. To date, the efforts to expand the internet to their communities has been lackluster at best.

I can personally attest how bad it is. A few years back, I drove through a very rural part of West Virginia. For a good chunk of that drive, there was pretty much no reliable internet, be it Wi-Fi or cell phone coverage. The people there didn’t hide their frustration and I certainly sympathized with them.

There are many reasons for this, not all of which is because of how awful cable companies can be. A bit part of that has to do with the tools we use to access the internet. As good as they are for urban areas, they don’t work on a global level. It’s one thing to wire a big, advanced city like New York with fiber optics. It’s quite another to wire an entire planet.

Starlink promises to change that. These satellites aren’t bound by those logistics. They just orbit overhead without us even realizing it. They’re small and easy to mass produce. They can be taken out of orbit easily and replaced with better models. In principle, they could easily deliver the same high level gigabit speeds that are currently at the top of the market.

In terms of opening the internet to the rest of the world, that’s a big deal.

In terms of disrupting the market for delivering the internet, that’s an even bigger deal.

That’s because, to date, the world wide web has struggled to be truly world-wide. When nearly half the world can’t access it, then you can’t truly call it a global network. With Starlink, the internet can become truly global. People in rural India can have access to the same internet speeds as people in downtown Los Angeles. That promises to open up the world up in ways we can’t predict.

It’ll also provide some badly needed competition to internet delivery. For most people in America, you don’t have much choice when it comes to internet service. Cable companies basically have a monopoly on the whole enterprise, which is a big reason why it’s so expensive compared to other countries. Starlink will be the first real competition they’ve had in years for many areas.

I don’t doubt those companies will complain, whine, and lobby, but they’re not going to stop something like Starlink. They’re also not going to muscle out someone like Elon Musk. You don’t become the world’s richest person by being a push-over. Musk has already made clear that Starlink is a big part of his business model for the future.

At the moment, Starlink is still in beta, but Musk himself proves the technology works. He even used it to send a tweet. There are people right now who are testing it and they can confirm its speeds are way better than the crappy DSL internet of yesteryear. Many others have also expressed a keen interest in buying into this service.

At the moment, it’s still expensive. It costs $99 a month to access Starlink and it also costs $500 to buy the necessary antenna to receive it. However, that’s not a whole lot more than what I pay for internet in a month. Once it’s refined, that cost will come down.

Remember, there are over 3 billion people in the world without internet who have no options to access it. Starlink could be their only option and it could be a damn good one. It could be the key to the rest of the world becoming truly connected. That has big implications for society, commerce, and governments. Some countries are already making Starlink illegal for its people to access. Don’t expect that to stop it, though.

The promise of fast, reliable internet at all corners of the globe is too enticing for too many people. It will both connect the world and make Elon Musk even richer. However, for a man who connected the world and pissed off cable companies, I’d say he’ll have earned it.

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Filed under Current Events, futurism, Neuralink, technology

Telework, Online Learning, And What A Global Pandemic Can Teach Us About Both

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In general, people don’t radically change their habits unless there’s a huge incentive and/or a major disruption. By that, I don’t just mean habits relating to drug addiction, exercise regiment, or bedroom kinks. I’m mostly referring to peoples’ overall tendency to keep doing things the way they’ve been doing them, even if they have major flaws.

While it’s rare to get huge incentives to change those tendencies, it’s just as rare to face the kind of disruption that would force people to re-evaluate how they do things. People are, broadly speaking, pretty stubborn. It takes a lot of time and energy to abandon old habits in exchange for new ones. There’s no guarantee they’ll work. Sometimes, they’ll fail miserably.

In terms of disruptions, it’s hard to top a global pandemic. There’s just no way to overstate how big an impact something like that can have on a society. Pandemics have changed the course of history, as well as the course of society. They are the million-ton sledgehammer to whatever stable social system we have in place.

The ongoing crisis surrounding the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest disruption our society has faced in over a century. It has jarred us all from our comfort zone, to say the least. Between cancellations of major events and concepts like social distancing, we’ve had to reassess how we go about our daily lives.

As frustrating and frightening as it has been, these kinds of disruptions also present rare opportunities. We may never face a situation like this that affords such opportunities, so we would be wise to take advantage of it. In this case, it has to do with how we go about work and school.

