The Week in My Infotoxic World 11-8-11

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The Information Abuse Superhighway

Are you as afraid to look at your homepage as I am? Is the entire planet contaminated by a rapidly spreading virus composed of computer-enhanced human ignorance? There’s a sense of malaise around the internet, with some bloggers questioning what we’re doing here. Part of the helplessness many of us feel is a side effect of the filter bubble, an algorithm-driven defilement used by major search engines to collect and control every one of our keystrokes. Google keeps harassing me to “customize” my news, so I can skip those offensive alternative viewpoints. Quite a change from the “fair and balanced news” MSM boasted just ten years ago.  Controlling our exposure to information serves to isolate both sides and is deadly to human development. It’s one of the worst things to come out of technology, period. A nanny Internet goes a step further than a nanny government, it paralyzes our minds. We don’t know where to turn for truth, for hope, or for compromise.

The infection is also spread by Smartphones and Twitter and laptops. I just read a reasonable post by a successful person on a subject that interested me—but his ever-constant Twitter feed displays a much less relatable, and less interesting, persona. Why do I need to see personal minute-by-minute updates when I came to read an essay? He was heading down to the Occupy protest in his city. I was going to comment. Discuss. Interact. Now, I’m not. I’m Occupied-out and not impressed.

Nowadays I read my home page for one reason: in the morning to find out if we’re going to make it through the day, and in the evening to see if we’ve made it through the day. How close to me are the quakes, floods, fires, bombs…how close are the US mobs defecating on American flags, how close to my home on the border is the latest drug-cartel slaughter. I’m afraid to even click on a link on my homepage, because it changes what I see on my homepage within minutes. It’s literally useless.

Many live in filter bubbles of their own making, it’s so very obvious and easy to see in a certain area of the town I live in. The personalized info-smog makes it a snap to remain unchallenged by creating a world of denial. I don’t want to choose sides and then have propaganda shoved down my throat. Fight the filter bubble by choosing what you read yourself. Don’t let search engines decide for you.

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I’m irritated with academic-types this week because they manage to plant  snide snippets of their political views into venues where they have no business doing so. In no way should any reference book reflect the personal, especially political, opinion of its contributors. It should not be tolerated but it is, it is. I have little recourse but to resort to negative fantasy…

The Professors

Two English professors were co-writing a scholarly paper regarding the etymologies of words describing difficult people. They passed the manuscript back and forth with notes attached through interoffice mail.

The professors began arguing over the word ‘stubborn,’ whose uncertain origins date back to the 14th century. The first professor called the second professor an ‘obstinate oaf’ to which the second retorted ‘recalcitrant rube.’ The notes began to get ugly. The second professor’s temper finally got the better of him. ‘I will not tolerate such pertinacious disrespect!’ he gasped as he marched into the first professor’s lovely walnut-paneled office and stabbed him through the heart with a medieval dagger.

Well, so much for the old saying ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’!

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33 responses to “The Week in My Infotoxic World 11-8-11

  1. You know, to be truthful, am not ashamed to look at my home page. My homepage is a blank white screen. Has been for the last couple of years. Yet some how I stay abreast of world events. I do get links from a contact who I think must spends 26 hours of a 24 hour day surfing news stories an articles then sends the links complete with a reviews via Gather, Tumblr, Stumbleupon and similar. I simply click on those of interest, which is only one or two a day if at all.

    If I had to pick a browser homepage, I think the best one to feel the pulse of what is relevant, would be a page of hand picked blog sites. Yours would be right there at the top of course. It is the words, thoughts and views of Personal Journalist such as yourself that I find the most interesting and the least bias or varied from my own views. I have often read something here, then followed up by searching , then educating myself. There is no passion or accuracy in most popular homepages – nor are they as well written as your posts.

    I wonder if there are any documented cases of a etymologist going ‘postal’. Just a thought.

