Age of Reason vs. the Information Age


Since I am writing a science fiction novel with some nearly immortal characters, I get to have fun conversations with them. Here is a portion of one:

“Robert, why don’t you just Google it?”

“No. I’d rather figure it out on my own or look in a book.”

I laugh at him. “Why? Because your 253 and you don’t know how to use a computer?”

“No, I know I’ll be around for a long time yet, so I learned to use a computer as soon as I was able. Besides, I don’t particularly trust the internet.” he huffs in contempt, “I was born in the Age of Reason, not the Information Age.”

What do you imagine Robert would think about the internet? My ideas are evolving. Robert has always been a soldier throughout his long life and I can imagine he has embraced many technologies that have made life easier for him. Yet with all the fake news that has come into the spotlight lately, I can also see him rebelling against the Information Age.


3 responses to “Age of Reason vs. the Information Age

    • I can see an accidental sideline: Robert’s history lessons!

      I should also have mentioned French newspapers before, during, and after the French Revolution. Before: Royal license required, censored to meet royal requirements. During: 1300 new newspapers appeared in just a bit over 5 years – a wide mix of political viewpoints, some of which led authors and publishers to the guillotine – then political viewpoints stabilized, reducing the number of newspapers to 72. After: Napoleon closed down most newspapers quickly, leaving 13 – within another 10 years, there were only 4, all state censored.

  1. False news is not new, and it’s not restricted to the technology of the Internet. The phrase “yellow journalism” was used to describe the newspaper wars, circa 1890-1905, in New York City. “Yellow journalism” is defined as “journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers” (quoted from the Wikipedia article on “yellow journalism”, which I recommend reading). That was over 100 years ago.

    Other periods in history have been characterized by sensational and misleading journalistic methods, as well as outright falsification of news. The “Great Moon Hoax”, circa 1835, is another example from New York.

    In the few decades after Napoleon, starting roughly 1815, Paris newspapers and magazines were noted more for literature and society pages than for quality of news. Ditto for London newspapers, even earlier.

    Then, there’s propaganda. Early newspapers were most often state controlled. Queen Mary and, following her, Queen Elizabeth, established and controlled newspapers under Royal Charters. In particular, Queen Elizabeth made quite a bit of money in that way. No freedom of the press then! And nothing reported that was detrimental to royal rule or to royal business (such as the expansion into the New World).

    Then came independent political propaganda in the 17th century. There was a brief period of free license (no censorship and no copyright laws!) in Great Britain, and quality of news dropped even further. Personal attacks, including outright lies, against political opponents ruled the day. Newspaper history was similar in other nations as well: The German states, Italy, and Spain.

    Then, consider the American Revolutionary War and the years both preceding and following it. Robert would have been a teenager then, when Thomas Paine was inflaming young men to war, and the political arguments shaping the US were first made. Thomas Paine was a hothead, but he was rational when compared to some of his contemporaries.

    Thomas Jefferson sponsored James Callender, a muckraking journalist who had been forced out of Scotland – Callender thought George Washington was a crook (and he may have been right!). Most famously, Callender spread the story that Alexander Hamilton had an affair with a married woman, which led to Callender’s later imprisonment (no protections for the press, then, either!). Later, after Jefferson disavowed him, Callender spread the story of Jefferson’s affair with Sally Hemmings. And this is just one of the early US journalists!

    My point is that your protagonist is going to have lived through major eras of sensationalism and false news. So why would he distrust the Internet any more than any other source? If anything, the post-WWII journalistic era, when journalistic standards of quality and fact-checking were fairly high, is what is going to seem to be an aberration to him.

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