It’s been smoke and fire and Jell-O ever since, here on the Big Island of Hawai‘i. Especially for the unlucky gamblers who built houses in the Leilani Estates neighborhood, perched right along the center axis of that Eastern Rift Zone, where the lava that used to be in Pu‘u O‘o is now boiling up out of the ground. Gamblers whose dice rolls have just come up craps. But hey, the place is now important enough to rate a Wikipedia page.
And for Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba and his Quilly, following the news reports of this event, on those fragments of commercial and social media that we have not yet abandoned, has been, er, enlightening.
Yes, YFNA and Quilly are living on the same Hawai‘i Island that the eruption is happening on. But, as they have already reported, they are as far away from the action as it’s possible to get without walking on water or flying over it. Aaand, in that intervening space, there are two – not one, but two – large mountains, one 13,000 feet and the other 8,000 feet tall. The risk that YFNA and Quilly will be inundated with hot lava is nil, and folk may stop worrying about it, with thanks for their concern.
Whatever the mass media may say about it.
There is an evacuation going on. It’s in the immediate vicinity of the eruption. It affects about a thousand people, not the ten thousand cited in one early media report. No, the evacuation does not include the whole island of Hawai‘i. It certainly does not include dislocating the entire population of O‘ahu, with its major city (Honolulu) and more than a million people.
Whatever social media may say about it.
The AP news item set off some of the good people at the United States Geological Survey. Who, it seems, couldn’t figure out how come the sober science they presented to their Associated Press mass media interviewers got translated into a premeditated ploy to set off a nationwide panic attack.
Alas. Scientists can be some of the dumbest ‘smart’ people on the face of the planet. Crede expertum: YFNA used to pretend to be one. To be fair to the scientists – once upon a horrible time, YFNA also pretended to be a radio announcer. Even, to the lasting pain of the afflicted listeners, a sportscaster. It didn’t last long – just long enough to teach YFNA certain lessons that, perhaps, those who have not trod any paths in these moccasins have had no occasion to experience, and thus, to grasp.
First among those lessons? The media exist to make money. Period. The end. Print, web, broadcast, narrowcast, podcast, coconut-telegraph cast. It makes money or it dies. And whatever tricks they can get away with that make money, to get Us to spend Our money on them, will be done. Especially if it’s enough money to fund the takeover of an entire Hawaiian island, Mr. Zuckerberg. One as far away as possible from lava flooding, of course. Though water flooding remains a concern. Sorry ’bout that. Even Paradise has its inconvenient truths. Kinda like data spying does.
If ever there was a time when “responsible journalism” existed, Mr. Murrow, it was when responsible journalism was the only way to make money, and enough money to make the hard work necessary to accomplish it worth anybody’s while. Because that’s all that We the People would buy.
What are we buying now, Honey Boo Boo? Mr. President?!?
The media people have worked out what the politicians and the preachers worked out many moons ago, and the scientists who don’t work alongside these folk seem unable to grasp. Data, and reasoning based on those data, do not motivate people. Emotion does. Specifically, it motivates people to buy stuff. You get people mad, or scared, or crying, or horny, or generally freaking out. And just after you do that, you run the ad.
And We the People will remember the ad, far better than if there was no emotional outburst before it was run. And we’re far more likely to run out and buy that widget.
Or that crucifix.
Or that Hakenkreuz.
The more sensational the story, facts be damned, the greater the profits for media outlets. Especially if they can get clueless citizens to put themselves in harm’s way, not to mention the law’s, to get, for a few pennies, the stories and pictures that they once paid professionals a living wage and benefits to get. Ka-CHING!!
And those, like scientists, who present themselves to the media maw, be it Disney or Breitbart or Twitter, thinking that their own good and noble intentions will be mirrored by those media types, to say nothing of the audiences to which they pander, pretty much get what’s coming to them.
Data and reason only have a chance when society agrees to put most (we can’t, apparently, do without any) emotions aside, and do the hard work of turning those data and analyses into work. This is indeed how scientists are (or were) trained.
But this is hard, and it gets harder as data accumulate. Society, to ease the load, hands more and more of the work to fewer and fewer people, and then its people suddenly discover that they’re groaning under a dictatorship and wonder how they got there.
Or, the people learn, to their horror, that the data mean that they, not someone else, they themselves have to yield some of their comforts, in order to prosper the whole. And they will run in fright to anyone who proclaims, loudly enough, that the data are bogus, and all they have to do is follow and all will be well. And then, suddenly, they discover that they’re groaning under a dictatorship and wonder how they got there.
A long, long time ago now, when elephants had fur, ’50 shades of gray’ was a description of TV screens, and the World Wide Web was the principal scare in a B-grade horror movie featuring giant spiders (and lots of them), those TV viewers would know, quickly, when a broadcast news item was Important.
The broadcasters would stop showing commercials.
(Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba was following a seemingly-less-rabid local commercial news page for information on the eruption. He looked away for a moment, came back and … the page was gone.
Replaced by a full-page popup add attempting to command him to buy purge software for his computer.
It happened twice.
Poof. Commercial news page gone!)
And, at lesser times, the broadcasters would have Public Service Announcements (PSAs), also (usually) ad-free, advising the public of noteworthy events.
In the spirit of those days, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba offers, as a PSA, locations that offer factual information about the Hawai‘i Island volcanic eruptions:
Hawaiian Volcano Observatory webpage on Kilauea Volcano.
USGS Volcanoes Twitter feed.
These sites have no ads. They do not try to wrest emotional responses from you. They have, or should have, little need to do so. The citizens and residents of the United States of America have already paid for their services (at least for now), and the service that’s been paid for is to present what is. In the expectation that We the People will see that this is good.
Only for them to discover that what We the People want, and will pay for, is the thrill of exploding cars and flaming homes at the mercy of digitally-enhanced, super-speeded lava flows. The heart-wrenching cascades of tears from women – still better, from males (‘men’ being rare, if not already extinct) – who have ‘lost everything’. The pulse-pounding scare of a bubbling fissure a whole
football gridiron field in length that will cause the end of the world as we know it! Give Us this, and We will buy whatever you’re selling!
Isn’t that so, Mr. President?