I've been reflecting on the 'death of truth' and how the internet, which promised to open our horizons and expand our world, has actually had the direct opposite effect, leaving us living in virtual bell jars made up like a teenager's bedroom to reflect a very narrow world view.
Much of the fault is being laid at the feet of Big Internet, but I think there is a deeper causality that leads back to television and the failure of media regulation.
That very term is a potential oxymoron, but the grappling, dancing wrestling match between governments and the media has a long and lamentable history. Politicians have long regarded major media owners the way that mayors in southern Italy regard mafia bosses - an evil necessity enabling them to have a semblance of power.
After all, buying a newspaper (certainly in Europe) defines you. We all have the measure of a Telegraph or Guardian reader in the UK. (In the US, ironically, you are defined by the TV news station that you view). In many countries, of course, there is no difference between the politicians and the media owners, which is far more dangerous. In these places, ironically, the internet is the resistance and offers the only lonely clarion of an alternative viewpoint.
And let's not leave the streaming services out of this landscape.
Netflix's 'The Great Hack' was a piece of hack work in itself - ‘scandals’ such as Cambridge Analytics or the influence of Facebook in ‘skewing’ election results are not new. Think about the way Super PACs have long used TV. The dark arts of influencing public opinion certainly stretches back to Roman or Greek times and was, in the past, far more virulent, insidious and dangerous than a company using online profiles to deliver political ads. But now Tammany Hall and pre-Reformation Parliament seem quaint.
President Trump has a point with the “Lamestream Media”. They have done a dreadful job of holding him to account and are now increasingly becoming irrelevant apart from their real estate and cookery pages whilst carrying lamentable opinion pieces that play into the dodgy orange fella’s febrile little hands. The real news is made up on Twitter in real time using those stunted digits.
Mainstream media is crying foul crying of Big Internet as their own influence is waining. The sheer chutzpah of outlets such as Fox News or Mail Online beggars belief. Before going after marginal websites in the deeper recesses of Reddit and Facebook, or even the Big Internet companies (who also desparately need to have their ethics, morals and business behaviour regulated effectively), how about some regulation over these cesspits of malice and misinformation?
This is a death of a thousand cuts for society. No single step or action seems indefensible. One day you suddenly wake up to realise that the world is closer to anarchy than democracy. Voting for Trump and Brexit were not votes for anything except for tearing up the old political world order.
Let’s face it, we live in a post-truth, post-news existence because most people prefer tittle tattle about some minor reality TV star than they do about anything that really counts as 'proper' news (and in the era of Trump, Brexit and far right politicians, who can blame them?). They prefer to hate and moan than they do to smile and be content.
Trump and Brexit are reality TV shows where many of us had a vote that is playing out in real time before us.
Personally, I trace back our current situation to the time when we made mental health gladiatorial using reality TV. TV went from a relatively benevolent medium with an aspiration to educate, inform and entertain to somewhere where we could watch homo sapiens baiting. I remember being horrified at the first edition of Big Brother and never watched it again.
The interjection of concpets as 'no such thing as society' by politicians did not help. We now have virtual cohesion, not social cohesion, built around false edifices. The City on the Hill is made up of flat slat Hollywood prop facades.
We knew we shouldn’t be watching but we couldn’t help ourselves as ‘real’ people strived for the lowest point to which they could be degraded. People love nothing more than a good car crash.
The cameras stop rolling, the props go away, the participants make some money turning on Christmas lights in faded market towns. Meanwhile there are smiles and champagne corks popping in executive TV suites. And the viewers look for the next bear baiting act.
Much of what our society has become now isn’t due to the internet, but started much earlier, perhaps starting with Big Brother. It even directly incubated the most powerful man in the world and provided the script for the real world we now live in.