Poison in the Information Age

Finally, the announcement of a new president elect arrived after a few tense days of watching and waiting. However, the election is far from over. Counting continues for mail-in ballots in some states. (For more insights on the mail-in process, read this and this.) And recounts for some places where the results were close.

POTUS has yet to concede. Instead, he spends his time tweeting fraudulent claims about the US election process and golfing. And for some of the 70+ million people who voted for him, they accept these unsubstantiated declarations as facts. Perhaps these are the “alternative” facts we’ve heard so much about the past four years.

What this all amounts to is one of the most dangerous consequences of having too much information disseminated too quickly through social media channels. Polluting information channels is easy for people who know how. Here’s the recipe:

  • Craft contradictory, sensational, and catchy titles.
  • Ensure title is short for repeating easily.
  • Disseminate it through multiple channels.
  • Watch it spread.

In a short time, the disinformation becomes part of the main narrative. Competing against real facts. Right now a potential audience of 70+ million people are looking for answers about how their candidate lost. Within a day of the election ending, with ballots still being counted, the alternative narrative gained momentum, continuing a story that had started months ago. Things got confusing and muddy quickly.

For example, a lot of confusion and misinformation spread about whether or not, and when, remaining ballots should be counted. In States where the President was trailing, votes should be counted. In States where the President was winning, votes should not continue to be counted. It’s dizzying! All ballots should be counted. The process is clunky and outdated, but trustworthy.

The funny thing is, once a person believes something, it’s very difficult to correct the bad information. Fact checkers do a wonderful service, even though the results of their efforts often go unappreciated.

How to Stop Information Pollution

If you’re spreading disinformation, that only adds to the problem. Here are some tips to stay informed and learn how to detect disinformation.

  1. Evaluate the source. Is the information coming from a credible source? Is there evidence?
  2. Read the content! Avoid spreading sensational titles without understanding the context. Or at least reading it first.

Technombie 6: The Results Are In

As usual, Senjina couldn’t wait to get home and check her stats. She was always too busy at work to review them. Today had been exceptionally chaotic. The mayoral election ended tonight.

This election, Senjina voted for the first time. She felt invested in the results. Once home, she spread her expandable ScreenSpace on the kitchen table. Immediately the screen filled with graphs and charts. Lines and colors spiking, dropping, and jumping all over the place. As suspected, the extra chaos had been stressful. She knew she had to get the stress levels down in the next couple days. Otherwise she could expect a bump, however slight, in her insurance premiums going forward.

Pushing aside the stats, Senjina eagerly searched for election results. Nothing definitive yet. Mayor Peebles faced a touch race. This, despite his self-admission to smoking crack and all kinds of other non-traditional mayor behaviors. Somehow people still seemed to love him, defend him even, against his most egregious actions.

However, results would not, could not, be confirmed before the nightly infoozian. Senjina sighed resignedly, sorely wishing she didn’t have to do the infoozians. Why were these things mandatory, anyway?

She knew if she didn’t submit to one, performance would start to fail on her feed and ScreenSpace. Even so, she couldn’t shake the nagging feeling she always got before a compulsory infoozian. And on the night of an election? Something was definitely up. If only Senjina could remember the same things before and after the infoozian. Sitting through one, she felt as though a fog descended on her brain. When it cleared, something had dissipated with it. But she could never be certain of what was gone.

She wistfully reviewed the results one last time. Mayor Peebles, strong in a few districts was trailing overall, with over 90% of the votes counted. Senjina felt confident he would be on his way out. This was a good thing. She worked in City Hall and looked forward to a new administration.

Senjina settled into her special infoozian chair, hearing and feeling the familiar hiss of air leaving the cushions adjusting to her body. Her head oozed into the headrest, already starting to loll to one side.

The familiar drone started. Always about Mayor Peebles. She drifted.

She awakened suddenly from the infoozian to a series of high-pitched alerts.

Mayor Peebles had won again!

Senjina frowned. How was this possible?

Read earlier segments from the story here:

Mommy Three Arm

Designer babies were all the rage. Everybody wanted them. Who wanted to risk a baby to chance? Besides, people who had “natural” babies had higher insurance premiums, if they could even get insurance. Most insurance companies were unwilling to cover conditions that could have been programmed out.

Depending on your willingness to pay, you could even engineer the baby’s eye color and fingernail shape. Most people, however, prioritized health. Some added one stellar trait.

Over time, someone finally had the brilliant idea to throw in a few bonuses for the moms. Why not design a few perks for the mother-to-be? This is how Jasmine found herself in the Baby Designer Studio reviewing a brochure before her consultation.

She scrolled through the expansive list of options. She had opted to go “natural”. It’s not that she was particularly old-fashioned. Or anti-gene manipulation and splicing. It’s just that her pragmatic nature won her over. Creating a designer baby felt overwhelming. It required a lot of steps, a lot of money, and a lot of effort.

Jasmine wasn’t into that. However, something extra for herself sounded enticing. She quickly ticked off the “no-brainer” options, including:

  • Abdominal Muscle Quick Repair
  • Stretch-mark Tightening
  • Increased Metabolism (for a limited time period)
  • Luscious Hair and Nails

Some of the less invasive options gave her pause, like, “Keep Baby Smell.” Well, Jasmine didn’t know about that one. She had heard rumors about post-partum “mommy stink” from some friends. But wasn’t her smell hers? Shouldn’t she want to keep that?

However, the body altering choices generated the most questions for Jasmine. Among them, if she chose, Jasmine could:

  • Grow a Third Arm (right or left)
  • Grow Elongated Prehensile Toes

It’s true, a third arm would be very useful with a new baby. One friend had opted for this. It took some time to adapt, but the friend loved all the things she could do so easily with an extra arm. Even though she had had to buy a new wardrobe, she claimed it was worth it.

