Thursday, December 08, 2016

The Morning Read

My morning reading includes far too many articles about Trump.  He appoints cabinet members and advisors from the monied segment of American economic society (not unique, of course).  His conversation is riddled with exaggerations, and he lacks a sense of accountability for past statements or actions.  His speech emboldens those who view government as an arrogant, useless element, an impediment to their ability to succeed.  His chosen method of primary communication --  Twitter, with its reliance on short abbreviated text -- only highlights his inability to handle complex issues and his lack of concrete policy beliefs aside from his own self-interest.

I go screaming to the sports pages to find solace in baseball news.  There, the articles are about multi-year, multi-million-dollar contracts being given to men who may pitch in 60 innings during the coming season…..Umm.

Just can’t avoid news that has ‘accumulated wealth’ at its core.

From “Social Media’s Globe-Shaking Power” by Farhad Manjoo, NYTimes, November 16, 2016

Why is this all happening now? Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University who has studied the effects of social networks, suggested a few reasons.
One is the ubiquity of Facebook, which has reached a truly epic scale. Last month the company reported that about 1.8 billion people now log on to the service every month. Because social networks feed off the various permutations of interactions among people, they become strikingly more powerful as they grow. With about a quarter of the world’s population now on Facebook, the possibilities are staggering.

“When the technology gets boring, that’s when the crazy social effects get interesting,” Mr. Shirky said.

One of those social effects is what Mr. Shirky calls the “shifting of the Overton Window,” a term coined by the researcher Joseph P. Overton to describe the range of subjects that the mainstream media deems publicly acceptable to discuss.

From about the early 1980s until the very recent past, it was usually considered unwise for politicians to court views deemed by most of society to be out of the mainstream, things like overt calls to racial bias (there were exceptions, of course, like the Willie Horton ad). But the internet shifted that window.

“White ethnonationalism was kept at bay because of pluralistic ignorance,” Mr. Shirky said. “Every person who was sitting in their basement yelling at the TV about immigrants or was willing to say white Christians were more American than other kinds of Americans — they didn’t know how many others shared their views.”

Thanks to the internet, now each person with once-maligned views can see that he’s not alone. And when these people find one another, they can do things — create memes, publications and entire online worlds that bolster their worldview, and then break into the mainstream. The groups also become ready targets for political figures like Mr. Trump, who recognize their energy and enthusiasm and tap into it for real-world victories.