How and why I became a pain in the ass to my friends

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by Myles Spicer | April 20, 2009 • Actually, it wasn’t very hard. Maybe it was because I had a wonderful, but overindulgent mother? Or the fact that I was my own boss virtually my entire professional life (owned a couple of nice little ad agencies), and got egocentric and spoiled. Or maybe, just my “know it all” attitude. But enough of all that – none were really the reason, and the real reason is related to something far more recent. In one word it is the: internet!

Graduate U of Minn 1954. Flying officer USAF 1954-57 honorably discharged from reserve with rank of Capt. Owner several ad agencies in the Twin Cities and San Diego for over 45 years. Won several national creative awards in my career; and was a published author. Active politically entire adult life, and civil rights activist since age of 21. 76 years old…and an unrepentant liberal!

In relative terms of time, the internet is a fairly recent phenomenon. Especially for us older folks who were slightly “technology challenged”, and the internet arrived later in our lives. As it reached us and evolved, it was a great new tool…a nice toy…a useful resource. But to me, it also slowly, but inexorably developed a dark side. The tool morphed into a tool for misinformation and other ugly stuff. The toy started consuming time which could be used for more valuable intellectual and physical pursuits. And the resource became a vehicle for mischief, and worse. Especially the emails. And that’s when I decided to become a pain in the ass!

In the early years, I merely dabbled in becoming a pain. When stuff was sent to me that appeared wrong, inaccurate or dangerous, I politely responded to my friends that “this does not seem credible to me”, or “maybe we should check this out”. But in the last election, the proliferation of misinformation, lies, inaccuracies, mischief, exaggerations, and just plain bullshit got my juices flowing – and I grew from being a mild annoyance to a giant pain in the ass. All of which startled my friends, many of whom are solid conservatives, to the point where I started being exempted from forwarded messages and spammed emails, and being classified as some sort of radical with erratic behavior. After all, what could be more radical than ferreting out the “truth”?

Yet, there were still enough flawed emails reaching my computer that I spent a great deal of time responding to the nonsense crossing my desk. I felt a little like one of the Three Musketeers battling enemies on all sides.

“Obama is not a natural born citizen”…parry. “Obama is a radical Muslim”…thrust. “Immigrants are getting all our tax money”…defend then attack, Athos. “The Democratic Congress caused our economic meltdown”…jab, and then watch out for the guy behind you Porthos, he has a fallacy! “America does not torture”…oh, oh, there are so many, I may have to give up. But I didn’t. Instead I responded to every attack with research, corrections, real quotes, facts, Snopes and whatever weapons I could muster to correct and/or point out the misinformation these emails contained. It’s not really very hard at all. Of course, no one really likes being “corrected” – and that’s how I became a giant pain in the ass to many of my friends. Now let me explain why I did it.

We all pretty much know that lots of stuff floating around the internet is absolutely without basis. It has doubtful credibility. It contains no backup or proof. And to make matters worse, it can be morphed, edited, embellished, and otherwise changed as it goes on its journey from computer to computer. Well, yes we generally do know that, but what grinds on me most is the fact people mindlessly pass on this crap from person to person without ever exploring its accuracy or honesty! Worse yet, many of these folks are intelligent, well read, ethical persons – except when it involves the efficacy of the internet. Such behavior baffles, astounds, and confuses me.

Why do they do it? Maybe it is because the internet makes it so easy to pass misinformation along. Look at the aberrant message…nod your head (probably because you want it to be true)…and click a mouse. Done! Maybe it’s because you want to enhance your political agenda by passing along misinformation, even when you “suspect” it to be untrue. Maybe it’s to confirm to compatible friends your “loyalty to the cause”. I don’t know because motives are difficult to detect. But I do know this: every message I get stops at my computer till I check it out. And when it is wrong, inaccurate, untrue, or embellished, I generally respond to the sender(s) with some harsh language – something like “are you people stupid, or just simple-minded fools who send any kind of trash around the internet without checking its veracity”? (Note: I give them a choice). This, as you may suspect, does not endear me to old friends or provide me with many new ones. But, it is my MO now, and has been for quite a few years. Most of my remaining friends not only have learned to expect it, they often send stuff to me now, and even ask: “is this true”? I guess that’s a modicum of respect.

It gets even a little better than that. As with the Three Musketeers analogy, some acquaintances now expect to joust with me. Some seem to actually enjoy the contest. Consequently, my responses have become less acerbic and some useful dialog has ensued. Nor am I averse to being corrected when my response is insufficient or wrong.

So, what is the bottom line of all this? To me, it is first, a continual recognition that the internet is a ready tool of mischief and cesspool mis-information. As you open your email each day, there should be a warning like that on cigarettes, WARNING: THE INTERNET CAN BE DANGEROUS TO THE TRUTH AND YOUR INTELLECTUAL HEALTH. Secondly, be skeptical of every email forwarded to you (especially those relating to politics) and view it with suspicion. Third, never forward stuff that is suspect and thus also become “stupid or a simple-minded fool”. And finally, consider joining me in becoming a giant pain in the ass to those who do send you nonsense. Try it, it’s actually not a bad role, it serves a useful purpose, it has its rewards, and you too may like it.

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