The Universe Fits in my Pocket and Other Paradoxes

Watching Rick and Morty has made me realize that people are now more accepting of the plausibility of a microverse and of a multiverse. There’s no actual proof of the existence of a parallel universe or infinite parallel dimensions, but we enjoy – or are terrified by – the idea that there is another us who made different choices, the right decisions, or went down the wrong path, or never existed.

Some theories suggest the existence of daughter universes, where every decision, a left turn rather than a right turn, leads to the creation of a whole new universe, one where you did turn left. Without getting into the theory of quantum mechanics, we can imagine that there are infinite probabilities. In Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a space ship was powered by an “infinite improbability drive” which employed the Brownian motion observed in the surface of a cup of hot tea, for example.

It is impossible to catalog every possibility. But outcomes can be predicted, within a given framework. For instance, meteorologists can predict when it is going to rain, with the help of software and measuring equipment. But the computer models lose their ability to accurately forecast the weather after about 24 hours. And in some places, like Central Oklahoma, April through June offer some of the most unpredictable scenarios. The probability of a tornado is very high in the Texas Panhandle. Storm chasers know what to look for, and sometimes capture amazing video like this one:

Theoretically, there is another world where this tornado did not form, if you believe we live in a multiverse. Do all these possibilities simultaneously exist?

Every week there are lotto drawings across the US and other countries. Many people buy one or more tickets (I routinely buy one, just in case). The paradox of the lottery is that everyone believes in the probability that at least one ticket will win the jackpot. Sometimes there are multiple winners. However, it is possible that no ticket will match the numbers, and thus no one wins. In fact, this happens often. The result is that more people are interested in the inflated payout and begin to purchase tickets. This makes the probability of a winner more likely. It was not reasonable to assume that no one would win, even though that result was possible for any given lotto drawing.

I love a good paradox, like saying “I always lie,” or a sign that reads, “free beer tomorrow”. The idea that there is another me, or infinite me’s, is unsettling. Is my life in the universe where I’m currently writing this post worse off than the one where I wrote this a year ago? Is it better than the universe where I haven’t written it? What about the one where I was born in the 18th century, or where humans currently live on Mars? Infinite possibility theory will blow your mind if you linger.

Somewhere there is a universe where I won the lottery. Maybe it’s this one, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’ll let you know when it does.

 

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Go for the Bronze

What have I done?

Last week, just as the 2018 Winter Olympics were winding down, I was thinking about how much work is involved in reaching the medal podium for a given event. The hours of training each day, the sacrifices, the failures, and the successes. For every athlete who paraded into the Olympic Stadium in PyeongChang (camel case was insisted on by the organizers to differentiate the Game’s host city from the capital of North Korea), there must be dozens, possibly hundreds, of athletes who might be as good, but did not make the cut.

Anyone who makes the team may be considered an elite athlete, with possibly one exception. Hungarian-ish freestyle skiers notwithstanding, I am always amazed to see the spectacle of human endurance and fortitude, played out so all the world can witness these achievements. Perhaps the most amazing story came when Simen Hegstad KRUEGER of Norway was knocked down and fell back to last place for men’s cross-country skiing. He would eventually win the race in what they’re calling the “Miracle on Snow” (actually there were a couple events that got this moniker).

While history loves gold medal winners, 3rd place doesn’t feel as nice. But any medal is better than nothing at all. Silver medalists, forgive me for this list, but I have decided to honor the Bronze medal winners in each event. The original list was supplied by Leah Rocketto and Skye Gould, which I hope to be comprehensive. I did find a couple of typos or errors in places, but overall I found it useful. The events were originally listed in descending order of the day of the medal round or final results. All the names of athletes receiving a medal have links to their profile on the Olympic website.

If I have omitted anyone, please forgive me. As a reminder, I have included only Bronze medal winners. Some sports were surprisingly unusual so I provided links to the event in those cases (like doubles luge, which, it turns out, is a thing). Also, it is worth noting that on the English language version of the PyeongChang website, women’s events are sometimes referred to as “ladies'”, for no particular reason. (Incidentally, the French language version routinely uses “femmes”).