We all have this time-tested notion of what it means to have a job and get an education. Having a job means going to an office or work site, doing your work there, and then coming home after a certain amount of time. It varies from person to person, but that’s the general approach.

Going to school is similar. You get on a bus, go to some building across town, stay there for six or seven hours while going to multiple classes, and then you come home. That’s what we think of when we think about getting an education and going to school.

Now, thanks to a global pandemic, this time-tested system has been disrupted. Going to crowded facilities is now a health hazard. Kids can’t go to some big school facility and workers can’t go to some crowded office for a third of their day. Instead, people are having to telework or utilize online classes. For now, this is just a temporary measure while we endure all this massive social upheaval.

At the same time, it also gives us a rare opportunity to see just how necessary it is to go somewhere else to do our work or get our education. It’s a relevant issue that goes beyond our current crisis. These questions are worth asking.

How necessary is it for us to go to some office or school to achieve what we seek?

Is that system really the best we can do?

What are the limitations of telework and online schooling?

What can be done to mitigate those limitations within the current infrastructure?

Can people be more productive with telework and online schooling?

How effective is our current system at supporting these options?

Now, I’m the last person who should defend the current school system. My past experiences with public school give me a somewhat heavy bias in assessing it. However, I doubt I’m alone in saying the current system has room for improvement.

When it comes to telework, I have less experience. In the past, I’ve had instances when I’ve been successful with telework. It depends on the situation and what I’m working on. I suspect that’s common for many jobs. An accountant and a brain surgeon work in very different spheres. One is easier to do at home. The other is a lot messier, to say the least.

It’s worth taking note of just how much we’re able to function over the next few weeks with respect to telework and online schooling. If a sizable chunk of the population demonstrates they can get the job done this way, be it with telework or online schooling, then that’s valuable insight that we should not ignore.

I understand that there are some jobs that cannot be done from home. There are also some things you can’t learn remotely. However, looking back at my experience in school, I’d say about 80 percent of what I learned could’ve been learned online. In terms of work, over half of what I did could’ve been done from home with a laptop and an internet connection.

There’s no reason we should be locked into this mindset that work involves leaving our house or that learning has to take place within a school. There are other ways to do these things and certain people might function better that way.

During a massive upheaval like this, things cannot and should not go back to exactly how things were. We have an opportunity to find a new approach to school and work. I say we take advantage of it as best we can.

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Filed under Current Events, Environment, futurism, human nature, technology

The Joys Of (Briefly) Unplugging And Running

I freely admit that I love technology. I also admit I’m on my phone constantly, checking social media and playing games. I’m the kind of person who gets extremely stressed out when my phone battery is low or think I’ve misplaced it. I think that puts me in line with most people my age.

I cherish technology. I celebrate it and contemplate how future advances will change our society, for better and for worse. Mostly, I favor the better, but I don’t deny that it can negatively effect people in certain ways. Like anything, you take the bad with the good and determine whether the good will suffice.

That said, even I see the importance of disconnecting every now and then. It’s not about fighting an addiction. The whole concept of tech addiction dubious at best and deceptive at worst, depending on who stands to make money off it. It’s a good thing, but like cake or beer, you can have too much of it.

That’s why I make it a point to do something regularly that allows me to separate myself from my phone, my computer, and any other device that has more computing power than a calculator. It’s not pretentious. It’s not because I’m trying to make a stand or something. I just find it genuinely helpful for my physical and mental well-being.

The way I disconnect is simple. I put on my workout clothes. I put my wallet and keys in my pockets. Then, I go out for a nice long run around the various trails around my house. I don’t listen to music, podcasts, or radio. It’s just me, the trail, and my thoughts. It may sound boring and bland. For me, it’s anything but that.

Unlike running on a treadmill, with which I do listen to music and podcasts, running outdoors along trails is more active. You’re not staring at the same wall or hearing some outdated piece of gym equipment crack with every step. You’re actually traversing the real world. You watch trees, streams, and grasslands pass you by. Even when you haven’t gone far, you feel like you’ve gone somewhere.

It’s not just a nice dose of fresh air. Running without any device beyond my keys allows me to just organize my thoughts. Sometimes, I have a stressful day when it’s hard to keep up with everything. A nice run outdoors allows me to get my heart going while my brain just streamlines itself.

