Thank U, Next

Inspired by the always-tremendous Things Dave Hates account (and the fact that I’m now an old man with an ever-dwindling tolerance for nonsense), here’s a brief list of things that I’d be fine never dealing with again:

Anti-Vaxxers: Delusional and dangerous (a dynamic duo!)

Second Amendment Fanatics: If you won’t even come to the table to discuss basic gun control reform options given the events of the past several years, you’re not a patriot, you’re a lunatic

‘Single Issue’ Voters: I’m thrilled that you’re privileged enough to focus on a single issue while dismissing the many additional, complex situations affecting others (see: abortion, LGBTQ rights, a stimulus package for your dying industry, etc.)

Mansplainers: If you offer your opinion before being asked, and you’re not in a free-form brainstorming session, it’s time to re-think your life choices (and yes, it’s always men, so feel free to keep that witty retort in your holster)

News and Social Media Shirkers: Taking sanity breaks from time to time makes a ton of sense, but ignoring the world around you is an inherently selfish act (this includes online communities, for men that avoid the Internet entirely lest they encounter an errant boob), and it’s something many don’t have the luxury of doing

Multi-Level Marketers: It’s America, and you should of course feel free to make a buck, but the relentless sales pitches in social feeds is exhausting

Luddites: Avoiding technology (or being “adorably” bad at it) wasn’t cute ten years ago, and it’s especially infuriating in 2019, when your unwillingness to teach yourself new skills increasingly places the burden squarely on others

Hugs all around! 💀

On News

When it comes to dietary health, it’s important not only to develop a healthy eating schedule, but also to stay on top of what you’re eating and where it came from. While many go out of their way to improve their physical bodies, the same often can’t be said for their information consumption.

Though it’s been building for decades, distrust of the media (combined with the rise of both internal and external propaganda) has really come to a head in the past two years. The result has been that a fair portion of otherwise-well-meaning Americans have developed a “trust no one” attitude, and in some cases have begun to actively discredit legitimate journalists.

As a former journalism student that’s observed the situation for a while now, I’ve noticed a couple major contributing factors:

  • FOX News: Their devastating impact on our culture really can’t be overstated, especially among the older population (their average viewer is about 70). Much ink has been spilled about Roger Ailes’ effect on America, but for many seniors not using the Internet, FOX News is handing out the daily marching orders, making sure to “clarify” that they’re the only ones speaking the truth in a corrupt media landscape. If you really want to depress yourself, check out this indie doc.
  • Cord-Cutting/Smartphones: The meteoric rise of cord-cutting and mobile news consumption has conditioned people (many of them young adults) to place all incoming news sources on a level playing field, and therefore all equally untrustworthy. It’s understandable. If you didn’t grow up in a world of legitimate print and television journalism, how are you supposed to know the difference between The Washington Post and Infowars? It’s all just content, and after all, anyone can publish. Why trust the “mainstream media” when a compelling blogger raises some great points as well? Sure that blogger might be intentionally spreading disinformation for personal or governmental purposes, but yolo, right?

So where do we go from here? Is it all Facebook comment sniping and cries of “fake news” while the world burns? I sincerely hope not. To me, as always, education is the answer. Many large social platforms are already rolling out their own “fake news” detection systems (a good, albeit rocky start), but it’s far more important that people of all ages take the time to learn about:

  • The history of journalism, journalistic methods and integrity
  • How to properly source an article and understand if a publication has a specific political bias
  • The importance of reading/watching a variety of sources and viewpoints
  • The importance of paying for quality content and reporting

The news business may not be as exciting as Mario Lopez hosting “Candy Crush,” but I have faith that a new generation has been inspired by what’s happened, and we’ll see journalism get a healthy second wind. After all, it’s already looking slightly promising for newspaper subscriptions.

In this spirit of optimism, I thought I’d share my current work-in-progress personal source list. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s been a great help to me in navigating this point in our country’s history. I hope it’s helpful:

Digital Newspapers

Apps/Sites/Services

  • Twitter (I’d be missing a limb without Twitter. My follow list is here if you’re interested. My wife is also fantastic at sharing tweets from all across the political spectrum.)
  • RSS (I’m basically the cryptkeeper at this point, so I still use/love following RSS feeds for a variety of sources. Reeder is my favorite client, running on top of Feed Wrangler.)
  • Apple News (Apple’s built-in news aggregator has gotten much better since its initial launch, and I follow a decent number of sources. It even provides me with healthy exposure to FOX News pieces from time to time…shudder.)
  • Instapaper (Absolutely essential for “save and read later” functionality. It’s my DVR for articles.)
  • NextDraft (Dave Pell’s outstanding daily roundup)
  • Reddit (More for entertainment than news, as it can get real questionable real fast in various subreddits)
  • Politico (Great politics-specific content)
  • Slate (Definitely left-leaning, but a lot of great pieces)
  • BuzzFeed News (I know, BuzzFeed?!? They’re putting out some great news content these days.)
  • CNN (Primarily for watching video highlights after events)
  • Medium (Consistent stream of interesting pieces/viewpoints)

Digital Magazines

I also listen to a fair amount of podcasts (Overcast is my favorite client). If interested, here are a few of them.

On Recent American Politics, The Current Media Landscape And Christianity (Phew!)

Friends, family and followers of my Twitter and Facebook accounts may have noticed a teensy little change in my posting activity over the past several months. Specifically, a never-ending stream of weather reports on Hurricane Donald.

