Forward this!

If you’ve had email for more than a minute, then you’ve gotten a forward from a friend.

Religious, conservative, liberal, ranting, and most likely, total fiction.  There’s always been something about the urge to pass around a message that contains absolutely false information.  At the same time, it’s the kind of information that arouses our emotions; we rankle in anger, we giggle in anticipation, or we laugh at the outright craziness the message describes.

I can remember, from painful personal experience, one such “forward” back in the days before computers.  Yes, forwards have been around that long.  It was in grade school, on the playground, and the rumor went around that I didn’t have on any underpants!  Oh, the hurt, the pain!

Today, I can imagine the first such published “forward” taking place soon after the invention of the printing press.  A disgruntled employee of Gutenberg may have stayed late one night, taking the opportunity to print up a series of pamphlets directed against his tyrannical employer.  It probably said something like this; Johannes G isn’t wearing any underpants!  And he underpays his employees!

The point is, as an aspect of behavior, such forwards have been around a long time.

The problem today is that the speed of the internet has given the forward a whole new life, a breadth and penetration of our psyche that is greater than ever before.  This didn’t exist 50 years ago, and the effect only seems to be getting greater.

I would like to think that, in an advanced society, there would be a mechanism protecting us from fiction that tries to pass as fact.  Yet, in a “free” society, we place a high value on the value of “free speech.”  At the same time, the courts have (justly) ruled that crying out “FIRE” in a crowded place is not protected speech.  Perhaps it’s time we also protect facts from fiction.

Or are we destined to simply become, dumb?



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