It’s a very therapeutic experience. Thoughts become more streamlined. Ideas become clearer. Perspectives feel more balanced. Some of the ideas that have made it into my novels and my sexy short stories have come to me while I’m running. I doubt I would’ve gotten those ideas if I’d been focusing on music, podcasts, or something else.

Again, I love technology. I love my phone and my music collection. It’ll always have a place in my world. However, there are times when I just need to be on my own with my thoughts and the natural world. It’s a simple pleasure that I’ve come to cherish in my adult life. I won’t claim it has the same effect for everyone, but I strongly encourage everyone to try something like it. You may be surprised by how much you enjoy it.

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Filed under health, Jack Fisher's Insights, technology

How The Internet Has Weakened (But Not Destroyed) Organized Religion

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The current state of organized religion is ripe with conflict and mixed messages. On one hand, religious affiliation has significantly declined over the past 30 years. According to a 2018 survey from Eastern Illinois University, around 23 percent of the US population identifies as having “no religion.” For comparison, that number was only 5 percent in 1972.

In other industrialized countries, the decline is even more pronounced. Throughout Europe, more and more people are drifting away from organized religion. That’s especially true of young people, who are one of the least religious demographics in modern history. In terms of the bigger picture, organized religion is facing a generational time bomb that’s just starting to go off.

At the same time, however, religion still exercises an absurd amount of political power. Religious groups, particularly those who align themselves with conservative politics, have enormous influence. Its platform is tightly woven with that of a major political party. Many people in positions of power identify as religious. Many more rely on a religious base to get elected.

It’s a strange trend that seems counter-intuitive. How can something be weakening due to declining adherents, but still wield so much power? In an age where the egregious crimes of religious institutions have been exposed and more people are educated on the many absurdities of various holy texts, it feels as though organized religion should be on its death bed.

While there are many factors behind this situation, I believe that one particular factor is more influential than most. It also happens to be the same factor that has done the most to weaken religion while helping to sustain its political and social influence. It’s a force that has already radically changed everyone’s life, regardless of their affiliation.

That force is the internet and its impact on religion cannot be overstated.

I’m old enough to remember what it was like to talk about religion in the pre-internet days. You listened to your parents, relatives, priests, mullahs, rabbis, and monks. They told you the history and tenants of their religion. You might ask questions. You might not understand the philosophy behind it. No matter how curious or skeptical you were, you could only do so much to question it.

Most of the time, you just had to trust your elders that they knew what they were talking about. You also had to trust that they wouldn’t lie to you, which is often a risky bet. If you were really motivated, you might go to a library and do some research. Even then, you’d have an uphill battle a head of you, given the many complexities behind religion and why people believe in it.

These days, it’s exceedingly simple to fact check an absurd religious claim. If someone were to claim that a 900-year-old man built a 300-foot wooden boat that housed two of every kind of animal for 40 days during a global flood, you wouldn’t have to spend years in college to learn why that’s absurd. You could just pull out your phone, do a few simple searches, and find out why this claim is completely wrong.

Even a kid who has only taken a basic science class can look up any of the stories their priest, mullah, rabbi, or monk tell them to find out whether they’re based on real history or embellished folklore. Religious institutions, parents, and schools can fight to control the information their young people receive. Many organizations do engage in activities that are outright indoctrination.

However, as demographic trends show, the effectiveness of those efforts only go so far. The information about the absurdities, inconsistencies, lies, and agendas is still out there. It’s widely available to anyone who can access a smartphone or a computer. There’s only so much anyone can do to prevent someone from accessing that information.

As a result, organized religion will never have the same sway it once did in centuries past. No matter how much conservative reactionaries complain, it’s impossible to go back. The combination of modern education and accessible information ensures that major religious institutions will never wield the power they once did.

Given the complexities of modern societies and the geopolitics surrounding it, it’s just not practical for a centralized religious institution to exist. The Vatican can still make statements about morality, ethics, and spiritual matters. It just has no means of enforcing them, as evidenced by how little typical Catholics follow their edicts.

Even without this power, the same internet that has permanently weakened religion is also the same thing that sustains some of its considerable influence. In fact, the internet might act as a catalyst that can turn certain individuals from nominal adherents to ardent zealots.

