Sorry, we got the Internet Wrong

When words are your currency, you will mess up

Photo by Yasin Arıbuğa on Unsplash

The digital interconnectedness we’ve come to cherish during these isolated times is home now, human warmth delivered in pixels and data packets.

We have tech tools to hold out a hand across time zones and change lives but we don’t always have the compassion, the courage, or the patience. Tools don’t teach you any of those. Building bonds between humans takes time and sustained attention, both are the opposite of what our disposable content culture promotes.

Our words fight for fame and fortune now, not ideas. Communication is often transactional, some kind of marketing for a person, a product, a brand. Trump is all three, the social media one-arm bandit grift jackpot. His communication style has become endemic to the internet. Everything is a commodity now, including human dignity. Egos vie for digital real estate and practice the art of the steal by hijacking eyeballs in the most performative way.

And yet, words endure. We’re still nerding out about Classical Antiquity and religion, but we’ve lost the intellectual desire for discovery. Most everything we come up with is secondhand or thirdhand knowledge. Or a rumor which may or may not be fabrication yet goes viral.

The words we use to describe our reality end up altering it. Everyone is honest, everything is fake news, and America is… great?

The world is holding its breath and bracing for the worst.

Stating the obvious is often met with silence and derision. There’s no cynicism anymore though, only bluntness and urgency.

The momentum generated by our collective reckoning is fierce. It’s upending most everything we hold true about ourselves, life, liberty, and the wild goose chase for happiness to which not everyone can afford to participate. No one markets universal aspirations better and with more pizzazz than America. Still, the pandemic is costing everyone. We watch our lives unravel.

Dignity has a price and not everyone can afford it. For example, health care remains a privilege in America, not a right. The inequalities we averted our eyes from are killing the most disenfranchised. Unchecked capitalism is the chicken coming home to roost; we’re aghast, confused, desperate. Exhausted and hungry behind screens, we bet on one scam after the other. What culture turns poverty into a commodity then charges the poor extra for being poor?

The ranks of accidental freelancers are swelling with new hopefuls curious about how to generate a replacement income online to make up for the job that vanished overnight, the business that died, or the projects that collapsed due to the pandemic.

Desperation keeps us silent. We’re aware of exploitation, we’re aware of hacks, we’re aware of marketing flimflam yet we keep mum.

No one dares document grift in action.

Many of the greatest storytellers aren’t writers at all but charlatans pushing snake oil and politicians pushing mythology.

Sometimes, the former become the later. Grifting is a mindset, a cottage industry, and a leadership style, not a specific profession. To understand how it works, just follow the money. Where there’s a trend, there’s free advertising. And when the end is money, the end always justifies the means. Being honest is a trump card for Alex Jones now. Even Black Lives Matter sells.

The demise of language, the rise of the lowest common denominator, and the parlous state of US politics set the tone for the internet and everyone — from wannapreneurs to mommy bloggers via The New York Times — follows suit. Polarizing content that antagonizes people drives traffic and pays. We seem to have learned nothing in the last four years apart from, perhaps, how to take con artistry to the next level with circumlocution.

Unwittingly, we become complicit in a system that turns our hopes into someone else’s paycheck because we, too, trust some of that money will trickle down to us. Many of us who write for a living are part of the problem and compound it, guilty by association albeit unwittingly.

Tech is trying to halt the race to the bottom so it’s not too late to hold ourselves accountable for the impact our words have on society.

To err is human; the integrity to acknowledge our mistakes is strength.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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