Jasmine had to make a decision fast. Everything had to be in place before the end of the first trimester. Otherwise, her alterations wouldn’t sync up with the baby. It would be very awkward to give birth and only have half of her new arm grown in. If she went with that option.

What was a new mom to do?

Taking Flight

The first year I lived in Vancouver, I delighted in watching a heronry of Great Blue Herons at the edge of Stanley Park. A heronry is where large groups of herons nest and raise and their young. This particular one, contained dozens of nests. It was raucously noisy and had a distinctive odor.

The Heronry in April

I loved watching these majestic birds throughout the season. Their distinctive silhouettes, like those of little old gnomes, perched in the trees. Or soaring gracefully through the air with their broad wings and stilt legs straight together. Looking almost like a winged dinosaur, or something reminiscent of ancient roots.

In the early days of spring, it was easy to see them through the bare trees. Each week I returned to watch the development. By the time the summer leaves filled out the branches, I knew how to spot the nests easily. By now, my eyes were focused on the fledglings. Their large size made them visible from the sidewalk.

I watched the fledglings, now oversized for the nests in just a few short months, clumsily beating their wings. They were practicing and building strength for the first flight. There is little room for failure on the first launch from the nest. These birds had to get it right.

Driven by instinct and what they learned from observing, these fledglings slowly tested out their wings, heavy on their young frames. At first they could little more than perch themselves upright. Over time, they built the skills and knowledge to remain stable. Then familiarized themselves with their large wings, first learning how to hold them and move them before trying out the more advanced moves needed for flying.

Observing these fledglings, learning in stages, reminded me of how we acquire new skills. Once we master a new skill, it’s easy to forget about a time when we didn’t know how to it. A time when we had to slow down, take our time, familiarize ourselves with something new, and figure it out.

Skills are acquired over time, bit by bit. The pandemic is challenging us in new ways. This can make it difficult to see that at the same time, we’re also learning how to do something new.

The Disruption and Promise of the Pandemic

The pandemic has been a major disrupter. It’s unsettled almost every aspect of our lives in some way or another. As we’re heading into a second wave of the pandemic, it might seem strange to write about the promise of it. However, disruption brings about change and not all of it is bad.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a number of improvements made to businesses. For example, the other day I went to the bank. To reduce people inside, I was required to make an appointment. I made the appointment easily through my phone without creating a new account. I received a notification automatically shortly before it was my turn. No more waiting aimlessly in a line when I could be out running errands, drinking a coffee, or window shopping instead.

The Rise of Online Forms

In addition to new services springing up allowing us to make appointments for everything, online forms have improved dramatically. To be fair, online forms have been around for a long time. It’s just that before the pandemic, most of them were terrible. A lot of times, even as recently as February 2020, the online form was a poorly constructed Word document attached to an email. However, the pandemic has forced businesses to change this rapidly.

Now, all the forms I’ve had to fill out lately, are online. They’re easy to fill out. No downloading required or stumbling with clumsy, awkward Word documents. It’s fast, easy and mobile friendly.

It’s about time! I’ve always had a peeve about filling out miserably designed forms, or even worse, having to fill them out in paper. Printing, filling out, signing, scanning. Ugh.

The Rise of the E-signature

Another noticeable improvement has been the ability to e-sign documents. Some of this goes along with the improved forms. In many cases, agreeing to/accepting terms, counts as an e-signature. However, many forms now allow for end users to sign directly by using their finger, a stylus. Or sometimes even by scanning in a written signature and placing it in the right spot on the form.

I can only imagine how these innovations have improved things for businesses on the other end of things. I’m sure having online forms reduces typos and saves some poor worker from a lot of unnecessary data entry.

The Murkiness of Mail-In Voting

Growing up, my father instilled a strong sense of the importance of voting. I remember as a small child accompanying my father to vote. From a distance, I watched him enter the voting booth and pull a lever to close a thick, dark curtain. When I turned 18, I registered to vote.

Voting is important! As a woman, I take this right seriously. We’re encouraged to vote, but the process is so convoluted and inconsistent from State to State, that things get murky. Read more in an earlier blog about Why Mail-In Voting Is Problematic for the US Presidential Election.

Voting Instructions in My State

Last week I received voting instructions for the US Presidential Election via email. The body of the email outlined the process and included three documents:

  • A blank ballot (see below)
  • A list of candidates, including their parties and office, plus one question.
  • A certification statement with a note in bold under the instructions
    • Your vote will not be counted unless you sign this certificate and return it with your ballot BEFORE 8 P.M. ON ELECTION/PRIMARY DAY.

Essentially, I have to handwrite in my vote(s) on the blank ballot. Sign the certification statement. Enclose both in an envelope and write “Ballot Enclosed” on it.

The process seems simple, but a few things are missing.

The Weight of the Handwritten Signature

The certification statement includes the note about how to make my vote count. However, an important detail is not there. Having my vote count also depends on a comparison of two signatures. The signature from my voting registration form (sent separately) and the one on my certification statement.

The wrinkle is that I filled out my registration form electronically. I “signed” it with my finger, rather than a pen. After submitting the form electronically, I printed it out and mailed it in. Now I’m left wondering if the electronic signature will match the handwritten one closely enough for my vote to count.

I’m also left wondering, why we rely on such a system in 2020?

The technology to collect and accept electronic (and digital) signatures has been around for over a decade. Why do we still put our faith in all this paper and handwritten signatures?

Will my vote count? I’ll have to wait until November.

As for others, the mail-in process varies from State to State. Things will be murky on election day.