116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. Every day, there’s some new catastrophic event or dismal acceptance that this is my reality, living in a world where people are so disconnected from one another that they cannot even empathize with anyone. That sounds rather bleak and pessimistic. And maybe I am a pessimist. But looking around, it’s hard not to be, considering the state of our current affairs.
There’s a raging war in Ukraine, a very real and concerning climate crisis we have little hope of overcoming, the constant surveillance of Americans via technology corporations, the erasure of history as it exists for white comfort and the implementation of the straight, white heteronormative narrative above all else at a legislative level, the commercialization of outer space … the list goes on.
Perhaps what discourages me the most, though, is the strange dystopia we enter in the consumption of and participation in social media. Merriam-Webster defines dystopia as, “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives.” I honestly cannot refute the statement that we live in a dystopia today, for there are large portions of the population — particularly people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals and other marginalized identities — who are not able to live their life with the unalienable rights they were promised in the Declaration of Independence.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
What a shame that the reality of our society today bars all people from being treated as equals because of systemic racism and homophobia among other things. Today, so-called “divisive” teaching concepts are being banned from the classroom like slavery, racism, queer culture and more — think of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, the banning of transgender students from playing sports that align with the gender they identify with, the banning of Critical Race Theory and more. How is that equal treatment? How is that granting everyone the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
George Orwell is best remembered as the creator of a dystopia — a dystopia where totalitarian ideology permeated every faction of life, weaving itself into the very fabric via pervasive surveillance and the constant editing of past truths to meet the political agendas of the present. Looking at Orwell’s depiction of dystopia, it’s hard to not find the similarities, as we are constantly being surveilled, our face and voices being recorded at all times to sell information to other companies for marketing purposes, among other things. And today, the true history of our country is being edited to appease white guilt and erase the pain and suffering of minorities that went on to build this country and support its greatest achievements. What’s more, the world as we know it is being destroyed by these major corporations as we approach a point of no return to save the planet we live on for our children and their children.
The stronghold Big Tech companies have on the American fabric of life is quite astounding. Everything we consume is hyper fixated to preen our interests and market them to us without us ever really noticing. The apps we use and the permissions we give them without second thought gives away virtually everything we hold sacred and private to companies for free. Honestly, these companies and the data they aggregate probably knows more about me than I do myself.
And what they do with that information is even more astounding, creating personalized algorithms that reinforce certain ideas you hold and minimize others, creating an echo chamber of ideas and personalities that align with yours. A dangerous game that disengages you from the real world and the vast diversity that exists in the marketplace of ideas for a more comfortable path of familiarity. That path can then lead easily to disinformation and polarization without a clear path out of the toxic cycle for the average person. As a journalist, I admit I struggle not to fall into my comfort zones of content consumption every day. I have to push myself outside of my own experience to encounter ones I don’t necessarily understand or even recognize in order to effectively ground myself and learn from others in my news gathering process.
Being objective is a fallacy, as everyone’s personal experiences and backgrounds are going to influence the way they approach life and interpret information. But it is the plight of a true journalist to challenge their preconceived notions at every chance they get and to listen to all the information out there before coming to a factual determination about what merits coverage and what doesn’t. This is a practice I encourage everyone to participate in, no matter what occupation you have. I encourage you to step outside of yourself and consider other perspectives, other experiences, in the grand scheme of living your life and tackling real problems. Undoubtedly, you’d be better off. Talk to people you wouldn’t usually talk to. Maintain an open mind and save judgment until you hear all the facts and context of a situation. Challenge those around you to be better than they are — and challenge yourself, too.
In the words of Mr. Orwell, “In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Or “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” Or “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”