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We Are So Wired, and So Separated

A high level connectivity does not ensure that the facts of vital and emerging issues are ingested intelligently around the globe

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Envision a world with nearly 60% of 7.9 billion people online. That is the state of Internet use today, in 2022. Before 2000, less than one billion people were connected, and a decade before that, less than 30 million people.

While Internet patronage has exploded, and the sharing and dissemination of information is unprecedented in human history, humankind is no closer to achieving what anyone would call cohesion. In many respects, we are heading in the opposite direction: splintering. How can this be so in an era where virtually anyone can access the Internet and make a thorough exploration on any topic or issue?

One answer is that on any major topic, the information explosion is too much for anyone to fathom. Add in the inherent bias of mainstream news reporting and how little time you might have to thoroughly read, ingest, and fathom what you’ve read, and you have the keys to less agreement, unity, and social harmony than ever before.

Controlling the Narrative

People were not better off in previous eras when there was a dearth of information. For most of recorded history, whoever did the recording, controlled the history. Today, with the plethora of news sources, in free societies no one has a monopoly on what is disseminated to the populace.

Still, it is possible to control the narrative, like it’s done in the U.S. mainstream media – the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, NPR, NBC, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, the failing CNN, and other purveyors of a like-minded, pre-determined agenda dominate.

When every story, issue, and square inch of semantic space is politicized, one can expect exceedingly little agreement on any particular topic. Even events that happened within the last year, for which an abundance of reporting sources, video and audio recordings, eyewitnesses, and other documentation exist, major disagreement over what actually happened, let alone the implications, are likely. Why? What we ingest is filtered by our predispositions.

Spin, or a contortion of issues, is not merely a political phenomenon dispensed by PR handlers, it is a growing phenomenon that impacts every arena of human endeavor. Psychological processes such as selective attention, selective perception, and selective retention ensure that what one concludes on any particular issue might not be rooted in scientific fact.

’Til the Facts Get in the Way

For decades people reported being abducted by Martians, until telescopes and surface probes conclusively showed no intelligent life on Mars, at least for the past million years. Facts can be quite inconvenient. Those who claimed “Martian abduction” sauntered away only to be replaced by those who claimed “alien abduction” which opened up an array of abduction “possibilities.”

What can we expect in the future? Within a few years, more than 7/8 of the planet will have access to the Internet, and eventually nearly everyone will. Yet a high level connectivity does not ensure that the facts of vital and emerging issues are ingested sufficiently around the globe.

When seven out of eight billion people have online connectivity, given the human propensity to color and distort even the most basic of phenomena, expect an even greater level of Babel-like misunderstandings and missed connections.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



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Education

Texas School District Says Enough is Enough

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Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

BREAKING: The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District in North Texas voted last night to:

1) Ban the teaching of critical race theory. 

2) Wait until students are in the fifth grade to teach them sexual orientation and gender identity. 

3) Ban boys from playing in girls’ sports.

4) Encourage the use of pronouns that align with student’s biological gender and require them to use restrooms and locker rooms that align with their biological gender.

5) Require that library materials be posted online and readily available for review by parents.

6) Not teach The New York Times “1619 Project”.

7) Implement a strict process for reviewing library books, so as to allow To Kill A Mockingbird and disallow Daddy, Papa, and Me and others.

It seems nearly incomprehensible that a school district would have to vote on measures like these. In fact, to many thoughtful Americans, it seems utterly Orwellian. How can truths about gender and the proper use of pronouns suddenly seem controversial rather than commonsensical?

Why does it seem radical to return power to parents and reaffirm biological reality? Or to keep boys from dominating girls in sports? Or to let students read revisionist history and propaganda about their nation on their own time? Why teach something that cannot withstand even the lightest objective criticism? 

Perhaps the school district’s 4-3 vote is a sign that there’s hope, that the pendulum has reached its arc and is beginning to move back toward truth and reality. Maybe the radicals are on the run.

