A little over a week ago, the Internet lost its collective mind over a pseudo-event.

The scene was the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. A kid smirked; a First Nations man beat a drum; Black Hebrew Israelites threw out some taunts. That's it. Not exactly Days of Rage, but social media kicked into high gear, followed by hours of cable TV news analysis and exclusive interviews. And then came death threats and the ritual menacing with lawsuits.

America 2019. We've been hacked, and we're being played, by the data-gathering and data-selling giants to whom we're selling our souls.

Historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari notes that, "So far, many of these giants seem to have adopted the business model of 'attention merchants.' They capture our attention by providing us with free information, services, and entertainment, and they then resell our attention to advertisers. Yet the data giants probably aim far higher than any previous attention merchant. Their true business isn't to sell advertisements at all. Rather, by capturing our attention they manage to accumulate immense amounts of data about us, which is worth more than any advertising revenue. We aren't their customers - we are their product."

And with the Great Smirking Kid Caper, the Data Leviathan captured the attention of millions upon millions of people with a pseudo-event onto which we projected all manner of social, political and cultural hostilities and anxieties. Outraged, roiled, played like Nathan Phillips' drum - and for what?

As Joshua Rothman notes in The New Yorker: "When the dramaturgical or rhetorical interest of a debate exceeds the interest of the real events that inspired it, that debate becomes a fantasy - an occasion for dramatizing our values, rather than testing them against the real world. This, in turn, makes our values feel hollow."

It would be bad enough if this phenomenon was confined to our online "lives," but it leaks out into our real life, too. We are conditioning ourselves to make judgments on the thinnest slices of information; we judge our neighbor before we even glance to see if he's wearing moccasins or not, much less venturing to walk a mile in them.

We're all susceptible to this insidious phenomenon. Disconnecting is probably the right thing to do - but that doesn't guarantee escape, and anyway, it's not a realistic option for most of us. But we can discipline ourselves to take a moment and decide what we want to give our commodified attention to and how much drama we want to get sucked into - be it online or in our hometown. Or online in our hometown.

We're lucky here in Sisters; we have lots of options. Sometimes - maybe always - the best thing to do is to just go for a hike.



Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief