Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Can Instagram Make the Internet Nicer? Should it Try?

© San Pedro Sun

Last night I watched a segment on CBS's On Assignment program about how the CEO of Instagram is experimenting with the elimination of negative comments on user posts. Some critics say this is the first step down a slippery slope of censorship. Are they right? Can we collectively agree on any limitations of "free speech?"

The current target of the Instagram clean-up campaign seems to be online bullying, not quashing dissent, or opinions on the issues of our time. I find it hard to argue anyone, or any company, in the communications industry, who wants to stop enabling the abuse of the First Amendment as it applies to personal attacks. To my untrained information technology eye, it would appear easy to craft code that blocks a person's name, plus derogatory, libelous, defamatory, and hateful words, from making it online in social media. Does this stop the hate itself? Of course not, but again, social media is currently enabling those who intend to inflict emotional terror on others.

You argue that it should not be the responsibility of a media enterprise to edit and police its users. It is up to the victims of abuse to fight back. How, exactly? What if it is not in your nature to retaliate? How do you know that fighting verbal fire with fire will not escalate into physical abuse? I would argue that any tools available to diminish personal attacks on others should be deployed in the interest of a calmer public. We need more compassion, and if it has to be "imposed" through careful regulation, then so be it. Yes, those bent on abusing others will invent new slang epithets to get around the code, but right now there is no work (or thought) involved in berating another person online.

Words and ideas that have no other intention than to do harm to another party, be it a gender identity, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or place of origin, or those with disabilities, or whatever, have no place in our social conversations. Period.

What comes next? Won't certain organizations and their public figure spokespersons be muted online and elsewhere? Will they no longer have a platform to speak from, or places to convene? Unlikely, but public pressure is growing, and the will of the People must be respected. Consensus is building and it appears that tolerance for a rhetoric of hate is diminishing rapidly.

Here in Colorado Springs, it has come to the attention of residents that the Cheyenne Mountain Resort will host a conference for VDare, a White nationalist and anti-immigrant group. The conference is still scheduled for April, 2018, but the resort is taking a beating on Facebook, Tripadvisor, and Yelp. It will be interesting to see whether the VDare conference will need to look for a new location.

Right now we at are a collective low point of name-calling, inflammatory speech, and violent protest and counter-counter protest as the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia blatantly demonstrated. This cannot be classified as "free speech," certainly not as our forefathers intended it, and arguably not by any measure. Words and ideas that have no other intention than to do harm to another party, be it a gender identity, race, religion, political affiliation, sexual orientation, or place of origin, or those with disabilities, or whatever, have no place in our social conversations. Period. Personally, I find it distasteful even coming from a stand-up comic.

When your goal, through your words and actions, is to deny civil rights to another class of human beings, then you are forfeiting your own right to free speech and, by extension, all the rights you are seeking to deprive others of.

I would not have expected Instagram to be a leader in a social revolution trending toward a more loving, or at least hospitable, online dialogue. After all, it is a huge financial gamble for a company to make such policy changes, at the risk of alienating a large segment of its users, as well as its shareholders. It remains to be seen whether a backlash will cause the company to retreat toward the status quo. Still, I applaud them for doing something to protect the most vulnerable among us. Meanwhile, we should each take up our own proverbial sword and shield and love gun, and start leading by example ourselves. We don't have to wait for others to do so.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Can You Live Too Long?

© Shutterstock.com

Earlier this week my father turned ninety-two. At least, we're pretty sure, when you get over ninety it is easy to lose track. There was really no celebrating, at least not with me here in Colorado and him in Washington state. It got me thinking again about whether an extended lifespan is really a good thing.

Almost a year ago now, my father sold his house and went into an assisted living facility, initially in the most independent wing. One broken hip later and he was forced into a more "managed care" wing that took away his independence. He hasn't been the same since. He had fallen in the parking garage while trying to get into his vehicle to go renew his driver's license. The outcome of having him off the road is probably a good thing, but I wouldn't tell him that. He has always been an excellent driver, but at his advanced age, anybody is going to be slower to react to traffic situations.

