the truth is out there somewhere

image of a magnifying glass over the word truth and the words lies appearing beneath the glass

Critical digital literacy should be embedded throughout the higher education experience. We all need effective ways to tell the difference between truth and lies, not just for ourselves but those around us. In 1970, Alvin Tofler called our information explosion the Third Wave, the next greatest social movement following the Agrarian and Industrial ages. What would he say if he could see us now – not waving but drowning in information overload!

Yet the quantity is the least of our problems. It’s the quality which matters. New genres have appeared, in particular since since Brexit and Trump.

Da da!

introducing

Post Truth and Fake Truth.

image of the word truth as a jigsaw with missing pieces

They sound similar but there’s a difference. Post truth, most often used in connection with politics, appeals to emotions rather than presenting factual evidence. With Post Truth, what is true is secondary to getting that emotional hit, appealing to the personal and turning it into political action. Fake Truth or False Truth is another way to describe spin. Also known as Fake News/False News, it describes not so much the misinformation but the spreading of it via social media. Like Chinese Whispers, the story changes, getting further away from the original sources, picking up more emotional overtones as it travels on through digital space and time.

black and white image of a pile of books demonstrating different genres

A genre is born when new ways to structure and present information are created. Genres can be different styles of creative writing such as the thriller, detective or horror novel or it can be categories and styles of non-fiction news. Today we have what could be called genres of lies; deliberately false information masquerading as truth with the sole purpose of persuasion.

George Monbiot writes about the misinformation machines. He claims huge amounts of money are spent on setting up international and corporate think-tanks, bloggers and fake citizens’ groups. Their objective is swaying the hearts and minds of the electorate over big issues like immigration, employment and climate change. (Monbiot also refers to Trump and hyporeality which sounds to me ike Baurillard’s hyperreality nightmare come true – I think this may be is next week’s topic sorted!)

Falsity is not new. The internet has always been full of lies as has the world of advertising. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Edward Bernays applied the psychoanalytic ideas of his Uncle Siggy to persuade young women to smoke and increase the popularity of the colour green. His techniques were called Public Relations or Propaganda, depending if you were on stage controlling the show or in the audience watching it. Century of the Self by the brilliant documentary film maker Adam Curtis tells how America learned to take control of its population. Using archive footage, he tells the story of how Bernays, nephew to Sigmund Freud, laid the foundations of mental manipulation by the media, showing how ‘desire’ was created and blurred boundaries between truths and lies were established.

Control of the media equates with control of the people. George Orwell portrayed this as ‘Big Brother‘ in the novel 1984 and showed how deliberately  vague or meaningless language was used to conceal the truth in his essay Politics of the English Language.  In Understanding Media The Extensions of Man, (1964) Marshall McLuhan predicted the medium as well as the message would influence attitudes and behaviors while Neil Postman claimed we would be Amusing Ourselves to Death (1984) as the platforms of the public sphere were taken over by cable tv’s multiple channels leaving no place for discussion and critique of political discourse.

Were these writers prescient? Do we recognise the world they predicted?

digital divide with a page and an ipad

Early founders of the internet claimed it was a tool for social democracy because it offered equal access to information. Instead we have digital exclusion as the new but invisible category of social and economic discrimination. The development of user generated content via sites like Facebook and Twitter was hailed as a tool for the revolution, giving voice to minority groups and bestowing powers of resistance and subversion. Instead, we have a mess.

image showing social media logos from pixabay

For vast swathes of the population, social media has become the single source of truth. Mobile digital media supports speed swapping of news, presented in soundbites and video clips. Adjective heavy headlines and sensational straplines frame news stories telling the reader how to emotionally approach them. Reality TV confuses truth and fiction, magazine industries are built on ‘true’ confessions while multi-channel news is invaded by false news stories. As well as Monbiot, this weeks’ Guardian also has Roy Greenslade on Post Truth and the art of lies citing Barack Obama and his observation the morning after the US election that how the ‘new media ecosystem‘ of social media means ‘everything is true and nothing is true‘.

It seems this is the week for talking about truth.

But of course, after reading all this, you may not believe a single word I have said.

Where there’s emotion there’s poetry

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The media has been promoting poetry. On both sides of the water. In the US a piece called Still, Poetry Will Rise in The Atlantic claims Americans are seeking solace and wisdom in verse. The most popular poem last week was He Tells Her by Wendy Cope. A coincidence because this was already chosen for PoetryFeedHE. You can read it here. In the UK Words for Solace and Strength in the The Guardian suggested a page full of poems for people in times of stress. None of these appear in this weeks PoetryFeedHE. To have the coincidence twice over would be too much of an… er…well… coincidence.

Why do we turn to poetry in the first place?

sunset-pixabay

Wherever there’s emotion there will be poetry. Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is recited at weddings. Canon Henry Scott-Holland’s Death is nothing at all at funerals. Poetry honours birth as in Sylvia Plath’s Morning Song and remembrance in Seamus Heaney’s Digging. Then there’s the fantastical Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti, the alliterative Night Mail by W.H. Auden and bleakness like no other in Remembrance by Emily Bronte. Writing from the University of Hull, I have to include Philip Larkin so here is Aubade and An Arundel Tomb. All that is left of us is love.

lc

This week Leonard Cohen died. Many will have paused to recall thin tatty volumes of poems read by candle light and scratched LPs with achingly familiar covers. The voice, oh that voice, dragged across broken glass, late at night, thick blue smoke of french cigarettes and thin spirals rising from patchouli incense, the ashes falling dangerously onto the floor cushions. Songs of Leonard Cohen 1967. Songs of Love and Hate 1971. Music blurring the lines between poetry and song.

leonard-cohem-poems        leonard-cohen-songs

The news reminds us there will always be winners and losers. The world is built upon binary opposites; dark and light, sweet and sour, sickness and health. Sometimes we need one to appreciate the other.

Poetry mirrors life. Poems seek us out and present universal truths. They are hands to hold onto. Always there in hard copy of digital text, torn out, printed out, framed, slipped between the pages of albums and books. Then forgotten. We move on but the words remain. As the last line of Wendy Cope’s poem says The world goes on being round.

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night forever
And you know that she’s half-crazy but that’s why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then he gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you’ve touched her perfect body with your mind
And Jesus was a sailor when he walked upon the water
And he spent a long time watching from his lonely wooden tower
And when he knew for certain only drowning men could see him
He said all men will be sailors then until the sea shall free them
But he himself was broken, long before the sky would open
Forsaken, almost human, he sank beneath your wisdom like a stone
And you want to travel with him, and you want to travel blind
And you think you maybe you’ll trust him
For he’s touched your perfect body with her mind
Now, Suzanne takes your hand and she leads you to the river
She’s wearing rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor
And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love and they wil lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds her mirror
And you want to travel with her, and you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind

Songwriters: Leonard Cohen Suzanne lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Images from pixabay and amazon