30 August 2012

On the Fear and Gullibility of the Human Race in the Age of Information: Making Enemies With the Truth

Before I present this article, I (unfortunately) feel I should provide a disclaimer to at least try to avoid being intensely misunderstood. So here it is:
This article is about no one in particular. If I use an example that relates to you, I'm not trying to point you out as an offender, but I am using the example as evidence for my article.
Further, know that no one event has caused me to write this, but a series of conversations and experiences collected over many months.
If anyone is offended by the following article, I sympathize, but I will not apologize for the article itself. Know that this is just a report of events and how I feel about them.
Right then...

On Fear and the Gullibility of the Human Race in the Age of Information: Making Enemies With the Truth

We now live in an age where information can be accessed from literally everywhere with enough signal. Many people have smartphones, allowing them to look up everything from recipes to actors to the news, no matter where they are. We can follow our friends' days on Facebook and Twitter, regardless of whether they live next door or across an ocean. The word "Google" has transformed from just being a company into being a popular verb. Indeed, a site called, "Let me Google that for you" is used by people who voice questions on the Internet which can be easily answered by the search engine. But access to nearly unlimited information doesn't necessarily mean people used it.

With Facebook as popular as it is (its own page has nearly three quarters of a hundred million "likes" alone), a significant portion of the world's population uses it to keep in contact with friends and family, abandoning even email as a means of connection. "Facebook me," is now a popular phrase, people have arguments over posts, and relationships aren't confirmed until they are, "Facebook Official." Although this has become an extremely useful tool for many, it has also proven just how gullible, or perhaps just ready to accept anything as the truth, people have become.

The first example I will point to is a post I found on my Facebook wall at least three or four times in the last three months. It goes as follows:
ALL PARENTS PLEASE BE AWARE!! ...There is a drug going around the schools ..Its known as Strawberry Quick ...or strawberry meth ...it looks like pop rocks kids eat & also smells like strawberries & also comes in other flavors like chocolate, etc. ... Please tell your children not to take candy from ANYONE- even a class mate- because this drug that looks like pop rocks is actually crystal meth rocked up with strawberry flavor & can KILLl them :'( ...PLEASE REPOST!!! so all parents are aware of this ..Thank You! This is happening all over the country..
(Source:  http://www.snopes.com/medical/drugs/candymeth.asp#ihRkHxmWt0ik2KGS.99 )

Of course, all parents and friends of parents will become concerned with a post like this, since it poses a danger to our most fragile and innocent citizens: children. Out of fear, they will share this message (Often, messages like these will have the tag, "Please take one minute to copy paste, what's one minute when you can save a life?"), and they hope that by sharing it, the people they know will protect their loved ones by sharing it as well. By doing so, they play into exactly what the story's writer was hoping for: for their post to be shared around the world. It's a sort of anonymous fame that makes people feel important when the story comes back to them. But it's biggest impact is fear.

As President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself," and I think that this is statement puts this issue into focus. In an age of information, we should be able to look at a story like this and question its validity, first and foremost. And since we have the Internet at our fingertips, checking if it's real should take about as much time as it takes to copy and paste said story. Fear, however, tends to override our curiosity and skepticism, and so we spread the fear, adding fuel to the fire instead of quenching it.

But fear is the issue. Why are we so afraid in the first place? 

I have several European friends that I work with here in Pittsburgh who were astonished that I carry pocket knife with me on a daily basis.
"Why would you ever need that?" they have asked.
I always respond the same way: to defend myself if I have to, if I am attacked. 
"Have you ever been attacked?" they ask.
Of course not, but it's just in case. I've only ever used my knife to open boxes and stubborn containers. But I am afraid of being attacked. I have walked home at eleven at night, up the hill to my apartment building, with my knife unfolded and stuck up my sleeve, ready to whip out and cut someone at the slightest touch on my shoulder. But the truth of it is that I was taught to be afraid of every single person around me.

Recently, I was involved in a conversation discussing gun laws with one of my European friends and a friend of mine who was raised in the south.
"What is the point of having guns?"my European friend asked. "In Europe, no one has guns. Only the police. We don't have so many murders and shootings like this."
"But think about the bad guys," my southern friend replied. "They don't listen to the laws. They will have guns anyway. And if you're not allowed to have them, how will you fight?"
"We have the police for that reason," my European friend responded.
The argument is endless. Everyone has a reason for wanting to carry a weapon and not wanting to. In Europe, my friend is not so afraid to walk outside at night alone. She's not so afraid to have her car stolen or broken into. But we are. We are raised on fear. But I don't think we need to be. I think we have to assess our relationships to our family, our friends, and to our community. I think that fear,  most of all, is destroying us, as people and as a nation.

That's all I have on the issue right now. Or rather, all I wish to contribute at this time. You may feel free to respond, or you may quietly get angry with me. Issues like this should be a discussion. I will be happy to answer any questions posed to me.

Thank you for reading.