 

Biathlon, men’s 4×7.5km relay – Germany

Erik LESSER

Benedikt DOLL

Arnd PEIFFER

Simon SCHEMPP

Curling, men’s – Switzerland

Peter DE CRUZ

Dominik MAERKI

Benoit SCHWARZ

Claudio PAETZ

Martin RIOS

Valentin TANNER

Figure skating, women’s single skate – Canada

Kaetlyn OSMOND

Freestyle skiing, women’s ski cross big – Switzerland

Fanny SMITH

Speed-skating, men’s 1,000m – Korea

Alpine skiing, men’s slalom – Austria

Alpine skiing, women’s alpine combined – Switzerland

Wendy HOLDENER

Biathlon, women’s 4x6km relay – France

Anais CHEVALIER

Marie DORIN HABERT

Justine BRAISAZ

Anais BESCOND

Freestyle skiing, men’s ski halfpipe – New Zealand

Nico PORTEOUS

Ice Hockey, women’s – Finland

Eveliina SUONPAA

Isa RAHUNEN

Rosa LINDSTEDT

Jenni HIIRIKOSKI

Mira JALOSUO

Ella VIITASUO

Venla HOVI

Linda VALIMAKI

Annina RAJAHUHTA

Riikka VALILA

Minnamari TUOMINEN

Meeri RAISANEN

Petra NIEMINEN

Emma NUUTINEN

Sanni HAKALA

Noora TULUS

Sara SAKKINEN

Saila SAARI

Michelle KARVINEN

Noora RATY

Tanja NISKANEN

Susanna TAPANI

Ronja SAVOLAINEN

Nordic combined, Team Gunderson LH / 4x5km cross-country – Austria

Wilhelm DENIFL

Lukas KLAPFER

Bernhard GRUBER

Mario SEIDL

Short track speed-skating, men’s 500m – Korea

LIM Hyojun

Short track speed-skating, women’s 1,000m – Italy

Arianna FONTANA

Short track speed-skating, men’s 5,000m relay – Canada

Samuel GIRARD

Charles HAMELIN

Charle COURNOYER

Pascal DION

Snowboard, women’s big air – New Zealand

Zoi SADOWSKI SYNNOTT

Alpine skiing, women’s downhill – USA

Lindsey VONN

Bobsleigh, women’s bobsleigh – Canada

Kaillie HUMPHRIES

Phylicia GEORGE

Cross-country skiing, women’s team sprint – Norway

Marit BJOERGEN

Maiken Caspersen FALLA

Cross-country skiing, men’s team sprint – France

Freestyle skiing, men’s ski cross – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Sergey RIDZIK

Speed-skating, women’s team pursuit – USA

Heather BERGSMA

Brittany BOWE

Mia MANGANELLO

Speed-skating, men’s team pursuit – Netherlands

Patrick ROEST

Sven KRAMER

Jan BLOKHUIJSEN

Biathlon, 2x6km women + 2×7.5km men mixed relay – Italy

Lisa VITTOZZI

Dorothea WIERER

Lukas HOFER

Dominik WINDISCH

Figure skating, ice dance – USA

Maia SHIBUTANI

Alex SHIBUTANI

Freestyle skiing, women’s halfpipe – USA

Brita SIGOURNEY

Nordic combined, Individual Gundersen NH/10km – Austria

Lukas KLAPFER

Nordic combined, Individual Gundersen LH/10km – Germany

Eric FRENZEL

Short track speed-skating, women’s 3,000m relay – Netherlands

Jorien TER MORS

Lara VAN RUIJVEN

Rianne DE VRIES

Suzanne SCHULTING

Yara VAN KERKHOF

Bobsleigh, 2-man – Latvia

Ski jumping, men’s team – Poland

Maciej KOT

Stefan HULA

Dawid KUBACKI

Kamil STOCH

Speed-skating, men’s 500m – China

GAO Tingyu

Alpine skiing, men’s giant slalom – France

Alexis PINTURAULT

Biathlon, men’s 15km Mass Start – Norway

Emil Hegle SVENDSEN

Cross-country skiing, men’s 4x10km relay – France

Jean Marc GAILLARD

Maurice MANIFICAT

Clement PARISSE

Adrien BACKSCHEIDER

Freestyle skiing, men’s slopestyle – Canada

Alex BEAULIEU-MARCHAND

Freestyle skiing, men’s aerials – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Ilia BUROV

Speed-skating, women’s 500m – Czech Republic

Karolina ERBANOVA

Alpine skiing, women’s super giant slalom – Liechtenstein

Tina WEIRATHER

Biathlon, women’s 12.5km Mass Start – Norway

Tiril ECKHOFF

Cross-country skiing, women’s 4x5km relay – Olympic Athletes from Russia

Figure skating, men’s single skate – Spain

Javier FERNANDEZ

Freestyle skiing, women’s slopestyle – Great Britain

Isabel ATKIN

Short track speed-skating, women’s 1,500m – Netherlands

Marrit LEENSTRA

Short track speed-skating, men’s 1,000m – Korea

KIM Tae-Yun

Skeleton, women’s – Great Britain

Laura DEAS

Ski jumping, men’s large hill – Norway

Robert JOHANSSON

Alpine skiing, men’s super giant slalom – Norway

Kjetil JANSRUD

Alpine skiing, women’s slalom – Austria

Katharina GALLHUBER

Cross-country skiing, men’s 15km – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Denis SPITSOV

Freestyle skiing, women’s Aerials – China

Skeleton, men’s – Great Britain

Dom PARSONS

Snowboard, women’s cross race – Czech Republic

Eva SAMKOVA

Speed-skating, women’s 5,000m – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Alpine skiing, men’s downhill – Switzerland

Beat FEUZ

Alpine skiing, women’s giant slalom – Italy

Federica BRIGNONE

Biathlon, women’s 15km – Germany

Laura DAHLMEIER

Biathlon, men’s 20km – Austria

Dominik LANDERTINGER

Cross-country skiing, women’s 10km – Norway

Marit BJOERGEN

Figure skating, pairs free skate – Canada

DUHAMEL Meagan

RADFORD Eric

Luge, mixed team relay – Austria

Madeleine EGLE

Snowboard, men’s cross race – Spain

Regino HERNANDEZ

Speed Skating, men’s 10,000m – Italy

Nicola TUMOLERO

Luge, doubles – Germany

Toni EGGERT

Sascha BENECKEN

Nordic combined, men’s – Team Gundersen LH/4x5km – Austria

Snowboarding, men’s halfpipe – Australia

Scotty JAMES

Speed skating, women’s 1,000m – Japan

Miho TAKAGI

Alpine skiing, men’s combined – France

Victor MUFFAT-JEANDET

Cross-country skiing, women’s team sprint – Norway

Cross-country skiing, men’s team sprint – France

Maurice MANIFICAT

Richard JOUVE

Curling, mixed doubles – Norway

Kristin SKASLIEN

Magnus NEDREGOTTEN

Luge, women’s singles – Canada

Alex GOUGH

Speed Skating Short-track, women’s 500m – Canada

Kim BOUTIN

Snowboarding, women’s halfpipe – USA

Arielle GOLD

Speed skating, men’s 1,500m – Korea

KIM Min Seok

Biathlon, women’s 10km pursuit – France

Anais BESCOND

Biathlon, men’s 12.5km pursuit – Germany

Benedikt DOLL

Figure skating, team – USA

Nathan CHEN

Adam RIPPON

Mirai NAGASU

Bradie TENNELL

Alexa SCIMECA KNIERIM

Chris KNIERIM

Maia SHIBUTANI

Alex SHIBUTANI

Freestyle skiing, men’s mogul – Japan

Daichi HARA

Ski jumping, women’s normal hill – Japan

Sara TAKANASHI

Snowboarding, women’s slopestyle – Finland

Enni RUKAJARVI

Speed Skating, women’s 1,500m – Netherlands

Marrit LEENSTRA

Biathlon, men’s 10km sprint – Italy

Dominik WINDISCH

Cross-country skiing, men’s 15km + 15km Skiathlon – Norway

Hans Christer HOLUND

Freestyle skiing, women’s mogul – Kazakhstan

Yulia GALYSHEVA

Luge, men’s singles – Germany

Johannes LUDWIG

Snowboarding, men’s slopestyle – Canada

Mark MCMORRIS

Speed Skating, men’s 5,000m – Norway

Sverre Lunde PEDERSEN

Biathlon, women’s 7.5km sprint – Czech Republic

Veronika VITKOVA

Cross-country skiing, women’s 7.5km + 7.5km Skiathlon – Finland

Krista PARMAKOSKI

Short-track, men’s 1,500m – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Semen ELISTRATOV

Ski jumping, men’s normal hill – Norway

Robert JOHANSSON

Speed Skating, women’s 3,000m – Netherlands

Antoinette DE JONG

 

 

 

Really?!

