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Information Warfare

 

The battlefield? Your mind.

The prize? Your decision.

Disclaimer: this is a non-partisan political post about the 2016 U.S. election.

Have you ever strategically withheld information from specific people so that they behave in a certain way? It need not be malicious; teachers withhold solutions to problems that their students are learning how to solve. You may withhold information about a surprise party you’re throwing for a friend.

The other side of it, however, is in strategic spreading of information. If a friend shares an idea with you, you may choose to share it or not, based on the context in which you received it. The information need not be different;  only the context. If a friend tells you “I had apple juice today” in an open, cordial way, and you have no cause to believe it’s a secret, then perhaps you’d mention it to another mutual friend who also had apple juice today. However, if this friend beckons you close and says the exact same thing, but in a hushed tone, you might be reflexively inclined to treat it like a secret. And just like that, your behavior changed, with a gesture and shift in tone.

In any democratic political system, with the vote at the core of the political mechanism, every election is a battle for those votes. How people make that decision is usually based on the information they have and/or acquire in the time leading up to the election. Consequently, the vast majority of resources during elections go to advertising. In case you’re doubtful, here’s Bloomberg on the current election.

You’re no idiot; you know how elections work. Pro and Anti ads created with the intention of changing votes get targeted to specific demographics across every medium they can reach. It all started with the postal service and newspapers, but they’ve kept up with the advents of communication. Radio and television both are spoke-and-wheel type systems with one-way communication, and phone calls, while being direct and long-distance, aren’t with thousands of people at once. Together, these communication media formed the mechanisms that deliver information payloads, targeted to affect ideas. The battle has never stopped or changed in essence, but the medium now has.

But who are the players? Well, anyone with the resources to share information. The postal service was revolutionary in its time because it dropped the threshold of resources needed for ANY politically recognized citizen to communicate directly (albeit, by today’s standards, slowly) with any other in the country. For the cost of postage, one can mail a letter to everyone in the country if they want to. While those more money could necessarily get their information out more easily than the poor, everyone used the same medium. The television and radio, however, have a much higher threshold of resources needed to actually express ideas, and not just in terms of sheer dollar cost. Sharing an idea on radio or television requires, at the very cheapest end, notoriety. These media have, relative to the postal service, a very, very small number of players. Those who DO play are generally wealthier than those who don’t.

But how is it that so few people can affect so many? Targeting. Find out, based on polls, which areas have the highest proportions of undecided voters and try to sway them by giving them whatever content resonates in whatever context might be most . Use crop fields as background for ads run in rural areas. Make sure anybody speaking has the right dialect and gestures to match the region. Have them say a phrase that’s endemic to an area and makes voters feel like our candidate understands them and their problems in particular.

Where strategy fails, volume of information is often employed. Sheer inundations of information can be enough to sway even the most reasonable people, if more context isn’t accessible to them. Before the internet, if your newspaper, television, and radio all corroborated each others’narratives, what reason would you have to believe otherwise? For ‘battleground ‘areas, campaigns fight to raise funds so they can try and drown out the opposing narrative by sheer volume. For the undecided voter, hearing three times as many Red Team ads on the radio than Blue Team ads might be enough to sway their vote.

The internet, however, is an entirely different medium. The battle for your vote still uses the same tactics, but the internet doesn’t work the same way. For anyone in the U.S. (or any country with an open internet), web content isn’t regional nor is it centralized; it’s global and distributed to everyone with access. Before, you could air a commercial in the city that farmers probably wouldn’t like, and likewise show the farmers something that -might draw the ire of urban voters, and because their information was as segregated as their geography, there was little dissonance. Consequently, the potential pool of ideas that could be ‘safely’ used to campaign was far larger. While that pool has shrank, the volume of information accessible to everyone has exploded beyond anyone’s comprehension. Which brings me to this election.

This is November 6th, 2016. Election day is the 8th, and every couple of weeks, a new information leak or similar breaking story hits about Hillary’s emails or Trumps business practices, her financial ties or his misogyny. The details of this back-and-forth isn’t nearly as relevant as how this is affecting the people.

