From the New Atlantis piece on ARGs. “Both journalists and spin doctors attempted to massage or manipulate the narrative here or there, but eventually mass media converged on whatever the narrative was. In an age of alternate realities, narratives do not converge.”

In the late 1970s, I worked on an IT system for Lloyds Register of Shipping, in London. It was called the Shipping Casualty database, and was designed to monitor and record in real time the reports of “shipping casualties” around the world - everything from a ship bumping into a jetty and scratching its paintwork, to bulk carriers breaking up in mid ocean and sinking with the loss of all hands. Reports came in from shipowners, Lloyd’s agents, news agencies, port authorities, coastguards, search and rescue, and just simple gossip, and were collated and added to the database, with a time/date stamp. They were not fact-checked, edited, compared with other reports, just captured as accurately and completely as possible, from the source.

Initially, reports varied widely, sometimes hysterically - from no damage, to extensive, from no human casualties to dozens killed or missing. Gradually, sometimes over weeks, the agreed facts began to emerge - sometimes very sparse, such as a disappearance over deep water of a large freighter, only finally resolved years later after finding the sunken ship, courts of enquiry etc. More generally, the facts were settled fairly quickly (within days or weeks) - how much damage to the ship, ships or port facilities, how many injuries or deaths. The explanation often took much longer, perhaps only finally settled in a court of law or some sort of enquiry. 

The point is, in the end, mostly (not the Marie Celeste!) an agreed set of facts emerged, if not an explanation, out of the initial fog and confusion of conflicting reports. 

It seems to me that that is the problem with much of our current online discourse, on everything from climate change to vaccinations, Covid responses, myriad Trump related stories - we never seem to get to the bottom, the solid ground of consensual agreement on what actually happened. In fact a lot of participants, on all sides, have no interest in getting to those facts (because to some extent the party would be over and what would we do then?). In other cases, we simply won’t know - whether or not climate change will have had a significant impact by 2100 until, maybe, 2100 - or we will not be allowed to know e.g. about the merits or otherwise of Covid vaccinations, lock downs, mask mandates, because too many of the actors in the drama have a political or economic incentive not to have their decisions questioned.

Another, perhaps more sinister, aspect is where for example everyone (in effect - say 90%) has been vaccinated. It will be very hard to establish then whether the vaccines prevented a much worse outcome, or achieved nothing, or made things worse - a powerful incentive for those pushing for 100% vaccination to keep doing so, and to try to suppress or manipulate information that suggests vaccinations  may not be an unmitigated good. 

I now realise I’m starting to write an essay of my own, and I don’t know where it’s going, and I have to get on with my real world day . . .

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"Electronic media extend the individual’s perceptual capacity beyond the limits of their embodiment, inadvertently disrupting the bonds of common sense and later generating the appearance of consensus."

Until the last several years, I was content to live to a large degree within the limits of my embodiment, not counting vicarious experiences through reading *printed* material. Now that I've experienced the chaos and seeming futility that lies on the other side of that fence, I spend too much time imagining a return to my former, happily circumscribed domain, all the while taking sustenance from voices like yours, which I hear from afar. Thank you!

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