Some of our preconceptions are just plain wrong. That’s okay. I mean, where else would stereotypes come from? Without these misguided perceptions we wouldn’t ever be amazed or mystified by new things. Nothing would ever take us by surprise. We would never have any reason to travel beyond our city limits or past our front porch. Maybe it’s okay to have the wrong idea, but we should never be content to assume we know the world outside the confines of our comfortable existence without checking it out for ourselves.

As much as I like to preach about reaching out past your comfort zone, I am confined by economics to an extent. My only trip outside the US was to Baja California. I was a little ashamed to admit this one day, but the person to whom I mentioned it said, “California’s in the US, dude.” I said, “No, Baja California.” He subsequently appeared to think I was proving his point.

The funny thing is that people have held very strange notions about where I grew up, near Dallas, Texas. There are 25 million people in the triangle that joins DFW, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston. Once, a customer was asking me if Houston was a big enough city to hold an event. I said, “sure, it’s the largest city in Texas.” He was incredulous and asked me if the downtown region had buildings or was it just cows. I wasn’t sure if he was fucking with me, but I politely and diplomatically corrected his misconception. To this day I’m not convinced he wasn’t puling my leg.

 

Cottonwood Trail 3

In the Texas Panhandle, there is a large canyon, Palo Duro Canyon, carved into the Caprock Escarpment where visitors might be surprised to find a lush grove of cottonwood trees. Other parts of the park are a haven for birds and butterflies. And, of course, there are rattlesnakes.

Many people have visited Las Vegas. And even though the city and its suburbs has nearly 2 million people, the casual tourist may not think about the city beyond the Strip. 2 million people in any city would need places to buy groceries, shop for necessities, get their hair cut, attend religious services, and just about anything we might do in a given week. Of course Las Vegas has kindergartens and laundromats, mundane and non-Las Vegas-y things you don’t want to think about while you’re watching Cirque du Soleil. One of the most blatantly unremarkable meals I’ve ever had was in Vegas (I would hope that Red Lobster has made some improvements).

I will be making my first trip to the Grand Canyon in May. My preconceptions are coming with me, like anything else I will pack. My plan is to leave them behind, which is the only thing, aside from a footprint, that one should leave when visiting a National Park. I expect to be pleasantly surprised, which is certain to happen. Even when I’ve been to a place repeatedly, I will always discover something new; and no matter how small it may seem, it is still enough to make me grateful for the experience.

 

 

Spent

At the beginning of this century, I picked up a book by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Pay it Forward (1999, Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books). They also published a young readers edition. In 2000, Warner Brothers released a film of the same name, starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment. Regardless of how well (or poorly) the movie was received, or that Spacey’s career is currently in a tailspin, the movement behind the book and movie has inspired me for nearly two decades.

In the story, a middle-school boy is given an assignment to make a difference in the world around him. What he does would set off a chain of “random acts of kindness.” The idea of “paying it forward” is embodied by the concept that there is greater merit in continuing the

Many of us, I being no exception, would normally go through life expecting that our acts of charity and compassion would come back to us in the form of some reward, karma, whatever you like to call it. Very often we feel compelled to reciprocate when someone is generous with us. The need to pay it back is our natural impulse, knowing that the person who was so kind surely deserves to be repaid. It is difficult to argue against this notion, what with our consumer culture.

However, the foundation, by way of the original story by Hyde and conveyed through their mission, promotes the idea that when someone performs a kindness for you, you should, instead of paying that person back, pay it forward to the next stranger, and keep it going. I get the impression that the original intent was for these acts of kindness to be toward strangers. But it could certainly apply to someone you know. When someone is generous with us, we should in turn do something kind for the next person, continuing a chain of unselfishness.

Every day I encounter situations involving kindness and cruelty. I work with people who will not help you unless there’s something in it for them. Today I talked with someone who felt like there should be some compensation within our volunteer organization. I understand there are limits to what one can give. We can give our time, offer our skills, donate money, cook meals, tutor, anything that may be needed. But we also need time for ourselves. We must achieve a balance, and that in itself is work for which there is no compensation.

I think it’s a good idea to set aside a little for the purpose of giving to those in need. Traditionally, churches have encouraged their congregations to give 10 percent of their income to finance everything from communion wafers to new suits for the TV preacher. It doesn’t have to be money, in my opinion, but if you can do it, there are many organizations (beyond church) that truly need help. You can also “give” talent, for instance if you are very good with finances, you might donate some of your time helping an organization with their books. (You might actually need to be licensed or something, so maybe look into that.) I have computer skills, and it would be “meet and right” for me to give my time repairing and maintaining systems for a non-profit entity. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

I’ve been mindful of Pay it Forward for so long now that I probably don’t think about it consciously anymore. Could I do more? Sure. It is difficult at times. Not everyone who needs assistance is receptive. I run into it occasionally:

“Would you like some help with that?”

