Saturday, June 1, 2019

What The Web Has Wrought | Lefsetz Letter

First everybody played.

Now everybody’s pissed.

For years it was new and exciting. The connection of AOL, the gadgets of Apple, the social networking of Facebook and the arrival of the smartphone. The promise was an improved society, where we were all networked and all important.

But it didn’t turn out that way. We didn’t foresee the Balkanization. We didn’t foresee the lack of individual importance. We didn’t see technology breaking down the world into the haves and have-nots.

Social interaction online used to be cheery.

Now it’s angry.

That’s right, you were sold a bill of goods. You’ve got that smartphone in your hands, all that power, and no one is paying attention to you. You’re inundated with mostly worthless information about successful bozos, influencers and minor celebrities, and it makes you feel like you’re worthless. So what do you do? YOU FIGHT BACK!

Everyone can play. And everybody is reachable.

Analogized to high school, the social misfit is alone with no power, but now he can hassle the quarterback, the prom queen, poke fun at their foibles while risking nothing.

That’s right, there are no guardrails, few laws affecting online behavior. Furthermore, when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.

Societal interaction has flourished as a result of the internet. But twenty-odd years later, when the promise has not been delivered, the hoi polloi are fighting back.

Look at Amazon reviews. Read the one star ones and it’s always someone complaining not about the product, but Amazon and customer service. Believing if they just scream loud enough, they’ll get a response. And if the product itself is taken down in the process, who cares, they’re deep pockets and can afford it.

Anybody with a name is the enemy. They need scapegoats. Whether it be immigrants or Jews or… Isn’t Mark Zuckerberg Jewish? It’s his fault!

And by rooting for the Palestinians, you’re standing up to those nasty Jews.

Then again, the Palestinians have their own media machine, painting Israel as the problem, as if it disappeared harmony would reign in the Middle East.

If you can’t get ahead, you must bring others down.

And what tools do you have? You ain’t got no money. Chances are you ain’t got no education, so you can’t get a good job, but you do have a megaphone, your smartphone.

And we have the battling cable news stations. Fox isn’t about the implementation of ideas, rather the heinous behavior of the left. And MSNBC reacts defensively thereto.

And the traditional news outlets failed to defend themselves and have therefore been marginalized. The “New York Times” and the “Washington Post” were so busy making sure they got paid online, blaming Google and Facebook, that they didn’t realize they’d lost their impact in society at large. When you’re demonized by close to half the populace, it’s like you don’t even exist.

Same deal with network and cable. Netflix trumped them and now the streaming giant is the enemy. Misinformation about the expiration of Netflix’s TV show contracts has been rampant, even if it’s untrue. Yes, truth has gone out the window.

Even with Tesla. It’s become a financial story, not a changing of the world story. Those invested in the old game decry the electric car company, even though the international auto giants are trying to catch up, even though every single Tesla owner testifies to the car’s greatness, from no need for tune-ups to acceleration to…

But you don’t see that in the media.

Every step forward has a concomitant tribe demonizing it. To the point we have gridlock, turning the USA into a second class country. Funny how these are the same people constantly chanting USA, USA!

But the future doesn’t exist. No one wants their cheese moved. Whether it be the baby boomers who became doctors and lawyers who are angry they weren’t aware they could become billionaires to the manufacturing workers who believe they should be able to labor for umpteen dollars ad infinitum.

Then again, it’s hard for the disinformation police to get traction when you’ve got a President who tells you China and Mexico will pay the tariffs.

Sure, we’ve now got access to more news than we had in the twentieth century, but the end result is everybody believes in their own news, and is convinced if they just stand their ground, things will work out for them. Used to be we could at least agree on the facts. Now facts are fungible.

So you’ve got the aggressors, usually know-nothing individuals, and those with traction, who are gun-shy, or performing stunts for attention.

You get the impression if you’re a law-abiding citizen not looking to get rich on the internet you’re a loser. When the truth is almost all of us are losers by those metrics. We’re never gonna be famous, we’re never gonna be rich, and most of those with attention will fade back into the woodwork, attention doesn’t keep you happy and it doesn’t necessarily pay anyway.

It’s just like the Republican Senators afraid of their base. If you go against Trump you’re going to earn the wrath of people tweeting and primarying you so you’d better stay quiet. Just like the Republican Party infrastructure has lost control of its party.

And on the left, the ethos is a distillation of social media. If you’re not posting, you don’t have a voice. So what do those silent want, Biden or Bernie or..? It’s hard to tell, everybody’s guessing.

It isn’t going to stay this way forever. Just because you made a record that does not mean anybody’s going to listen to it. And all over the world there’s a return to the right, authoritarians pledging to make the trains run on time, to get rid of the chaos. That’s right, people are willing to give up their individual power just to not have to think about these things anymore, they want someone to lift the burden from their shoulders.

Meanwhile, the small will get smaller and the big will get bigger once the small learn they truly don’t have any power. Yes, one person can change the world, but it probably isn’t you. Decision-makers have to ignore the rabble-rousers and do what’s right. But they’re afraid.

Then again, everybody’s so busy fighting there can be no progress. If you don’t have power you’re gonna make sure the powerful pay a price. That’s why you’re a troll.

But the trolls have inherited the earth.


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