How I use the “modern” internet

One of the challenging side effects of the current culture war going on in the US is that as the big-d-democrats and big-r-republicans become more and more extreme, the general political discourse becomes more toxic. I’ve often thought the last few years seemed far more polarized than even ten years ago, and it turns out I’m right:

I tend to be pretty middle of the road, and in the past have tended to tune into things that I disagree with, just to get the counter perspective. The logic being that if you read both sides of an issue, then you can figure out for yourself what a balanced view is, and proceed accordingly. However, especially in the last year, both sides have effectively turned into propaganda machines, completely misrepresenting even the most basic facts as they push agendas. My traditional approach results in whiplash, and my conclusion is that the only way to stay sane is to tune it all out and focus on other things until the storm passes.

Turning off the internet really isn’t an option, but there are ways to modify how I view it that help me manage. I don’t have a Facebook account, which means I already have a huge advantage over a lot of people. I’ve recently all-but-disconnected my Twitter account, so while a link to this post will appear there via an automated sharing process, I no longer “use” it as such. Why I’ve stopped using Twitter is probably worthy of an entire post in itself, but a short version is that every time I logged in, within 10 seconds of looking at my timeline, I’d be upset about something; I decided that’s not a way I want to live.

The next thing is websites I visit. Whenever I hear about some important news thing, by habit I go to places like CNN and The New York Times, because even though I rationally know they have long ceased to be places of balanced news, I have this strange instinctual trust in their ability to be an authority, probably remnant from years where they were moderately reliable. It’s true that they put out some choice falsities that (for example) helped the US invade Iraq, but until recently I was able to chalk that up to a few bad reporters. Now it seems like every reporter has an agenda. I found a browser plugin called “Website Blocker” and have added them and a slew of other sites, such as Breitbart, Fox News, The Guardian, and others into the list. What’s nice about this is that it doesn’t work in “incognito” mode, so if there’s a news story you want to track, you can open it in a new window and follow it there. I’ve found this to be really effective, because if I click a link and the red “it’s blocked” page comes up, it gives me a moment to reflect on if this is something I care about, or if it’s clickbait and I’m being reactionary. I’m sad to say that I’m being reactionary about 90% of the time, but at least I know this.

The other big thing is Youtube. I am a huge fan of Youtube, largely because many universities have started posting their college lectures there, and I find it a really valuable resource. However, the Adpocalypse that’s going on has caused a flurry of spam videos with horrible titles designed to get a quick click. There are other allegations regarding what videos they promote (since Youtube has a clear agenda in the culture war), but I’m more concerned about these stupid video titles. They are normally branded with choice key words designed to catch your attention, such as “cries”, “destroys”, “wrecks”, “obliterates”, “crushes”, and so on. A common example you might have seen during the election might be “Hillary supporter DESTROYS Trumper,” but this is by no means limited to politics. I found a great plugin called “Video Blocker” that lets you enter keywords such as those I’ve listed, and removes those videos from the Youtube page when you visit the site. What’s interesting is that it seems to just block them from appearing to you, so instead of getting another video, you get a blank spot. I’ve found that sometimes my recommended feeds are so empty they look like a toothless jaw, which tells me a lot about Youtube’s crap algorithms and how people are abusing it.

These plugins are in addition to other things, such as ad blockers and an HTML5 autoplay disabler. Although if a news website is autoplaying a video without asking, the chance is that I’ve already blocked it in Website Blocker.

In conclusion, while these things won’t prevent the culture wars, and won’t fix all the problems going on with the Internet in general, they will at least help you to stay somewhat sane as it wages on. Other suggestions are to have a day where you don’t use a computer at all and go to the park, or focus on doing cool projects that are also not related to awful clickbait. A word of warning, be prepared for the intense rage of people when you re-engage after one of these little retreats, and remember that it’s not about you.

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