“No! I can do it!”

Yes. It happens. Oftentimes, we are confronted with resistance and bitterness when all we want to do is help. If you run into this, move on. There is no reward for you helping; so, there is no punishment either. Just be careful.

As someone who has accepted payment for doing something nice, I can tell you that it feels much better to know – or assume – that that person will pay it forward. And it doesn’t matter if they don’t. You made the difference. And you will continue to do it, because it makes the world a better place. There will be discouragement, and you may shake your fists at whomever created those wretches. But just keep it going as long as you are able. For as much suffering as you will encounter, there will be comforting and joy by your actions. No one will remember where it came from, and that shouldn’t matter. Perhaps it will come back around, but that’s not why I do it. And even if it did, I’d just pay it forward again.

 

God, the Devil, and a Literary Agent Walk Into a Bar

After watching a Darren Aronofsky movie I often feel the need to scrub with a loofah, sit in the corner of the room holding my knees to my chest, weeping and rocking back and forth. Requiem for a Dream was one of those, and I came away from it feeling grateful for my ordinary, uneventful existence. (I mean, I’m not a hermit, but, you know.) My suburban drudgery notwithstanding, I find some guilty pleasure in the dark and the bleak. I like the show “Black Mirror” on Netflix, although some of the episodes are not so dark.

Recently, I saw Mother!, starring Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence. I have to say I was prepared going in, having read about the symbolism and allegory. I approached it as a moral play, of sorts. The movie takes place all within the confines of the large, solitary house in the middle of nowhere. Bardem is the husband, with Lawrence as his young wife. A series of misadventures and tragedies befall the couple, and the house, all corollaries of creation, life, sin and much more. At times the imagery was pretty heavy-handed, like the blatant disregard the guests have for the couple’s home. Lawrence’s character is constantly being forced to retreat into her inner sanctum, which is nevertheless violated as well. Over and over again, the mistress is intruded upon, succumbing to bouts unidentified illness only to be remedied by drinking some mysterious sunshine-in-a-glass concoction.

Bardem’s character is not very attentive to his wife, instead turning his attention to his adoring public. His “writings” are cherished by passionate sycophants, who begin to “interpret” them and quickly break off into factions. Allegorical figures with names like “Philanderer” and “Bumbler” enter and leave, returning and reappearing as the scene spirals out of control into madness and chaos. Lawrence’s character is continually mistreated, all the while Bardem and his worshipful yet disturbingly misguided agent (played by Kristen Wiig) float in and out of view. Eventually, Lawrence’s mother earth figure will get her revenge. And it’s not pretty.

Many people hated this film. I think they might have been better prepared if they had read a few works beforehand: Genesis through Deuteronomy and Luke, Paradise Lost, Cosmos, The Divine Comedy, and A Short History of Nearly Everything. To be perfectly honest, I did fine only having read part of the Divine Comedy, and only part of Milton’s magnum opus. You should be okay.

In all seriousness, the film is entirely metaphorical. None of the scenes should be perceived as literal depictions of anything. What starts out as a seemingly innocent visit of passers-by quickly turns into a hideous bacchanal, then a catastrophic breakdown of civilization. The allegorical figures of the Zealot and the Defiler make their appearance. Many, many others soon follow. Chaos ensues, and it gets ugly soon after.

I like dark things. Dark chocolate. Dark beer. Dark roast coffee. And I like the darkness in Aronofsky’s works. I probably won’t watch this one again, however. Not that I didn’t like it. I have only seen Avatar once. Meanwhile, I’ll watch Die Hard anytime. Go figure.

Now to finish reading Frankenstein.

 

You Only Need to Ask

Help.

help

This is one of the most powerful words in the English language. The mere utterance moves people to respond. Shouting it will draw attention, and strangers will spring into action. It inspires us to give. It motivates us to self-sacrifice. The thought that someone needs our help might override our own instincts, for self-preservation, or at least the fear of being hurt or humiliated. And yet, we are often afraid to ask for help, even when we desperately need it. Why, then, are we so willing to offer help and yet not able to request it?

