Critical Paradox

[Part 1 of Two]

At ninety, I think of this article as virtually posthumous. You see, I have a compulsion to convey my life experience to the young as rapidly and as much as dwindling time will allow. So, I’d better hurry.

But first, lest I be accused of being ‘retro’ just because I’m a nonagenarian, I unequivocally regard the Internet as at least momentous as the advent of the printing press. Instant electronic communication combined with absolute freedom of speech and global online availability have revolutionized the methodology and dispersal of information. Great!

That being said, I’d like to share my perspective on two Internet pitfalls to which its users are subjected…that is, if they allow themselves to be subjected.

The Minor Pitfall

When I initially click online, I feel assaulted by the instant appearance of an unsolicited and automated ‘slide’ show under the banner of AOL News. The general pattern of each slide’s ‘layout’ is the same. There is a headline at the top, followed by four or five brief sentences that lead to but almost always avoid specifics of the slide’s content unless the unwary user clicks for the continuance of the opening text by clicking onto a briefly paused slide. If he does that, he often is ambushed into an advertisement!

With my tongue firmly tucked in cheek, I can’t resist whimsically maligning the AOL feature in and by itself with my own made-up headlines followed by a few comments.  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, sometimes actual examples are better than imagined ones. Accordingly, I’ve identified and underlined a segment below as Imagined Headlines, the other as Actual Headlines. All headlines are in italicized bold type.

Imagined Headlines

A New Perspective on Reality. In anticipation of a philosophic piece, a user clicks for the substance of the fleeting headline. Suddenly, she finds herself ambushed into an advertisement for eyeglasses. Roseanne Reveals Her Terrible Secret. The article is a ploy to keep Rosanne visible. ∙Five Foods that Will Kill You. I’ve eaten at least one of those ‘deadly’ foods on a daily basis since I was a child and my longevity has reached its ninth decade. Food headlines are virtually a daily staple in slide headlines that are often designed to peddle a book, doctor, or dietician∙ Stephen Hawking Warns of Alien Global Genocide. From time to time, we hear from the brilliant cosmologist who has a penchant for keeping himself visible in a competitive world. There have been several grim warnings from him about the end of the human race.

Actual Headlines

Before beginning this article, I had listed those imagined headlines (above) as typical examples of ‘shell game’ slides. However, I always make strong efforts to be as accurate as possible before I submit an article. To that end and after I had listed my headlines and comments, I searched for an actual headline on AOL News.  As I expected, I found one in a few minutes. That headline was, “Biggest Event in Human History” Immanent. But there is a catch! Note that the word “Immanent” appears  after the word “History” and after the closing quotation mark. That is not a typographical or printing error. It is, however, a deliberate deception by the advertiser to avoid libel. In the body of the copy, the word “Immanent” is not included at all. Instead, the “biggest event in human history” [not capitalized] is represented as a Stephen Hawking quote (and implied endorsement) for Tier Zero, whatever that is!

Einstein Was Wrong (or its literal equivalent) is a frequent headline on the Internet and on the slide show. I’ve come across dozens of websites in search engines written by aspiring cosmologists who hope to rival Einstein’s fame by disclaiming his incomparable discovery of Specific and General Relativity, those twin phenomenon (still referred to as ‘theories’!) which have been repeatedly proved for more than a century. Hypotheses can be proved wrong, but proved theories cannot be ‘unproved.

Another of my favorite real headlines is The Universe is a Hologram! Yeah, and reindeer fly.

Clicking for random, unrelated, and misleading headlines under the banner of “news” is a form of surfing the net. On the other hand, browsing the net, the kind of search that is based on specific user goals, provides significant information for the user without playing the ‘shell game’ of misleading headlines. The only time I use the AOL slide feature is when I see only a tiny fragment of a news item on TV that seems important enough to research.  But even then, entering a key word search is at least as productive as the cumbersome AOL News feature.

A long time ago and shortly after my first full exploration of an AOL slide show, I learned to resist the temptation to click onto that first unsolicited slide no matter how sensational its headline. Now, I directly enter a key word for a search even if the first AOL headline tells me that beginning at 5:22 a.m. next Tuesday the world will end. No problem: I’ll sleep through the global event or, better yet, set the alarm to watch it.

The Major Pitfall

The AOL News feature is a whisper lost in the Internet’s roar. In itself, that feature is a microcosmic model of the Internet. But the Internet is a colossus. It has no beginning or end. Its ‘form’ is formless. It has no preconceived order. And that is as it should be.

The Internet exerts an undefinable yet immense impact on human behavior, especially as it relates to an unprecedented generational gap that exponentially exceeds any other rift in the history of humankind. This gap is like no other before it.  Past gaps were resolved by an amalgamation of tradition and innovation. That is no longer true.

In the past, despite disparate lifestyles, people at different ages from grandparents to grandchildren developed common ground to stand on for mutually beneficial relationships. As a positive result, the gap shrunk as they learned from each other. Tragically, that has not happened since the beginning of the 21st century.

Crown jewel of the Information Age, the Internet throbs with an incomparably vast source of information. Obviously, it is also saturated with incorrect, false, or even deliberately misleading information on a grand scale. Perhaps what I’ve learned about the search for truth on this side of my life cycle, combined with my experience through three generation gaps, will be of use to you.

[To be continued in Part 2 of Two, titled The Great Disconnect]



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