    • Hi Hudson, thank you. I too have my go-to blogs to find rational insights on current events. But blogs are like always reading the letters to the editor in a newspaper (remember those?). That’s what blogs are for, our opinions. But sometimes I just want news. I can’t believe all the half-assed news articles out there—they just give you a small part of the story, their version, and then commenters go ballistic with rage. It’s almost as if the articles are designed to cause agitation and animosity. Are we being taken over by aliens who need our water or flesh or something and this is part of some plan to destroy us? Because it’s working.

      I like your idea of a blank white homepage. I’ve never tried to customize mine but I’m sure it could be done. I hate all the major search engine homepages.

  2. I am another member of the blank homepage tribe. It saves you all the linkbait and information “pushes”. Another thing I find cumbersome is when people have multiple personalities, a blog on tumblr, posterous, or whatever platform has popped up, plus Twitter, and SlapYerFacebook.

    But it is a complex world and some people like it that way. I stepped off that merry-go-round a while back. I’m now content to just hang out at the concession stand and watch ’em spin!

    • Some might call it a complex world but I think it’s too damn much information and none of it reliable. And the personal information people share about themselves has little substance. I have yet to read a Twitter or Facebook feed that was worth the time it took. It’s like people have an overabundance of self-esteem. I guess you have to be in the club to get it.

  3. Ha! ‘A Plan to Destroy Us’ – by george I think your onto something.

    It all seems to be about the Headline. I often get suckered into a News story by the headline, only to feel ‘lunch bag let down’ upon reading it. If our information has boiled down to only Headline Journalism, then why not just listen to the radio for our News -Did I just say that? Remember when Radio News was pretty much read directly off of News Print.

    • Oh that is the truth about headlines, thank you for bringing it up so I can rant further on the subject. These headlines sucker everybody in then you get handed a little chunk of used kitty litter. Commenters even rant about it when they’re not ranting about what they’ve read into—nothing. What is this all about? Is it all for the sake of a few pop-up ads? You scroll down looking for the rest of the article—and there’s nothing there. No wonder everybody’s so pissed off.

      We grew up listening to news on the radio. Always on in the morning before school on a little white radio with a dial (AM!) on a shelf in the kitchen. And we always watched the 6:00 pm news on one of the three TV stations available. I swear we were better informed.

      • Rant and the world will rant with you.
        You had three TV stations, I would have been envious. Did you have to go outside like we did and turn by hand a metal pole which held the TV antenna? How did we survive?

        Am waken every morning by a clock radio. One song then the local news (numbers of deer vs cars for the morning, a win or a loss for the local hockey team etc) , national news then international. And while driving, though equipped with CD/DVD, I only listen to music via the Radio. Oh, an one of the best sources to this day for news, arts, documentary and special programming is CBC Radio (Canadian Broadcasting Corp). I even listened to CBC Radio as a child and I wasn’t even a geeky nerdy kid.
        Yep, I think your correct, we were better off.

        • Ha ha, I wake up with a clock radio too—to a Mexican station, because that’s all we get! But it doesn’t matter because it’s better than the horrible beeping alarm sound!

          Most people here have satellites, etc., so I’m envious of their choices. I guess my computer is so important to me that I must learn how to make it serve me, not itself.

          Your location on Planet Earth sounds so inviting.

  4. Howdy Darlin –

    Like others, my home page is just a blank page and every new tab that’s opened is just a blank page. I don’t like the idea of any one news source posting stories that they feel will draw the largest online readership. The more ads that can be displayed, the more money they make. If they can entice you to visit a link, more money made still.

    I’m a firm believer in RSS feeds and I use the feeds for most all the news sites. The feeds load quick and are updated as they occur. Many long time computer users defined RSS as Really Simple Syndication which seems to be more accurate than the actual definition of Rich Site Summary. In other words, I wouldn’t waste time with many of the websites including blogs, If you quickly scan the RSS feed, the brief description will often tell you if the story is worth reading.

    With that in mind, let me introduce you to FARK; a news aggregator and an edited social networking news site. Every day Fark gets a couple thousand or so news submissions from readers and then they hand-pick the funny and weird notable news — and not-news — of the day. Have a look at http://www.fark.com/ – not your everyday news, but yet, it is 🙂

    Great Post !