Think back to the young people sitting in churches, mosques, synagogues, or temples. While some might casually look up the religious claims out of curiosities, others might go out of their way to find information that confirms these claims. Even if they’re factually wrong, they’ll look for any bit of information that they can twist to make it seem true and cling to it.

This is why creationism still persists, despite extensive resources that thoroughly debunk it. If someone is really determined to find information that affirms their beliefs, they’ll find it on the internet the same way people find cat videos and knife-wielding crabs. There will even be unscrupulous people to exploit them, including those who are convicted felons.

Like it or not, there are people who sincerely want to believe their preferred religion and will cling to anything that strengthens that belief. Given the open nature of the internet, shaped by the whims of users rather than objective truth, it’s distressingly easy for someone to customize what kind of information they receive.

If someone only wants news and memes about how their religion is true while everyone else is doomed to eternal torture in Hell, then that’s what they’ll get. They can get their news and information from exceedingly bias sources while brushing off others as fake news. There’s nothing from stopping anyone from using the internet in such a manner.

We already see how this has divided people along political lines in recent years. I would argue that this has been going on with religion for even longer. The rise of the religious right and the prevalence of religious media has done plenty to tighten their grasp on ardent believers. While less people may identify as religious, those who do tend to be more dogmatic about it.

Since those kinds of believers can be mobilized and pandered to, they’re a more unified political force. As such, appealing to them means gaining power. That power may be tenuous and limited, but it’s still viable power that plenty of politicians exploit, sometimes to an egregious extent.

In a sense, the internet has made it easy for both the extreme zealots and the inherently skeptical. Those who might have identified as religious out of tradition in the past are more comfortable identifying themselves as non-religious today. It also helps there’s not as much stigma to being a non-believer as there used to be.

At the same time, those who were devout before can become outright zealots if they consume enough extreme content. In fact, their declining numbers in the general population might give them more reasons to become zealous. History has shown that small bands of religious zealots can do a lot of damage. The internet might hinder their ability to gain adherents, but it might also make them more desperate.

It’s a scary possibility, but one I tend to believe is remote. While I might not be a fan of organized religion, I still have many friends and family members who are religious and wonderful human beings. The internet hasn’t changed that. In the long run, I believe that basic humanity that binds us all will win out in the long run. The internet won’t always help, but it’s certainly a valuable tool.

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Filed under extremism, human nature, philosophy, politics, religion

The Attention Economy (And Why It’s Ruining The Internet)

Here’s a little pop quiz that most people will probably fail. What is the most valuable asset in today’s modern economy? Go on, take a few minutes if you have to. I know it sounds like an easy question to answer, but it’s still worth thinking about.

Is it gold? Historically, it is one of mankind’s most valuable materials.

Is it money? That makes sense. People call it the root of all evil for a reason.

Is it knowledge? Smart people can be pretty damn successful.

Actually, it’s none of these. Even money, that one major driving force behind every major heist movie, is not nearly as valuable in today’s economy as it was 50 years ago. If anything, it’s losing its value and becoming an increasingly esoteric concept, so much so that we consider bits of computer code to be money.

There is, in fact, one other asset whose value exceeds them all. We know this because businesses, artists, and even horny people trying to get laid go to obscene, if not annoying, lengths to get it.

That’s right. I’m talking about that most precious of assets that drives the entire modern economy. I’m talking about attention.

Yes, that word deserves bold and italicized fonts. It’s just that important. It may seem like hyperbole to those still used to picking out pocket change between couch cushions. It’s not like you can tip a stripper with attention. However, give it just a little bit of thought. It won’t take much to realize just how important it is. It doesn’t just drive the economy. It drives (or hinders) our love lives.

I know this because it ties directly into my ongoing efforts to be an erotica/romance writer. It also ties into my efforts to make this blog a successful supplement to those efforts. There’s a good reason I try to avoid overly boring topics and talk about kinky things that both raise eyebrows and moisten panties. It’s a way for drawing attention to my work. It is, without a doubt, the greatest challenge I face as a writer.

Talk to anyone who has ever worked in marketing, whether it’s selling books or diamond-encrusted dildos. They’ll probably say the same thing, although the people selling dildos will probably have better stories. The hardest part of selling anything is getting peoples’ attention.

