Tech

We should pay less attention to Current Thing-ism

Love him, loathe him or scathingly laugh at him, there’s no denying that when Elon Musk speaks – or usually tweets – the world pays attention. And so in March, when the richest man in the world tweeted a meme It featured a character waving a Ukrainian flag with the slogan “I SUPPORT THE CURRENT THING” circling it, and accordingly went viral.

The meme, which features an “NPC” as its protagonist — a gaming world term that stands for non-player character and is used as a swear word for someone who doesn’t think for themselves — was enthusiastically embraced by Musk’s crypto peers. loving tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen. He has tweeted about “The Current Thing” over 100 times.

It was also preached heavily by a variety of Tech-focused bloggers and substack authors. Like Andreessen, this group seems to believe that the meme provides a useful framework for a phenomenon we should be concerned about.

In a sense, the meme is just a new way of making a charge that has been leveled at “social justice warriors” for some time: that of slacktivism. This is the practice of signaling your support for the moral cause of the day, such as adding a flag emoji or hashtag to your Twitter bio, while doing nothing to help that cause in the real world. The implicit criticism is that this is ultimately hollow, giving the virtue signaler social credit, but ultimately accomplishing little.

So could we say that The Current Thing is just the current thing for the right?

In a way yes. The meme is now seeping out of social media and substack into the broader right-wing discourse. Last week, the far-right news agency Breitbart promoted one of his articles – on how Dublin Pride festival organizers added the colors of Ukraine to the “ever-evolving rainbow flag” for this year’s parade – by putting “THE CURRENT THING” at the beginning of a tweet. It’s certainly only a matter of time before Fox News makes a contribution.

But there’s more to it than that, which explains why the meme has captured the imagination. It speaks not only to how superficial loyalty to the moral cause of the moment can be, but also how ephemeral; how quickly we are able to go from one thing to the next, forgetting the previous thing we seemed so passionate about.

Part of it is simply what social scientists call “salience bias” — that is, we focus on what lies ahead, or what is most notable, and tend to forget the rest.

“Salience is really a zero-sum game for people,” Bobby Duffy, director of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, tells me. “If you ask people what are the main problems facing the country . . . when a topic gains importance, the share [of people] marking other problems falls. We can only worry about so much at once.” We can only cram so many emojis and hashtags into 50-character Twitter display names.

But it’s also the incentives of the attention economy that make us scurry more quickly from one idea to the next. A Study 2019 showed that the time trend for ideas has sharply declined and that this decline has accelerated — in terms of social media hashtags, but also in terms of phrases used in books, web searches, and even in terms of how long movies are are popular. We seem to suffer from a kind of mass attention deficit disorder, where we’re always angry about something, but maybe don’t remember what it was the next day.

So what, if anything, should be done about it? We certainly shouldn’t discard ideas or causes just because they happen to be current—sometimes shifting our collective focus to something new is right.

But the problem with Current Thing-ism is that new issues, by their very nature, have not yet stood the test of time. In the Internet age, individuals and institutions have an incentive to post their opinions on something as quickly as possible in order to get maximum clicks. Once that view is out there, it becomes awkward to change.

This means that positions on current issues are staked long before they have been questioned, counterargumented and empirically analyzed, and often before all the facts have even come to light.

In a distracted digital world where attention is the only finite resource, we must learn to slow down to think critically and independently, and to reward rather than embarrass ourselves. those who change theirs Throughts.

contrary, in the meantime, should be careful not to thoughtlessly antagonize The Current Thing. After all, that makes you just as much an NPC as the person you’re yelling at your screens.

jemima.kelly@ft.com

We should pay less attention to Current Thing-ism Source link We should pay less attention to Current Thing-ism

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