I was shopping for dinner at my favorite market, and I asked the butcher for two things: coarse-ground beef for chili and a cut-up fryer. The young guy had to get his manager because he wasn’t authorized to operate the saw to cut the chicken. I asked him to go ahead and do that for me, if he didn’t mind. He was more than happy to ask, and the manager took care of me without hesitation. All I had to do was ask.

I find myself asking people more and more when I genuinely need help, mainly because I know how helping people brings me joy and makes me feel fulfilled. So I don’t have a problem asking. I don’t take advantage of people. But I know there are things that I would do for someone if it is an inconvenience for that person and especially if it’s a task I enjoy doing or that distracts me from drudgery. On the other hand, I have found great value in saying ‘no’.

‘No’ doesn’t have to be a forceful rejection of someone’s request. I am often asked to do something by a coworker that that person should know how to do, and that is their responsibility in the first place. One of my flaws is that I tend to bend over backward to help people, even when it is an imposition and I should be doing something else. On a rare occasion that I have flat-out denied to do something (I could have been fired), that person has just now started talking to me again after 3 years. I try not to let these things bother me, but averting disappointment is a major motivator for me. I think I am not alone, here.

I hate letting people down, even when I am not at fault and there was no avenue for me to come to the rescue. It is fortunate that my job doesn’t require me to save lives, and that is something I remind co-workers of, that the worst case scenario is that someone will be disappointed, provided no one violates policy or law. At that point, all bets are off.

Asking for help, however, is not as risky as we might imagine it to be. A person can refuse to help, and that is their right. Some people are assholes. But that should not stop us from seeking help when we need it. I learned recently that sometimes you cannot do everything yourself, and you don’t have to be a martyr, trying to take it on all by yourself. But you won’t get help from people by declaring to the crowd, “I need a volunteer!” That moment when everyone steps up simultaneously makes for great cinema, but I’ve never seen it happen in real life. Don’t wait for it to happen magically. Leave that to Disney.

As much as we might think we don’t like being told what to do, most of us will respond to that, at least when it’s a gentle, persuasive appeal. I like the “congratulations! You’ve been chosen to help me…” line. I also used, “good news! We’re going to work together on a project.” You’d be surprised how well a little sarcastic humor is received. Don’t be afraid to be turned down. It’s okay to refuse sometimes. Just don’t be that guy. You know who I’m talking about.

Don’t be surprised when someone offers to help you. Most of us are looking for opportunities to be of some assistance. There’s something ingrained in us that makes us crave it, that satisfaction we get from helping another person. Actually, other creatures don’t seem to share our values. (I think polar bears kill their young or something like that. That’s probably something to do with food supplies and the wilderness, which we don’t run into much in the US.) all that being said, I’m still not sure what most of us are afraid of. I think I’ll make it a new year’s resolution to ask for help more often.

Media, George Carlin, and Change

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or has read some of my posts that I am not a fan of Facebook. Social media sites like Facebook have converted our would be electorate into a bickering mass who have resorted to proliferating misinformation, selling out for clicks and likes. We have allowed our voices to be drowned out; and, due to conniving and conspiring by foreign governments (and possibly our own), we have adopted a currency that is this illusion of security and community. We sit in front of keyboards or with devices in our hands, pretending to be connected to the world, but really making us more isolated than any generation has ever been. Meanwhile, we are fed lies and fear and distortion of the facts, made to look like truth, and we wonder what is wrong with the world.

I took a “media holiday” recently. For the entire week of Thanksgiving, I refrained from checking Facebook, viewing news stories, listening to talk radio. I listened instead to classical music. I played video games. I enjoyed people’s company. I felt like this was a good thing. I admit it felt odd not being “connected” as it were. Ironically, I was better connected to people when I was not looking reading their posts, rather looking them in the eye over lunch. It was liberating in a way. After a week, and after the kick-start of the American capitalism festival that is holiday shopping season, I reconnected with the world, catching up on the news, looking through scores of missed Facebook notifications, and scanning Twitter for juicy updates from all our favorite celebrities.

While I actually still recommend an occasional break from the unrelenting tide of news and information that has replaced our own original thought, I’ve reconsidered my position on Facebook’s – and all social media’s – role in our lives. Before 2003, when both Myspace and LinedIn were released, social media consisted of message boards, user groups, and group emails. There was nothing like what exists today that allowed for so many people to join together for a cause, or to organize and collaborate, or that would cause anything to “go viral”. It’s hard to believe that the state of media ubiquity is still in its infancy. Looking at the early days of television compared to today’s live streaming and video-on-demand, the possibilities for the future of mobile internet and its potential effect on the human race are astounding and terrific. If you are not frightened about this future, you should be.

