If you could choose any time to be alive when would you choose?
We are inundated with one crisis after another. And now the alarms are streamed every second of the day with 24/7 news channels, thousands of “news” websites and social media. Not interested? It’s irrelevant to those demanding our constant attention. They’ll still scroll news flashes, updates and breaking news across everything we view- from games, shopping expeditions, books, magazines to routine searches for data. We can’t escape the mass hysteria.
Good news doesn’t sell. Unbiased, calm and straight forward news doesn’t sell. Just passing on information doesn’t catch our attention. Tell us it’s catastrophic and about to hit home, that’s a different matter. End of the world, life is over, doomsday rhetoric increases our heart rate, elevates epinephrine levels and encourages us to “click” onto the details. Click bait. Whether it’s accurate, or not. The more divisive and contentious the content the more “clicks” it attracts. Pessimism is easier to sell. Optimists are called naive, incompetent, illiterate, or lacking in experience, even though not one doomsday claim has ever come true.
So why do we keep believing the sky is falling?
Because we are wired to. As a species we are set up to attend to any possible danger that can threaten our existence. We just don’t prioritize which are truly concerning and which aren’t. And the advent of social media hasn’t helped. Endless streams of data purported to be fact are meant to drive us to the brink so we’ll accept whatever we are fed or be so overwhelmed we’ll never find the truth.
For those of us old enough to remember the claims of disaster that were spewed when the clocks turned from 1999 to 2000, it’s a perfect example of how billions were spent for absolutely no reason, fueled by a ridiculous and fabricated doomsday scenario. Anything computer based was supposedly at risk when the internal clock wasn’t set up to recognize the millennial switch at midnight. Planes would crash, cars and computers would shut down, banks would lose our accounts and money, food and water resources would dry up… throwing everything we depended on into chaos! I kid you not. These were the fears we all felt as the time drew near.
It was the first New Years I spent at home in years. I usually traveled to places where large groups of people can share that phenomenal moment. But that one, amid all the concerns and fears, my daughter and I watched the celebrations begin hours earlier across the world with friends and family. Not one suddenly shut down. We didn’t hear of any catastrophes. Nothing was affected by the sudden shift into the year 2000. As with all doomsday craziness, after billions were spent to “ update computers and make their internal clocks 2000 compatible”, nothing happened. The world was the same at 12:01 AM.
From Ebola, to bird flu, to killer bees, to my favorite- the electromagnetic poles will suddenly shift and destroy all life on earth- end of the world prophecies flourish. Clearly the world has not ended and when there were issues, they never caused the degree of havoc anticipated. That doesn’t change the fact most of us are brought to the brink each time. Why? Because we are the only species capable of worrying and fearing what might happen. With our incredible intellect, imagination and awareness of our own mortality we are susceptible to doomsday scenarios. Real or not.
But the truth is, we live in a day far better than any other.
My grandmother grew up in a time when she couldn’t own property or vote. My mother had few business opportunities or control over money. My sister was one of only a handful of women allowed into law school. It wasn’t too long ago signs saying “white only” were everywhere. Women could be openly harassed and sexually assaulted without consequence. We’ve never been healthier, wealthier or better educated.
In 1820, the vast majority lived in extreme poverty. In 1950 due to industrialization poverty dropped to 75% of the world. In 1981 it was 44% but recent data suggests it’s fallen below 10%. It’s particularly impressive since the world population has increased 7 fold in the last 200 years. In 1820 only 1 out of 10 were educated. In 1930, 33%. Globally 85% are literate today. In the 1800’s 43% of newborns died by their fifth birthday. In 2015, just two centuries later child mortality is down to 4.3%! And we all know that most of colonial empires that ruled the world are gone. Now, the majority of the worlds population live in a democracy.
Yet divisiveness, picking sides, anger and hostility have taken over. Tribalism is built into our DNA. A noted psychologist, Henry Tajfel, from the 1970’s documented how we turn everything into a “us versus them” scenario in seconds. This was important when we had limited resources, needed to work in close knit groups and become territorial to survive. But it’s destructive when others are reduced to competitors we need to destroy at all costs. It’s gotten to the point if you really believe the other side is so evil and so dangerous what wouldn’t you do to stop them? What lies wouldn’t you tell, what underhanded actions wouldn’t you do, what smears wouldn’t you engage in to protect what you believe is your life and the lives of those you love?
In today’s digital age, lies and manipulation of media resources is rampant. Lies that were previously detected are harder to uncover when social media and news agencies allow them to be disseminated equal to truths. It used to be society kept liars in check. When we lived in small, close knit communities lies never lasted long but consequences did. Now it’s harder to pinpoint one face or person as the problem when it’s become an art form for so many platforms. Even when we see and hear the lies for ourselves, we’re often too entrenched in our beliefs that nothing can penetrate the feeding frenzy, anger and hate.
No one functions well in the middle of a tornado. It’s time we refused to be manipulated and maneuvered. We are facing real, significant crises. But we are also better prepared to handle them. We have the means to bring everyone to the other side, healthier, happier and safer. We just have to join hands and cross unified. History has repeatedly shown us how much more we can achieve and how much stronger we are, together.