    • OK, I’m not sure how to do this. I thought my RSS feeds are only the ones I’ve subscribed to by clicking on the icon. In order to access the feeds I have to go to a bookmarked page…your way sounds so much simpler. So you start with a blank homepage and add the feeds of your choosing?

  5. Darlin –

    It sounds like you’re using Internet Explorer browser with a Windows system, don’t think I can help explain it because its been about 15 years since I’ve used windows and IE. Most all the major news sites and blog sites will have an RSS feed attached to it. In Firefox, subscribing to the feed will let you see a constantly updated feed in your bookmarks, or if you prefer not to subscribe, you can simply bookmark the rss feed instead of the site. I know there’s a way to set the browser home page in IE to a blank page, but like I say, I haven’t used IE for about 15 years.

    Have you viewed your blog and other blog feeds ? – I think it’s much cleaner and nicer to read and then you can read the entire story or post and view the complete site only if you desire.

    • Cowboy, I do use Firefox. I sometimes look at my bookmarked RSS feeds but I always want to go to the blog. No need to, just habit I guess. Is this old-fashioned?

      The first thing to do is get rid of Google News homepage, I think that’s the cause of much cyberstress. I just want a place to get a quick look at what’s happening in the world a couple times a day. I’m not a newshound, I just want an assistant to come when I click and relate to me what’s important right this minute without tracking or slanting my every move.

  6. Hey Darlin –

    Going to the blog certainly isn’t old fashioned, it’s more a matter of preference. If you looking for straight up generic news headlines, then find the RSS news feed that you like and add them as “Live Bookmarks” in Firefox which will give you the news at a glance with a simple one line headline. No pictures, no tracking cookies (unless you click on a link), no bylines and no ads.
    Now, if you set your homepage to blank and choose “show a blank page” on startup, on the general tab under options. You can start firefox with a blank page and have a look at the live news feeds to decide if there is anything you would like to read more about.
    Quick and simple with no loud, blinking, or obnoxious images, videos, and audio. 🙂

  7. I feel like I have too much to do to be focused on the world news, especially since I have little impact over how it is reported and what goes on. My biggest fear is we seldom hear the truth. Our news is filtered, altered, and sometimes edited before it gets to us. I’m certainly not going to fret over something that may not have happened, and may never will.

    When people start reporting good news I’ll start paying close attention. In the meantime my headlines read something like “Today Is A Beautiful Day. Hooded Mergansers Were Seen Diving For Food. All Of Them Came Up Smiling!”

    • I try to avoid it but it seems impossible, and yes what you’re saying is exactly right, that we don’t know what’s true. It’s like the news is a parallel universe until it’s in your backyard.

      I like your headlines but you write about violations against the natural world too, because it affects you deeply. None of us who care about our home here on earth can turn a blind eye to its physical or political mismanagement.

      • I cannot argue with what you are saying. My point is that if all we are seeing, hearing, and experiencing from the media and beyond is negative and in turn we reflect that negativity the world will be a much worse place. Again, I am a strong believer in intent, It is powerful. If we intend to be negative OUR world will be a bad experience.

        It seems to power of positive thinking has been replaced with its antithesis.

  8. my homepage is Yahoo news because I’m with Yahoo for my email. I consciously DO NOT even look at the news items that go up. I select what I hear and see when I want and if I so choose I read reports from various sources which I hope are trustworthy. Or I simply ignorew the news knowing that very little even impacts upon me; isolationist? I think not. I keep up but I also kewep out

    • How much news you can stand is a tough choice. It’s irritating to talk to people here who know absolutely nothing about what’s going on in the world. Then there are others who can rant for hours on their one little pet political view.

      I have customers who keep their televisions on CNN all day. It’s a very oppressive work environment and I don’t last long at those jobs because that much news makes me physically sick—blood pressure goes up, etc.

