Wednesday, June 12, 2024

#164 / A Filter Of Unreality Between Us

To Honor Surfing, Santa Cruz, California
It appears that The New Yorker magazine, which I have read with tenacious dedication since 1970, is now offering a new weekly column, titled "Fault Lines." The column, I gather, will be written by Jay Caspian Kang, and it seems to be an online offering only, at this stage. Kang's very first column is largely focused on surfing, and he specifically discusses surfing at Linda Mar, or "Lindy," a surf break located near Pacifica, in northern San Mateo County. 

Linda Mar is a long way from Manhattan, but Kang lives in Berkeley, and when he surfs, Lindy is apparently where he usually hangs out. Kang surfs Lindy on a regular basis, which is why he has chosen to focus his first "Fault Lines" discussion on that specific location. It is not my impression that the "Fault Lines" column will be a "surfing" column. It's going to be a column about "politics," and the media, and specifically about division and disagreement. It turns out that "Lindy" is a good example, at least according to Kang. The title of Kang's first column is "Arguing Ourselves To Death," and the following excerpt should give you a pretty good idea what Kang wants us to think about:

I was thinking about Linda Mar while trying to sketch the basic premise for this new weekly column, which is titled Fault Lines and will run every Friday. I will mostly write about politics and the media, but I wanted to start with what’s happening at Lindy. If online content is reshaping the world of surfing—sending people to the same beaches while also making them belligerent and misinformed—who or what is to blame, and what can we do about it? Is it the responsibility of the people who run popular Instagram accounts to share more stoke and less disharmony? Should Surfline, the surf-camera and forecasting site, change the way it reports conditions, to more evenly distribute crowds? Do high-information surfers need to flag misinformation about who has priority on a wave? 
Similar questions, of course, have been asked again and again, for the past decade or so, about American political life. Most Americans believe that we are in deeply polarized times; sixty-five per cent of respondents to a Pew survey last year said that they were “exhausted” when thinking about politics. Those of us who have appointed ourselves stewards of discourse have spent a great deal of energy trying to build some consensus, however imaginary and manufactured, but we are losing. Journalists have published fact-checks of politicians, government officials have created short-lived boards to combat disinformation, school systems have adopted media-literacy curricula to teach children how to take in what’s good and reject what’s bad. These efforts are largely driven by the hope that if we can control the inputs of the information ecosystem, and pump in a lot of truth and democracy, we might be able to save the country from irrevocable internal conflict. But what if the inputs don’t actually matter? What if it’s the technology itself?

That last line is what made me take a real look at the first edition of "Fault Lines." Kang is suggesting that the Internet, itself (the very "technology" of the Internet), is a cause of some of the division and disagreement that are so obvious not only in our "politics," but in our society at large. "Technology," he intimates, has placed a "filter of unreality" between us, and if that is true, good intentions and exhortations may not be enough to stop us from "arguing ourselves to death." 

Kang ends his first "Fault Lines" column as follows: 

Despite our best efforts to turn surfing into yet another item that can be shared via social media, optimized for negative engagement, and captured by the Internet’s ideology, the ocean still exists. There is no meaningful part of American life that does not share this duality—the Internet has placed a filter of unreality between us, but we are still real (emphasis added).

We are, as Kang says, "real." So is the "World of Nature," upon which everything ultimately depends - the "World God Made," as I often put it. 

"Our" world, the "Political World," is built within the "World of Nature," and if we are not, in fact, in "real" contact with each other, if all our most meaningful interactions are "mediated," accessible to us only through a technology that embraces and is built upon separation and division, our future is most definitely at risk. 

Where are you? Where are you, right now? 

We are either in the real world, with the whales that Kang has seen at Lindy, or we are lost in "cyberspace," with no chance, ever, to join together, to collaborate, to air our differences, and to argue, and then come to an agreement, and undertake action to "change the world." Kang is pointing out the dangers! 

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