Dad calls his new home "assisted dying," and I find it hard to argue with that. In their defense, such facilities cannot do much for someone in relatively good health, but with reduced mobility. The best they can do is wake me up at one in the morning to tell me he has fallen again, and refuses to go to the hospital. I'm not at my most reasonable at that hour, and if he is lucid enough to comply with response protocol, then he can make his own damn decisions as far as I'm concerned. He's paying seven grand a month to live there, he ought to have some say in his care. That reminds me, I need to get a better itemized account from them.

Truth be told, my father's welfare began to decline after his second wife passed away, rapidly, from cancer, in July, 2006. Like me, he has never been that successful when left to his own devices. Our genetics have probably managed to get us this far in spite of our lifestyle. My father's coping mechanisms have always been anger and alcohol, and I have had to unlearn a good deal in order to get through my own days, and become the most minimally desirable spouse. At least I can articulate my emotions most of the time, something his generation never learned to do.

Ironically, our phone conversations are much more peaceful now. This is mostly due to his difficulty in hearing and, even more to the point, his resignation. He tells me not to worry, he has had a good life, and he is happy to go to sleep permanently whenever that happens. We still worry he might try and hasten that final goodbye, so his firearm is safely locked away; and we do what we can to prevent enablers from furnishing alcohol, though that has been impossible so far.

My father's business, for most of the time I was part of his life, was making custom jewelry, and I can say without bias that his designs were ahead of their time, exquisite in attention to detail, and worthy of every penny he charged for his creations. His skill extended to woodworking and model-building, too. Unfortunately, his current accommodations do not provide ample room to execute anything artistic, and it is probably best that he does not have access to sharp objects anyway. What is left, then? He has no interest in computers or the internet, like many of his era, and in some ways I envy that; but it means that he has fewer things to distract himself from tedium.

At his age, my father really has seen it all, or at least all that he wants to, and I find it excruciating that there is no socially acceptable exit for folks who have no joy in living this long. I would think that by ninety or so you would have earned the right to decide when you have had enough. Heck, here I am at over fifty-five, and I am already not liking what is on my horizon. All the benefits one has traditionally gotten as they age are either being taken away, or the age limit increased, forever putting senior discounts and other privileges just beyond one's reach. For shame! Where are my incentives to go on living?

I do hope that my father passes peacefully, without undo pain and suffering, even if he inflicted that on my mother, and myself in my childhood. I've no more animosity towards him, though I still have my truths about him, many of which are not pleasant. As a culture, though, we have a long way to go to make life worth living for our elderly. They are more than a revenue stream for care facilities, for pharmaceutical companies, and investment firms. They are living history, tangible wisdom, and our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. They deserve better.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Through

I can see you through the knothole
Playing behind the fence,
But what a great big world you're missing.
Of the pain and agony of war you do not know,
And the joy of freedom you can only guess.
Your world is the sandbox and the jungle gym,
And your innocence is enviable.

I can see you through the chain link screen,
Playing baseball behind the backstop,
And what a great big outfield before you.
You can be anything you want to be.
Your idols are doctors, lawyers, and policemen.
So you take the pitches as they come,
And your choices are so limitless.

I can see you through the plate glass window,
Playing student in the classroom,
Giving direction to your teenage life.
Decisions to make and deadlines to meet,
And rules to break and friends to greet.
Life leaves you hanging in doubt and hesitation,
And your attitudes are so rebellious.

I can see you through the one-way mirror,
Standing in front of the scale.
Finger-printing and posting bail
Are routines you are not accustomed to.
Who will you dial with your single phone call?
You have decisions to make in hallowed halls,
And your innocence is questionable.

I can see you through the spaces between the iron,
Playing cards behind the bars.
But what a small world you are locked into.
Of the pain and agony of prison you have a clue,
But of the joy of freedom you can only guess.
Your enemies are doctors, lawyers, and policemen,
And your choices are so limited.

I can see you through my tearful eyes
Lying in the open casket,
But what a great big world you left behind.
You could have been anything you wanted to.
So you took the pitches as they came,
And life left you hanging in doubt and hesitation,
And judgment of your innocence is out of our hands.

© Eric R. Eaton, circa 1981