April 23, 2013
Brass Eye.

The title of this blog entry refers to a short-lived (but sadly all-too-prophetic) satirical TV-news show; Brass Eye depicted a style of news-reportage that has now become the norm: sensationalism.

At one point last week, watching the unfolding of events in Boston when the police had surrounded the remaining suspect, it struck me that this whole tragic affair had a narrative style that would be more appropriate to accompanying the climax to a dramatic game of sport. When the normally (relatively) urbane Anderson Cooper (embedded, of course) started to discuss the merits of taking out the suspect via a head-shot I had to switch off the TV.

"Martyrs, my friend, have to choose between being forgotten, mocked or used. As for being understood - never." ~ Albert Camus.

Soon after I decided I had to disconnect from Twitter for a few days. The tragedy in Boston being adjacent to the death and funeral of Margaret Thatcher meant that my Twitter-stream had of late become an incessant babble of uber-tautology, with hundreds of re-tweets and slight variations of the same newsflashes, within seconds of each new development (or not, as the case may be); it was as if many of the people/news-feeds I followed suddenly became HFT-like algobots, repeating any occurrence of certain keywords. The myriad of Boston police - toting pistols as if they were in some Tarantino’esque parody of a cowboy and western film - only added to the surreal pathos of how events were unfolding - and being reported.

"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge." ~ Charles Darwin.

The fact that the identity, background, personal profile and photos of an innocent and totally unrelated missing-person were soon being aggregated (in the context of his - mistakenly, as it soon transpired - being a prime suspect) around the globe made the whole matter even more distasteful. These events can’t be redacted. As I type this right now I am listening the sister of the missing person recounting the further heartbreak this has caused. A very ugly example of a false-positive and the heaping of misery on top of misery. Not pretty.

Certainly, I could have referred to Twitter less frequently during this period but I do like to dip-in to Twitter on a regular basis every day, even if I have nothing to say, just to see what eclectic serendipity of news and views will be delivered to me by my voluntary army of curators.

Twitter - or rather the many of the users of it - did not acquit itself well over the past couple of weeks. At times it seemed to become a contemporary parody of The Salem Witch Trials, with a Dunning-Kruger ‘soundtrack’ (soundtrack? Well, the eponymous title of their research always reminds me of Kruder and Dorfmeister - anyway, it’s about the right time for a musical interlude away from this heavy topic).

"The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others." ~ Dunning-Kruger.

When I joined the then nascent Twitter, the only other users back then seemed to be geeks - and ones mainly based in NYC or SF; it was a pretty one-dimensional place. As its demographic became more diverse so it became richer and much more fun, useful and interesting. I recall one seminal moment in the early days (but when its audience was beginning to get more diverse) I was working at my home-office in our Yorkshire village, when, at an ungodly hour in the dead of night, my office-chair (with me sat on it) scooted away from the desk and a few pictures rattled off my desk/walls. Having never experienced an earthquake before I was totally baffled (and a little scared) and wondered if a disused mineshaft was collapsing (we live in a former mining village). However, a quick search on Twitter revealed there was some extremely rare seismic-event happening across our region. The BBC eventually caught-up and reported on the event.

That was a simple indicator of the unique power and potential of Twitter - how news and experiences can be rapidly correlated and validated to assist in root-cause analysis and the rapid distribution of news. In such a simple and localised example I just referenced that’s fine, but when it becomes something far more emotive and threatening, something in the shadows, Twitter becomes a very confused place and many revert to our primitive fight or flight instincts. I dread to think how it - and the legacy news-channels - will act when there is a truly major disaster in this new era (not that I am being dismissive of events in Boston and Texas, et al).

"I’m fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in." ~ George McGovern.

Since Twitter itself became a de facto news-channel we have been spared an incongruous disaster. Incongruous? What I mean by that is that of course tragedies are happening all over the world, on a daily basis; it is not to say that the lives lost in (eg) Boston are more important than those in Iraq (each day); it is inevitable that an unexpected destructive event in a genteel setting such as Boston will inevitably cause more shock and reaction in ‘The West’. Our emotions are finite; we cannot grieve for everyone - as you would feel emotionally drained for a family member or close friend with cancer, it does not mean you do not care for the millions of others similarly suffering. We have to be pragmatic with our emotions.

"It is the spirit of the age to believe that any fact, no matter how suspect, is superior to any imaginative exercise, no matter how true." ~ Gore Vidal.

Twitter is now a leading global news-channel, and that’s what makes it so fascinating and wonderful, for how often does a new communications channel come about? Plus, and most importantly, one that is inclusive to all for both the consumption and generation of news and views: and that is the corollary.

"The printing press is the greatest weapon in the armoury of the modern commander." ~ T. E. Lawrence.

With the passing of time we can see events more objectively and assimilate/filter the social and cultural flotsam and jetsam. We can even begin to depict tragic events via works of art that somehow manage to encapsulate temporal traumas via a simple, powerful and elegant visual statement. It’s the visceral working with the cerebral to be creative, in contrast to our being preoccupied with real-time and reactive infra dig vicarious ‘reporting’, which is focused on the destructive. I believe the contemporary artists who embrace challenging subjects will record our history in a far more relevant way than archive footage from CNN, Fox News - or Twitter, for that matter…

"Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance." ~ George Bernard Shaw.

So, I will post this lament to Twitter and return to my brief period of abstinence from it. Hopefully, it will be a long time (never, ideally, but one has to be realistic) before I once again feel the need to detach from it.

"Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable." ~ George Bernard Shaw.

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