March 2021

T E X A R K A N A M O N T H LY

LIVE LARGE BY THINKING SMALL

BY JOHN HUMPHREY

POLITICS RUNS DOWNSTREAM FROM CULTURE.

This oft-repeated principle seems to perfectly summarize our modern environment. In our information-rich, yet insight-deprived, landscape, the tempo of our political conversation seems to derive its rhythm more from Twitter than the hallowed halls of Congress. Our current leadership feels more like the carefully constructed caricatures of the professional wrestling federation than the thoughtful and respected voices of seasoned diplomats. It reminds me of a funny story told by an Anglican bishop about two young Australian sailors who get sauced one night in a London pub. As they stumble out of the bar, they encounter a highly decorated and renowned British Naval Officer on the street. They wait until he is within speaking distance and one stammers out, “Say, bloke, do you know where we are?” Offended at the lack of respect, the decorated Naval officer shouts back, “Do you know who I am?” Upon hearing this, the other Aussie sailor looks at his friend and says, “Well that’s great, we’re really in trouble now. The two of us don’t have a clue where we are, and this guy doesn’t know who he is.” Sadly, such is the state of our political environment. As the dumpster fire blazes, we’re forced to choose whether to join the fray of the bizarre fever dream unfolding before us and assume our role as a fellow drunken sailor or figure out a way to find the high road and forge a new path. In the choosing, it helps to pause and reflect on how we arrived where we are and inspect our compass to determine if it’s time to recalibrate. Though I’m quite comfortable experimenting with the instruments in today’s hyper-technical tool-kit, I’m admittedly unfamiliar with the newest weapons of modern rhetorical warfare— aka, social media. Although I choose not to engage directly, I still feel the tug-and-pull of the social media rabbit hole. It beckons like the voice of the crafty peddler on the midway or the melodious Sirens’ call seeking to lure unsuspecting sailors off their charted course. The more we reward these “free” platforms with screen time, the further down the rabbit burrows. Soon, you find yourself immersed in an information-arcade, overwhelmed with customized, emotionally charged anecdotes masquerading as news in hopes you

photo by Molly Kendrick

will continue feeding the media machine enough coins to keep the echo chamber alive. Put simply, we have been duped. As a savvy pundit once said, if you’re not paying for the product or service, you are the product or service. I’m the first to concede that social media has its merits, but it is imperative to keep this insatiable animal on a tight leash. My abstinence forces me to track birthdays or special occasions on my own, and I have to ask more probing questions to hear the details of the exploits and travels of those beyond my inner circle. This is a trade-off I am more than willing to make to avoid daily exposure to the bait resting peacefully at the base of the trap. With each picture you click or blurb you read, the platform’s algorithm learns more and more about your habits and preferences. As the hourglass turns, the machine-learning code tunes its precision with one primary objective: customize the user experience to ensure maximum screen-time (I highly recommend The Social Dilemma on Netflix if you’d like to dig a little deeper into this subject). Again, this has its ancillary benefits, but don’t delude yourself into believing that you are the lone enlightened soul who is beyond the reach of the advertisers’ web. Though the bait is highly customized, there’s no magic behind the process of content creation, and therein lies the rub. In

14

B U S I N E S S & P O L I T I C S

Made with FlippingBook - Online catalogs