Prompt 111: Instant Messaging
[NOTE: This prompt begins a section of the prompts list called, "The 1990s."]
I used "The Most Dangerous Writing App" to start off this prompt, again. Let me see what happens...
111. Instant messaging on America Online (AOL) in the 1990s changed the way we communicate forever. Do you feel that change was for the better or worse and why? How important do you think writing letters and talking on the phone are in the present day?
Humanity has evolved larger brains for a reason, and maybe this is the crux of the issue I have with the Internet in general. What I see is a lot of people spouting off nonsense at a staggering frequency. They don't think before they speak, post messages, or otherwise communicate with others. Probably the -worst- thing that could have happened to meaningful communication is the introduction of the "like."
As a result of this, apps have been developed to cater to this emotional appeasing rate of communication. People can simply spout off the first thing that comes to mind. And worse yet, they feel entitled to receiving some sort of validation for it. Never mind that instant communication has completely short-cut around critical thinking. Never mind that it has pushed out the need for reasoned arguments.
Instant communication encourages people to act without thinking, to use only the reptilian regions of their brain. Emojis and "followers" provide positive reinforcement of this behaviour. The result is that most human beings of a certain age and/or level of socialization are trained to go through life without using the majority of their brain's capacity for learning and reasoned thought/discourse/etc. So it goes. That genie isn't going back in the bottle.
I'd be remiss in a way were I not to connect this prompt to today's acts in the US capitol. News broke about the storming of the legislature a very short time before the start of my day job's full staff meeting. There were only a handful of staff in the office at the time, but the immediate thought was to vacate the building and head home. Other staff who were working from home had instant access to streaming video and live feeds of the media coverage of the events, so even in their homes they were worked into a froth about "what's happening to this country" and so on. I kept my cynical mouth shut, though I did get a crack in about one of our corporate donors regarding an unrelated issue. We made it through the agenda, but the meeting was short and bookended by expressions of anxiety and furrowed brows.
After the work day was done, I wrote briefly to a friend of mine who is removed further from the capitol than I am. "So the lame duck incites his quislings to do more of his dirty work," I wrote. She has no strong Internet connection but listens to the radio often, and I mentioned she'd be hearing plenty about it on NPR soon enough.
Back in the day, communication was one-way. The radio could provide lightning-quick relation of events, not quite complete communication. Now, communication to the masses - first in chat rooms, now on social media feeds and live streams - has a constant back-and-forth reinforcement of lizard-brain, emotion-fueled commentary and spouting-off.
The worst of it is that this is as far as most people go. Since communication isn't the only thing that's progressed to light-speed, everything is now expected to be instant. If it's not fast enough, then it's boring and therefore not worth it. Attention spans are beaten out of people with ever-faster food, shipping, entertainment, transportation, and communication (or what passes for it, nowadays).
Critical thinking: "Why bother? It won't gain me any likes. People want a hot take."
The lame duck uses Twitter to incite his followers to raid the nation's capitol, then backslides just as quickly - after the deed is done - so as to deny being responsible. What a shit-bird. To borrow from Ian Welsh: how can someone with a job so relatively important be so delusional, and at the same time so gutless?
So there we are.