Ah, the 1980s! Nintendo, slap bracelets, the Police Academy franchise, DeLoreans…this list goes on and on. As a child of the 80s, I among the youngest to remember the Cold War and the KC Royals winning their first pennant. Weird fashion and pop music notwithstanding, a lot of interesting things came out of the decade. For me, three particular words stuck with me: “Trust, but verify.” This is a Russian proverb that President Reagan made famous during nuclear arms talks with the Soviet Union. I don’t recall what made this stick in my head, perhaps my obsession with Voltron had faded so there was space available in my head. Regardless, it’s a bit of wisdom that has its own special place in these times.
I cannot express in PG-rated terminology how absurd I find really bad information shared around on social media like it’s gospel. From not-the-sharpest-knife-in-the-drawer friends from childhood to the most overeducated of Mensans, I’ve observed people embrace well-packaged graphic images with garbage quotations on Facebook or Twitter as though they found the golden plates. It’s annoying to me when someone I don’t agree with does it, and it’s infuriating to me when someone I do agree with does it. Two minutes on Google would knock most of the garbage down, but there’s apparently something seductive about simply clicking “Post” or “Tweet.”
It’s not like bad information wasn’t around in the 1980s, but the costs of disseminating it were much higher then than they are now. Back then, you’d have to actually print something in enough quantity to spread it around, a cash and time-consuming process. Today, lies can be proliferated using one hand and not leaving your seat. Even when traveling the world depended on the wind, Jonathan Swift observed, “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.”
Why do I bring this up? I don’t know that many of us do (or even can) appreciate how much communication has changed in just the past few decades. Instead of three evening broadcasts, the Internet is a hydra of firehoses from which to consume information, and I’m not certain that we have figured out how to take a drink yet without drowning. But what can we do to adapt? No matter who says it or how much you want it to be true, always “Trust, but verify.” Better still, save yourself a bit of time and start with verifying. It won’t stop the stupid, but it will help the cause.