No matter what, kudos to North Texas educators for pushing back against the absurdity and reaffirming responsible education.

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Education

Make Universities Accountable for Predatory Student Loan Abuse

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The Biden administration is still talking about delivering on the President’s promise to relieve student loan debt for many Americans. There is continuing discussion on how much debt should be forgiven, how to pay for it, and whether it is fair to all those who have diligently and painfully worked to already pay off their own student loans. After all, if you’re going to eliminate student debt to buy votes, why just limit it to student debt?

Unfortunately for Biden, according to numerous sources including National Review, the executive branch has no generalized power to forgive any amount of student debt. Even Nancy Pelosi confirmed simply that “the president can’t do it. That’s not even a discussion.” The Department of Education came to the same verdict, determining that the executive branch “does not have the statutory authority to cancel, compromise, discharge, or forgive, on a blanket or mass basis, principal balances of student loans, and/or to materially modify the repayment amounts or terms thereof.”

Of course, even if he had the authority, forgiving student debt doesn’t make the debt go away. Reality has a way of breaking into such “freeloading” dreams. It’s pay me now, or somebody else pay me later. But why should some future taxpayer pay off anyone else’s student debt?

Whatever happened to wise warnings of “student beware.” When you get an education and agree to pay the tuition, you ought to realize that you must at some point pay for that education. You signed on the bottom line. Face your real-world responsibilities. Hopefully, you picked a degree major that will ensure a career capable of paying off your loans. Students clearly have some responsibility, but what about the universities that took advantage of the money coming from those loans?

After all, there is ample evidence that student tuitions exploded far faster than inflation when government funds became readily available for student loans. Complaints of excessive tuition increases by students trapped in their programs tended to be met with a less than caring response—pound sand!

Since 2008, the tuition cost or a four-year college degree has increased nearly 25%. In that same period, student debt has doubled, increasing by 107%. 2015 study found that a dollar of subsidized student loans results in a published tuition increase of 58 cents at a typical university, An NBER paper suggests that changes to federal student loans are more than sufficient to explain tuition increases at private nonprofit colleges. And a 2014 study found that for-profit colleges eligible for federal student aid charged tuition 78% higher than that of similar but aid-ineligible institutions.

In short, there is no doubt that tuition was rising faster than the inflation level. Evidence has been clear for decades. In 1987, Secretary of Education William J. Bennett argued that “increases in financial aid in recent years have enabled colleges and universities to raise their tuition, confident that Federal loan subsidies would help cushion the increase.”

Bennett pointed out in 1987 that federal student aid had risen 57 percent since 1980, while inflation had been 26 percent. A 2020 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office brought the numbers up to date: “Between 1995 and 2017, the balance of outstanding federal student loan debt increased more than sevenfold, from $187 billion to $1.4 trillion (in 2017 dollars).” What is the lesson? The more federal aid to students is available colleges raise tuition more. Salaries rise and bureaucracies expand. There are more courses, more dorms, dining halls, lavish recreational centers, and more money for endowments.

Far too many students find that once they begin their education, their schools raise the tuition at such a high rate that their debt explodes. The university builds their endowment, and the “trapped” student is compelled to finish what they started at a cost they did not expect to have to pay. In such a situation, should not the university be responsible for any increased cost above the increase in cost of living during the same time? It’s time for universities to take responsibility for their share of student debt.

The universities that benefited from these loans should have a part in footing the bill. That means universities that raked in millions to inflate endowments should be holding the bag for those who can’t afford to pay their loans. With universities holding hundreds of billions of dollars in tax-free endowments, any government program to relieve student debt should be completely dependent on taxing those university endowments.

It’s time to counter the Democrats’ vote-buying scheme by making lasting changes to the student loan process. That means putting universities on the hook for their predatory behavior. That will go much further than a temporary payoff that does nothing to solve what is causing the problem.

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