Since historically I haven’t been a very political person, I’ve had lots of different reactions from people about this relentless, exhausting stream of content, so I thought I’d write a post to a) clarify a few things about me and b) offer some thoughts on the situation, in the hope that anyone finds them useful, encouraging or (at the very least) worthy of some consideration.

Introduction

Background is key when it comes to context, so for those who’ve only known me for a short amount of time (or only as an online persona), here’s my slightly-too-long elevator pitch:

– I’ve been interacting with digital communities since dinosaurs roamed the earth, but have worked in the online space professionally for 17 years now (including a long stretch at a social networking company). In other words, I’ve spent a reasonable amount of time seeing patterns emerge and history repeat.

– I minored in Journalism in college, and I place an extremely high value on quality reporting, free speech and open dialogue.

– While I definitely find myself aligned with a lot of liberal causes these days, I’m generally an independent. This may ding my “snowflake” credit score, but I’ll have to risk it.

– I currently live in Los Angeles, but I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and went to college at a school on the border between Illinois and Iowa. I’m allergic to hipsters and adult coloring books, and I love Doritos Locos Tacos and ’80s WWF. In other words, my “coastal elite” credentials are fairly dubious.

– About ten years ago, my wife and I became Christians, and we remain very involved in our local church. We’ve both gone through tremendously positive personal changes, and the general support system has been extremely valuable for our three sons. That being said, there are lots of different people that identify as Christians, and at a national scale I’ve always been wary of the tricky intersection between biblical Christianity and politics/civil rights. As you might imagine, I’m not alone. More on this later.

– I don’t hate Trump supporters. I understand some of the reasons why they may have decided to put their trust in him, but I’m definitely saddened by the fact that those reasons trumped (facepalm) the rest of the terrifying baggage associated with his campaign.

Observations

Now that you know a bit about where I’m coming from, let’s talk about where I’ve landed after observing and posting about the rise of Trump and his supporters over the past year or so:

Silos Are Scary
Life is busy. People want things to be convenient and streamlined, including the ways in which they get their news. We’ve found ourselves at a point where some people exclusively get updates from a single partisan cable news channel, while others have cut the cord entirely and leveraged social media to cobble together a cherry-picked array of questionable sources and like-minded friends as their primary window into national events. These people see partisan story after partisan story, and over time the silo walls grow higher, causing them to become less and less aware of what’s transpiring (and even defensive about the fact that it’s even happening).

Three…Two…One…Zero-Sum
The world is complicated. It’s ok to agree with one portion of a politician’s policy and disagree with something else they’re proposing. You can also point out that Trump is doing something insane without implying that Obama was a full-on angel. Political parties don’t have to be an all-or-nothing setup, but as citizens we’ve found ourselves now living in a bizarre “us against them” hometown sports team-style loyalty experiment. The fact that a good deal of online culture encourages a jaded and dismissive view of alternate political perspectives only exacerbates the problem. It may sound crazy, but you’re actually allowed to stray from your side’s talking points. A conservative S.W.A.T. team won’t smash down your door if you happen to laugh at a funny bit from Amy Schumer.

The Truth Is Out There
Legitimate journalism is real. Truth exists. People literally die while reporting it. These would be “duh” statements decades ago, but now people are placing outlets like Breitbart or Natural News in the same basket as The New York Times and The Washington Post. I wish I was kidding. If you’re someone that uses terms like “Mainstream Media” or “Fake News,” (when not referring to made-up stories placed for manipulative purposes) and you’re not able to tell the difference between a partisan blog (conservative or liberal) and a valid journalistic source, it’s time to let the scales fall from your eyes and realize that you’re living in a silo. The web is a free-speech miracle, but it only works if people learn how to properly vet content sources.

What Would Jesus Do?
I’ve been tremendously unnerved at the slow merging of Christianity and political conservatism in the U.S. over the past several decades. No candidates are ever perfect, and hard choices often need to be made with respect to divisive issues, but the amount of Christians supporting the Trump movement (and Republican party line talking points generally) sends shivers down my spine. Obviously there are exceptions, but the fact that some of us feel a bit like the rebels in Star Wars isn’t ideal.

Especially bothersome is the stress and guilt caused by trying to stay respectful of authorities and prevent other Christians from stumbling while observing the serious social injustices, abuses and never-ending lies from this administration. I think this snippet from the Washington Post article mentioned earlier says it best (in reference to MLK):

“King expressed disappointment at seeing white church leaders, in the midst of blatant racial and economic injustices, ‘stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.’”

If this was simply a standard American election that resulted in a win by a reasonably qualified candidate, it wouldn’t be that hard to just let things play out, lick our wounds and try again in four years. Unfortunately, the country’s in deeply uncharted waters now, and silence or indifference just doesn’t feel like the right thing to do. The situation has left me stressed and anxious, but I’m erring on the side of shining a light into the dark corners and not accepting this madness as normality. While the new Washington Post motto is a tad dramatic, it’s also 100% true: Democracy Dies in Darkness.

Suggestions

Obviously take them or leave them, but here are some things that I’ve found helpful when dealing with this strange new world:

– Pay for real news! Support time-tested, trusted journalistic sources like The New York Times and The Washington Post. Blogs and other sources can be great too, but definitely be aware of their reputations/political leanings.

– Pay attention! Politics may not be your thing, but this is an extremely important time in our nation’s history. Seek out and share information to keep the light shining.

– Keep an open mind! Don’t let what’s happened in the past inform your opinions going forward. You may be wrong, I may be wrong, who knows? Be open enough to take that journey.

– Most importantly, seek out humor! This is some heavy stuff, and sometimes a good joke can really hit the spot.