I know I keep referencing this same famous movie clip, but it’s just that powerful. It keeps finding new ways to be applicable to so many things, from making money to finding love. There’s a reason why Alec Baldwin won an Oscar for it. It’s the same reason why you don’t hear from a lot of other Baldwins these days.

Between the bragging, bullying, and brass ball props that Baldwin’s character uses, the most important part of his distinctly de-motivational speech is the A.I.D.A. method he describes. That’s attention, interest, decision, and action. Every major marketing method follows this model to some extent, but it’s that first step that is most vital.

It’s also the step that is most difficult, especially in the era of 350 channels, YouTube celebrities, and internet memes. For most of the modern era, we had only a handful of TV channels, newspapers, and methods for disseminating information. It used to be that a few strategically placed commercials during the Super Bowl would be enough to generate the attention you needed.

Those days are deader than analog cables and betamax. Instead, you have hundreds of channels containing countless shows, stories and sites doing anything and everything to get every last second of your attention. Is it really that surprising that the gratuitous violence/nudity on “Game of Thrones” and iconic franchises like “Star Wars” have become the new standard?

These things get your attention. These things get people talking. It’s only after you have someone’s attention that you can even begin to plan on how you’ll get them to pay for your product and/or have sex with you. In an era of so many choices and so few opportunities, attention might as well be encrusted in polished diamonds.

It’s because that attention is so valuable, so much so that it’s become the main currency of the modern era, that the internet is changing and not necessarily for the better. Spend more than five minutes on the internet, whether you’re checking your email or watching porn, and chances are you’ve run into a little something called clickbait.

In the attention economy, clickbait is akin to the muggers who beat up sick orphans while drunks throw pennies at them. It is the clogged toilet and overflowing septic tank of the internet. They are sites, ads, and shady tactics meant to draw you away from productive activities, like checking your email or reading this blog, and into some buggy, browser-crashing site meant to extract your attention and credit card information.

We’ve all seen them. The names of the sites and the annoying ads they post are ridiculous. Sometimes, it’s painfully obvious. However, it’s still tempting at times to click on them and that’s exactly what makes clickbait so evil.

Like it or not, people need to make a living. Websites need to make money. I need to make money. I can’t tell sexy erotica/romance stories without a roof over my head, food on my plate, and a reliable internet connection. That’s why I promote my novels every chance I get. I haven’t resorted to clickbait yet, but it is tempting. It’s also very frustrating.

I’ve seen the same internet as everybody else. I’m just as annoyed by the abundance of clickbait as everyone else. It’s hard to even trust the text within a link these days. At the same time, however, I can understand the intent behind it.

People are trying to make money. They can’t do that unless they get the attention of customers. The problem is that as the size and prevalence of the internet has increased, our capacity for attention has not. We humans only have so much brain matter in our skulls. That brain can only give a finite amount of attention to a handful of things at any given time.

Until we can start augmenting our brains, which Elon Musk is working on as we speak, this limitation isn’t going to change. We’ll still only be able to give a certain amount of attention to ourselves, mass media, and each other. As such, the amount of clickbait we see on the internet is only going to increase. The sheer absurdity of the headlines is likely to increase as well. I’ll give everyone a moment to shudder.

It’s unavoidable, but understandable. The internet may seem infinite, if only because of the varieties of porn it stores, but it’s not. It can’t run itself for free either. It needs to make money somehow and nobody seems to want to pay for it. Why else would some people resort to Kickstarter, which is basically digital begging, to fund movies?

We’re all guilty of it. I certainly am. I’ll whine constantly about pop-up ads and video ads on a site, but refuse to pay the extra $10 for the “premium” version that removes the ads. While some feel that kind of service is exploitive on the same level as price gouging for medicine, it makes sense. Again, the people managing these sites need to make money and nobody seems keen to want to give it.

The internet will continue to evolve, as it always has. That evolution will be driven primarily by a desire to turn a profit. Unfortunately, no profits can be made unless someone gets enough attention first. As evil and annoying as clickbait may be, we have only ourselves to blame for its existence. At least for now, it’s here to stay. The best we can do is grit our teeth, read some sexy novels, and endure.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights