Running for Your Life: Social Media Mystique

Those old enough to remember the AIDS crisis in New York City will recall a ubiquitous public service announcement poster: SILENCE = DEATH.

The viral campaign drew parallels between the Nazi period and the AIDS crisis, declaring that “silence about oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of survival.”

It is in this spirit – if not with the same visceral threat to the spread of near-certain death (although even that may be up for debate) – that I propose a companion PSA sticker:

SOCIAL MEDIA = STRESS.

Social media billionaires would like you to think that more time online will make the world a safer, more democratic place, and lead to happier more informed social and consumer choices.

Not so. As President Obama elegantly said in his farewell address to the nation, “The rise of naked partisanship, increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste – all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.”

Consider this from Time magazine. In an article published Feb. 17, the Old Media giant reports: “Virality is a David myth obscuring the fact that the Internet is [still] run by Goliaths.” (Those are my brackets on ‘still,’ which Time editors should have axed; I mean are we proposing that there stands a ghost of a chance that the Internet will ever NOT be run by Goliaths?)

This reportage lets print readers in on a little secret. These facts are done by social science-based (read not business, rather nonpartisan information providers who can no longer feel sanguine about continued federal funding) organizations regarding how going viral is a myth perpetrated by those who would have us devote more and more time to social media.

So look for it – SOCIAL MEDIA = STRESS. Or better yet, get your nose out of your phone and breathe a little. Like the bearded guy from those old Men’s Wearhouse ads says, “You’ll like the way you look, I guarantee it.”

Next: Running for Your Life:  It’s Spring Already 

Running for Your Life: New Leader of the Free World

When it comes to this label, I find myself thinking of one of the best tabloid headlines of the past year.

In the story about Hillary Clinton’s email kerfuffle, The Post wrote this head:

DELETER OF THE FREE WORLD

Now comes a label of an entirely different stripe. From early this month by Nicholas Kristof, about
Canada.
Here’s the link. http://nyti.ms/2le3Hoj. When it comes to “Liberty” welcoming “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door” the new world leader according to Kristof (and anyone else who has been paying attention) is the great nation to the north.

Be smug, Canadians.You deserve it.


Next: Running for Your Life:  Winter Blah-ster 

Running for Your Life: Ratings Extremists

Consider this as a path to the undoing of America.

The unfettered primacy of TV audience ratings.

With no viable public control of the airwaves – the BBC and CBC being time-tested good-government examples of non-ratings-based national news systems – America, instead, relies on these ratings for its news (entertainment?). If the ratings are high, then that program (currently all things Trump) will receive outsize attention. Why? Because it’s “damn good” business.

The veil on what is being presented as responsible news and analysis is rarely lifted. But during the recent presidential campaign, CBS boss Les Moonves did so when he said:

“It (a Trump presidency) may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”

Ratings worked to keep Trump in the public eye for days, hours on end, last winter, spring, summer and fall.

Hillary’s ratings were not so high, in contrast. In fact, she seemed to think the less she saw the red light of the camera the better: that her critics would savage her (often unfairly, at times less so) and eat into her national poll lead.

Those historically high ratings – drawing millions more “eyeballs” than any other modern presidential candidate – helped create a wave of populist fervor (not just “support,” Trumpists are in a fever over their guy) and a swing to extreme politics the likes of which we living Americans have never seen.

Trump, in keeping his pledge to these followers, is tending to his base. Heretofore, we thought of “a base” as an aggregation of moderate, level-headed citizenry. The change that this national vote wrought is to replace that temperate base with an awakened and galvanized fringe that creates an unstable equation of national affairs that is both unfamiliar and untested.

Do the major US news networks race ahead to dissect this disturbing, emerging reality? Perhaps, if the idea can be sold to the news bosses. That is, if real resource dollars are spent on real news programming.

Alas, though, what we’re more likely to get are bosses who chase the easy bucks dictated by our Extremist Ratings System.

No presidential candidate theater, no problem. Cover the stagecraft of the White House news conferences, pony up time to the Kellyanne Conways.

Or, better yet, satirize Trump and his inner circle.

SNL ratings have hit a six-year high. Yippeeee! And do the comedian celebs’ increasingly Trump-bashing skits move the needle toward a more recognizable America, the one we wonder if it has been lost forever?

I would hazard to say no.

I’m not advocating the muzzling of SNL. Far from it. But it’s a cheap ratings play.

What’s needed instead is a view of the bigger picture that comes from a news media that is not reduced to the business imperative of extreme ratings.

Next: Run for Your Life: New Leader of the Free World


Running for Your Life: If the Greats Were With Us Thursday

Seriously, I had planned to write an “If the Greats” blogpost about Frederick Douglass, in recognition of Black History Month.

In part because I recently read Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic http://nyti.ms/2loGWP6, a literary achievement that if tour de force weren’t overused to the point of meaninglessness, I would hasten to call a tour de force. Truly a great book of imagined historical fiction, whose central figure, the fictional Frederick Douglass, I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I read the novel last year.

McCann’s choice of Douglass, whose travels to Ireland are little-known in this country, to imagine in his novel is genius. Who better to seal the deal, that color of skin is zero barrier to achievement, grace and honor in the annals of the human spirit?

Then, this, from the President of the United States, in his recent Black History shout-out:
Douglass is “an example of somebody who has done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice.”

Too bad, isn’t it, that Frederick Douglass weren’t around to run for president? If only this great were with us (no, don’t spill the beans to the president, who’s under the impression that the famous abolitionist is still alive. There’s no point in riling him about this).

Next: Run for Your Life: New Leader of the Free World


Running for Your Life: Race Ahead

You can’t teach an old dog. Here’s the proof:

I’m thisclose to training again for the big one – a marathon. 

First choice: The New York City Marathon in November. I have registered and will know if I’m in on March 7. (You have to win a lottery position; at least that’s the only way I see myself as getting a race slot.)

Second choice: Marine Corp in Washington, DC, in October. Its lottery occurs on March 22.

Third choice: Toronto, same day as Marine Corp.

One of these will happen. Or at least that’s my goal. I had thought, at one time, my last marathon would be in Nova Scotia, now three years ago. Since that time I’ve suffered two injury setbacks – knee before Brooklyn Marathon in 2015, and faceplant, before Bay Ridge Half Marathon, last year.

I have every intention of continuing to run for my life. But I have missed doing the big race. So, this old dog is excited to soon be back in training mode. Oh, yeah, I might be a lot wiser to be sticking with the shorter stuff. At times, though, this blog is less about wisdom than childlike passion.

Next: Run for Your Life: New Leader of the Free World