Editorial: And now, back to reality

Published 6:44 pm, Thursday, November 24, 2016

THE ISSUE:

After a holiday with family and friends, many of us will return to a more digital life.

THE STAKES:

The internet may be a boon, but we should not mistake it for the real world.

We’re just coming off not only one of the most American of holidays, but one of the most human. You can’t really do Thanksgiving with a “like” or a tweet; you have to be present for it.

Before the warmth of that human contact fades, it’s worth reflecting on how vital it is, not just on the fourth Thursday of November, but every day. Before we let go of Thanksgiving and the closeness of family and friends, we should reflect on what context the holiday offers for the digital reality in which so many of us live so much of our lives nowadays.

It’s in that reality that we increasingly learn about the world, and more and more it seems what we learn isn’t true. In the wake of an election in which so much misinformation was passed around through Facebook, Twitter, and websites of questionable veracity, “fake news” has become a topic of renewed discussion. This isn’t about harmless, even incisive satire, but about intentionally false news designed, at best, to draw web traffic, and at worst to deceive readers into believing what simply isn’t so.

As strange as it would seem in a society that prides itself on literacy, education and awareness of the world, this misinformation thrives in America. It feeds on a natural desire to have our beliefs and values reaffirmed. And in a digital reality where we can pick and choose what we see, it takes no more than a click to shoo away anything that challenges our preferred set of “facts.”

It’s in that reality, too, that we increasingly do business. There are no lines, prices are often a bit lower, and with “assistants” like Amazon’s Alexa there’s hardly a need to even touch a keyboard: Ask, and she will find.

But as we head from Thanksgiving to Black Friday to Small Business Saturday to Cyber Monday, we should bear in mind there is a cost to the convenience of the digital world.

Once we worried about how shopping malls were sucking the life from our downtowns; now we’re watching as on-line commerce drains the malls that became in many instances our new town squares.

Don’t get us wrong; this is not a cry to smash the machines. It’s certainly not all bad. The internet has opened for us all, no matter where we are, a world of knowledge and information, including some recipes and trivia that may have spared us a Thanksgiving crisis or two. And while nothing can replace a Thanksgiving dinner, it’s a blessing we can not only talk to but even see on our screen a loved one who can’t make it home for the holiday. Or find an unexpected gift from the other side of the world.

Fresh from a holiday that is so much about human contact, though, it would do us, and our families, communities, states and country good to devote ourselves to better balancing our lives between the real world and the digital one. To choosing real news over fake. Real merchants in our community over virtual ones in who-knows-where. And real, live human beings, with all their wonderful human quirks.