It’s mud season. Not in terms of the calendar – things are still frozen around here – but there’s a political primary happening and that means mud is being flung. It’s nothing new. Happens every time. It just seems more immersive than ever because we get news, opinion, commentary, and outbursts of anger continually through the devices we turn to when we want to relax. Relax? Hah!
In 1985 Neil Postman argued we lived in a world where television, driven by advertising, had turned news into entertainment, which turned politics into a sporting competition and political figures into entertainers. Now we live in a world where our information sources, driven by advertising, make politics a sporting competition, and … yeah, like he said, only now news comes through non-news channels, which add layers of perverse incentives, and entertainment plays on a different set of emotions. Not amusement, but fear and anger, which turn out to be especially useful for keeping us engaged, which converts into advertising on systems that give everyone the chance to participate in the ad market by becoming brands.
Are we entertained? I’m not. I’m really tired of people trying to jack into emotions that I don’t enjoy at all. So this morning, I decided to go off Twitter, take some deep cleansing breaths, and remind myself it’s mud season. It happens with every election. Yes, the Russians are tossing mud, but they didn’t elect Donald Trump, Americans did. Facebook didn’t elect Trump, Americans did. Fox News … well, it’s unfortunate, but Americans decided to vote for people who loosened regulations and here we are. We own this mess, and we need to fix it, and there’s no easy fix, no simple villain to blame. No soothing conspiracy theory that will explain it all and let us off the hook.
While the mud is being flung, I don’t want to let my emotions be manipulated. I don’t want to see others to waste their time having their emotions jacked up. (Remember complaints that people were wasting their time on cat videos? Good times, good times.) I don’t want to feed the machine that encourages mud flinging. I want to say simply “vote for the person whose policies seem best. Then, in a few months, vote for whoever is running against the candidate whose policies seem worst.”
Meanwhile, avoid letting the juggernaut that has so polluted our lives – platforms that sell our attention to advertisers – jack into our emotions, distract us from doing what we think is best, waste our time by manufacturing unpleasant emotions, and aggravate us to death just to sell ads.