      I’m seeing a number of commenters say they go to ‘trustworthy’ sources. I’d like to know what they are!

      • I wonder if we need a new word for NEWS. It seems to be the consensus from the comments here that NEWS as we know it is DEAD as a DoDo bird. What we have now is a kin to some kind of hybrid genetically altered muck up. Just a thought. Perhaps someday, News will be an exhibit in the Museum of Civilization. Did I just rant?

      • there appear to be no trustworthy sources ; you’re never going to know the whole truth; it may not even be midway netween the two loudest competing voices; but there are verifiable facts. After that there is ,,,,,,

  9. I began dealing with this issue three years ago, when I began writing. I’d been hauling Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek around with me for years, so it was a natural to move on to her The Writing Life. I’ve never forgotten this quotation: ““[The writer] is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write. He is careful of what he learns, for that is what he will know.”

    Reading those words started me on the path to mental cleansing, if you will. One by one, I got rid of texting, Facebook, television, et.al. I turned off the radio talk shows and stopped the newspaper. I made Google my home page, but customized it to within an inch of its life – now, I do my headline scanning each morning and evening with the BBC and Der Speigel’s feeds, and Twitter’s breaking news feed. If there’s something I want to explore, I go from there.

    In addition, I have a half dozen sites I check daily, such as Open Culture. They’re interesting and stimulating – and 99.9% free of crap.

    One of the great side effects is that I have a little time in my day now for thinking. It’s probably pretty retro, but I like it. (Which, btw, is why I like your blog. It makes me think.)

  10. Hi Shoreacres, I never thought of being careful about what you read for that reason but of course it makes sense. I just thought we can’t waste our time reading what we hate—bad novels, Facebook, newspapers, bad websites. An acquaintance said to me once, “well I started this novel and I hate it, but I have to finish it.” WHY? What an irritating philosophy.

    I can’t stand talk shows and only listened to Oprah once, when I was forced to because a customer had it on in her house. It was just so awful.

    Ha ha, thinking as retro. Also reading real books, no social media except the blog, no TV, and get this: working with no distractions, just quiet. I can see you varnishing boats listening to the wind.

    I have read that social media is a cause of major stress for many people.

    Thanks for insights on where to find useful feeds. I will check them out.

  11. I’m afraid I’ve shut down. Maybe I’m in the 17th Century, but the news seems to be what’s happening in the neighborhood. However, I do like to get to my Google Reader and browse a lot of feeds rapidly. I also have a “Best” list category in Reader for the best blogs, and of course this one is found there.

    Formerly, I loved reading a good newspaper, but now I far prefer precious reading time be spent with my favorite novels. My unread novel list is far too large for me to afford the time reading “news.”

  12. P.S. – There are some awesome Twits on Twitter, and it is enjoyable for me.

    • It’s not that I want to read news, I just want to be informed without needing to read a “Libya for Dummies” first. It gets so complicated so fast, I can’t keep up, especially with politics. Then we’re all expected to digest the intricacies—with our own brilliant insight that we got from whatever source influenced us. I think we’re all weighted down with too much news and maybe it’s a reason for a more depressed population than ever before.

      Turn of the century is where I dream of escaping.

      Today I read no news and barely went near my computer. I did other stuff. Wow, it was productive. Like therapy.

  13. Thanks for an awesome post. I have learnt to avoid the news on tv and on the internet because its is just too depressing. You get influenced without being given a choice and simply get bombarded with information.

    • Hi Rayya, well put. But it’s a catch-22 because then you feel uninformed. I’ve been experimenting the past few weeks by avoiding my computer, the news, etc., and I feel out of the loop. But…my blood pressure has gone down!

      A couple days ago I asked some people who live here on the border what they thought of the Wall St Occupiers and they had never heard of them! I was amazed.

  14. Ahh, your blood pressure has gone down! That’s wonderful, and although I miss your comments and writing, I’m wishing you to do what ever is best for your health. This is good. Relax, enjoy, life is sweet and short and you deserve the best.

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