Alarming and dystopian though this may sound, and inasmuch as I get the whole “don’t have the player, hate the game” sentiment when I complain about people taking selfies in front of a location where a tragedy occurred, I can safely say that people are the problem, but the internet plays some part. The internet – social media, email, SMS text, all of it – is a tool that people use for good, for profit, for self-indulgence, for pleasure, and for evil. By comparison, with a hammer you can build a house; with it you can also break into a car. This is a rather simplistic analogy, and it can be said that the internet is much more powerful and complex than a hammer. I agree. The internet, not just the web, but all parts of it, is vast and decentralized, which makes it beyond the reach of government. Governments can restrict access to it, but no one owns the internet.

This brings me to my caveat. While the internet is this wonderful and dynamic force that could be used for good, it can also be used to deceive and control people. We’ve been fed a steady diet of misinformation and outright lies for many, many years. We’ve all been led to believe many half-truths and falsehoods that we were convinced were true, because those who perpetrated them will have you see what you want to see. Some lies might have a nice crunchy shell of luscious truth, but at their heart are untrue. Those are the worst kinds of lies. For instance, studies in food safety will often be funded by food manufacturers themselves. Russia may have actually bought the 2016 US election. Urban myths and legends, mostly false, have been promulgated across many forms of electronic media since the 1980’s. As a result, sites like Snopes.com, Politifact.com, and others have arrived on the scene to help debunk all the misinformation we’ve been digesting all this time. What is the antidote?

In 2004, George Carlin gave an interview on Fresh Air following the publication of his book, When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops? About 37 minutes into the interview, Terry Gross asks him quite directly about his decision not to vote. Carlin’s response – flavored by the cynicism of his generation – is that he believes that the “ownership of this country” doesn’t want change to happen. Yes, we go to the polls every two years in an attempt at peacefully overthrowing our government, but as Carlin puts it, it’s like rearranging the furniture. The “ownership class”, as he puts it, really controls everything, and we voters are under the illusion that we can make a difference. This seems possible, even likely to be true. However, what about we take over ownership? What would that look like, and is it possible?

Social media might eventually change. Myspace might still be in use, and it doesn’t compare to its larger cousin, Facebook. Strangely, Google+ never really took off. But they haven’t been around long, and the way people use these sites has changed significantly over the 14 years they’ve been around. What if social media became a place to share ideas, to pursue understanding, to engage in civil discourse? What I mean is, what if we used social media in a way contrary to the way it is being used today? I like to imagine Facebook users sharing factual information, personal stories, truth. A Google search for “lies on…” will result in auto-recommendations, the top choice being “lies on Facebook.” Those hits are mostly links to sniveling and shaming retorts toward inaccurate posts. No big whoop, as it’s said. But polarizing memes, divisive language, hate speech, and utter bullshit have escalated all over the internet. People who believe the earth is flat have never had a larger audience. This despite the fact that scientists have known for thousands of years that the earth is not flat. Some of my friends and family members have shared posts that were clearly inaccurate. The misinformation was staggeringly obvious.

Why do we do it? Why do people continue to spread false information? How would we restore integrity to this medium? Even established news organizations have fallen to the trend of perpetuating rumors and hearsay. On the other hand, there are plenty of hard-working journalists who want to print or voice only the truth. Why couldn’t all media work for us rather than against us? The free flow of ideas doesn’t have to be constrained. We can still post videos of kittens. We can still take selfies. But my hope is that we would want more from ourselves. In my vision of the future people’s comments would be thoughtful and insightful. Social media would be used to call people to action. We could share ideas. We might organize change in our communities, our nations. We possess great power with this invention. Imagine what the great minds of the past would see in its potential. Maybe I don’t agree with George Carlin’s philosophy. Our world is not for sale. I believe regular people have all the power. I believe action and dedication can overcome any amount of money. I believe we are on the cusp of some colossal change in the world. When we have the sum of all knowledge ever collected throughout history, how can we not take advantage to educate ourselves and promote new, original thought? The human race needs to advance. We need to get past our petty squabbling and get to the business of healing our nations – all nations. We need to care for one another. We need to be invested in the future of humanity.