The world was at odds on February 26, 2015. Do you see black and blue or white and gold? On that fateful Thursday, a picture of what has now infamously become known as ‘The Dress’ made it’s first appearance, and would soon go down in viral internet history. There were two factions fighting over two beliefs with a third faction claiming a mixture of responses:
“It’s blue and black”
“No white and gold!”
“No, it ‘s both! It depends on what kind of lighting you’re looking at the picture in!”
Sound familiar at all? We now find ourselves, five years later, with lines being drawn again over something textile:
“You have to wear a mask at all times!”
“You should never wear a mask!”
“No, it’s both! It depends on where you are and how well you can socially distance!”
Most people agree that we can’t agree in the year 2020. But how did we get here? How did arguments over the color of a dress turn into arguments over masks? Well let’s look at the major steps in history.
In February of 2015, the Dress wasn’t the only thing running through the news cycle. The Patriots won the Super Bowl a month after “deflategate,” Jon Stewart announced that month that he was going to be retiring from The Daily Show, and legends such as Earl Lloyd and Leonard Nimoy left this earth. Looking at deflategate in particular, the stage was already being set for a great internet debate:
“Brady did it!”
“He’s innocent, but I hate the Patriots!”
In just four short months, our current President would announce his candidacy to a divided public:
“I love him!”
“I hate him!”
“I don’t like him, but I’d rather him than [fill in the blank]!”
We know what followed- the candidate that many laughed at the idea of became our leader, and the divided public became even more divided. Not just division, but polarization. Polarization that has led to a time of constant anger, frustration, and unrest. Social media sites are a scary place to be nowadays because it seems like everyone is attacking from all sides over everything. We’re all in a shootout with two guns pointed in different directions forming one global circle waiting for the next Franz Ferdinand to fall thrusting us all into World War III. How does the Dress lead to World War III? Well, it doesn’t. Not at all. But what it does do is show how we, as humans in the 21st century, respond to new information, and how we are falling into a pattern of creating our own truths.
The Internet: everyone uses it, no one understands it, Al Gore created it (maybe?). By the time people think they are starting to understand what it is or how it works it changes and people realize they never knew anything. With social media and instant access to the world we have a constant influx of information and communication from anyone at anytime. But since news is coming from all directions we should consider one overarching principle: constant information + informed communication = constant misinformation and misinformed communication. With the internet, the world is now a debate stage where everyone can take sides meaning even if there is one Truth, there will always be someone to argue that Truth. It’s not that they are lying, but rather they believe that what they are saying is the truth [let’s call this UnTruth]. And where there is someone to argue for the side of UnTruth, there will be followers of the UnTruth. So what it comes down to is not that people are uninformed (though possible to be uninformed it’s becoming harder and harder to be), but misinformed. There is so much access and so many sources of information, that the consumer must then choose where they are getting their information from. And where will they go? To sources that tell them the news that they want to hear; sources that tell them what they already believe. To quote George Carlin, “The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.” However, this line of thinking brings us to the classic ‘chicken and the egg’ scenario. Did the media outlets spewing out biased news create the divided public? Or did the divided public create the media outlets? Who is going to stand up and take the blame for ‘fake news’? It can’t just be the media outlets, because they would fail unless people went to them for information. Maybe it’s time, corporately, that humanity steps up and takes the blame for the division. Or maybe not.
So with everyone choosing their media outlet, and choosing their bias, and choosing, essentially, their news; does that mean we are choosing our truths? As it continues day after day, generation after generation; what becomes fact? Does it move along like semiotics and language becoming subjective rather than objective? If enough people decide that ‘X’ is Truth while in reality ‘X’ is UnTruth and ‘Y’ is Truth- does ‘X’ actually become Truth instead of ‘Y’? Do we lose humanity to information? Do we lose our history in trying to fix our history? Do we lose Truth to truths? To say so would be to challenge author Aldous Huxley, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” But this brings up one more question: do the facts, does Truth, actually matter at all?
Because there is a Truth. The Dress was blue and black. That is fact. The Dress was found and shown to everyone that it was, in fact, blue and black. But in that picture, people saw white and gold. They saw it with their own eyes. They experienced it themselves. We cannot say that they did not experience it because they did. So what do we do when experience comes in conflict with fact? What do we do when what we know to be true is not what others know to be true?
There is not a true answer here. This is simply to note that no one should be surprised with the way the year has turned out judging by the fact that we have always been having these arguments. Whether it’s been over a sports scandal or an article of clothing, a pandemic response or oppression of a people; humanity has been tearing itself apart from the start. And in a world where everything ‘nonessential’ shuts down, it’s only natural for the divided human to seek a new thing to stand for- something ‘essential’ to create factions over; even as essential as human lives.
The dress was blue and black. Truth is out there. Check the sources [plural].
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky
(Cover Photo: MSNBC News)