12th March 2020

Like many another soul I am in moments of quiet contemplation, otherwise known as spacing,  inclined to stare at the rapidly unfolding world of Facebook or similar social media formats and wonder how life was ever successfully navigated without this miraculous tool we casually and almost pompously refer to as ‘just the internet’, as if in some way we have the slightest control on its construct or continuing success and improvement.

I am sure I am doing some of the you out there an injustice, there are amongst you numerous much brighter stars than I, possessing the ability to make the leap from basic mathematics to applied computer theory just a bagatelle. However batty old me still labors fruitlessly with the basest of algebraic problems.

My childhood and youth had forms of social media, indeed thrived upon them, but acquired such knowledge of trends, news, views and opines from a whole host of separate and most decidedly unsympathetic entities. The most basic of information was always carefully screened, filtered by age, gender, class, education, even according to whether society deemed an individual child, adolescent or adult suited to receive notification and enlightenment.

Local news was always readily at our fingertips, when community is strong, that is to say when people actually meet face to face out of doors, the grapevine for both the official and unofficial happenstance will flourish. Here we have meet the first of multiple instances instance where age, gender and class push themselves into the mix. Community was shaped very precisely to keep like together and unlike apart. Men and women would generally separate for social events, for clubs, societies, political organizations and multiple other functions, only tending to mix gender wise at formal events or in private. Children under fourteen would have been separated entirely in public for fear of adult contamination of their innocence, a recognized inability to listen, hear but not repeat and most pathetically to avoid any irritating and confining duties for the parents altogether.

National or international news was the province of either newspapers or the rudimentary radio and television, mediums directly controlled by branches of the government, albeit supposedly independently. I do understand that the US set up was somewhat different, state control of broadcasting being ceded to large corporations or wealthy private individuals, who could purposefully edit the flow of information for different purposes, either to increase profit or individual power.

Newspapers were printed at least twice daily, a morning and a late evening edition, with special editions whenever a big story presented itself. This multitude of newsprint and its necessary printers, press operators, typesetters, loaders, drivers, paper hawks, even paper boys, was both a major commercial interest and employer, and a bulwark of the unionized labor movement.

The disappearance of the newspaper industry with its long-standing acceptance of standards of self-scrutiny and responsibility to the truth has all but gored the public’s confidence in public pronouncement to death.

Morality and ethical matters were very much in the hands of the various church and philosophical organizations, all kept to a fairly tight line of allegiance by national directive. Matters spiritual in Great Britain were defined as being those purely private in nature, the public domain being wholly aligned to state considerations, one experience of vibrant puritan zeal being quite enough in any nation’s history.

I am reminded of a late Archbishop of Canterbury who stated with some confidence that the last necessity for being a good Church of England minister was a belief in the existence of the divine in any quantifiable form.

Information has ever posed one question, is this rumor, opinion or fact? The internet for all of its constantly updating, its freedom of upload and download, its seeming independence from outside bias or interference is still only as truthful and honest as its component parts.

Facebook updates are just that, temporary changes in situation for an undefined length of time because of reasons probably known only to the poster. Memes are those wonderful crayon drawings children often produce, charming in form, amusing in design and coloration but of no real relevance to the shape or meaning of the matter at hand. The internet is a perfect metaphor for the Tower of Babel, an inordinate number of individuals talking about a multitude of subjects in every conceivable language of the universe. The very definition of cacophony, the sound Dante vividly describes escaping the gates of hell in Canto IV of his masterpiece the Inferno.

I do not suggest Facebook or any social media form is hellion, nor do I decry their worth as forms of lighthearted impersonal communication. I do not even contend  their content to be necessarily false, manipulating or contrived, any more than any other news medium since the first chisel etched the first issue of the Bedrock city gazette.

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