 

Pre-internet, finding information that might contend with a unanimous narrative from media channels was far, far more difficult than it is now. If you had a strong dislike for the candidate that your region nearly unanimously supports, finding information to illustrate WHY you dislike that candidate took work, if it was even feasible. Maybe you could get a hold of something in favor of another candidate, but if the margin in the polls is too wide, the opponents won’t waste ad money.

I call this a war is because the people have joined in, expressing their support for one candidate or hatred for the other in droves, using these affiliations to draw social boundaries and boycotting businesses. Anyone on the internet can, in seconds, create content that is globally accessible. Sure, we still gravitate towards like minds and create some degree of ideological echo chambers, but while information that challenges* ANY idea used to take work to find, it’s now a click away.

*Note: I use the word “challenge” very loosely here; it’s not about the validity of the information, nor the political relevance, but the impact of the information on the people sharing it.

Challenging (in the same sense as above) any idea is easier than it’s ever been, and more people have pitched their ideas into this election than, from my experience in political discourse, is completely unprecedented. People whom I’ve known to be loudly politically apathetic have suddenly engaged this year, often with near religious fervor. For far too many, whom they support in this election is the premise for their trust. They defend this premise, armed with as much information as they can Google to validate themselves. Well-researched, sound, cohesive arguments that may exist in favor of any candidate are preemptively invalidated by the opposition, simply by being against them. The context of your information, for them, erases any meaning the content may have had.

Good ideas are sifted from bad ones through argument and discourse… but that’s not happening anymore. Civil discourse requires at least some common context; you have to agree on what the problems are if you want any semblance of useful solutions. That common ground is, as far I can tell, nonexistent for this election. The result is people reflexively challenging whatever they see online that is against their candidate or in favor of their opponent.

Post something anti-Hillary. Find a quick reply sharing something awful about Trump.

Post something anti-Trump. Find a quick reply sharing something awful about Hillary.

For the most part, people seem to have given up even trying to find that common context necessary for meaningful, constructive discourse. And of course, with retweets, likes, etc., people on each side validate one another. Without discourse, any good ideas that the other side might have are indistinguishable from the noise. Even engaging with your own side about what you might think is a good idea from the other side is liable to cause dissonance.

This fog of information war… It worries me, more because of the likely spread to state and local elections than the presidential. I’m not looking forward to state legislators being elected simply for being on the ‘right side’, and potentially implementing policies that are never rigorously discussed or scrutinized.

Though this fog has some silver lining, from what I see; it’s now blatantly evident, hopefully to many more than just me, that the partisan gridlock that’s clogged the U.S. Congress for so long is in fact not just about political strategy, but about basic political philosophy.

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)'(- The Drive Up

It’s been weeks since my return, and I still haven’t really expressed much on cyberspace about Burning Man… a stark contrast to my posting about FireDrums and UFG almost immediately upon arrival. Though for Burning Man, I can’t really preemptively structure a response. I have so much to express and I know my words will fail me, but now I’ve finally brought myself to just put my fingers to the keyboard and start typing about Burning Man and see what comes out, so here goes.

Once a day, every week, for the past several months, I’ve been attending meetings of the Hellfire Society conclave group of ~50 people. Together, we performed a 15-minute choreographed fire performance based on The Phantom of the Opera, and sent an audition video to the Burning Man Fire Council. Here’s the video if you’d like to watch it. We were selected to perform at 5:26, straddling front-and-center with Radiant Heat from Vancouver, Canada, in front of the man on Burn Night, right before the man burns (Saturday).

Here is a video of our performance in front of The Man:

So that was the core premise of the trip, logistically speaking. But I’ve wanted to go since I first heard about the festival in 2011. Oh, and our camp was placed in the center of Fire Village at 6:15 and G; basically the center of Black Rock City.

My roommate, landlord, and conclave friend drove me up as part of a 4-car caravan, led by a cargo truck with a 30-foot cargo trailer; we’re the early set-up crew for the Hellfire Society Camp, planning to show up on Thursday night and spend the next 3 days building things and preparing for the festival. We drove into a local campground at around 3:00 AM and crashed for the night before departing at around 8 AM the following morning.

This entire time, the hype is building around me, and it’s contagious. Everyone is behaving more… gently. Loosely. Every social interaction feels smother, at least with those traveling with me, all of whom have come to Burning Man before.

We stop by Reno for supplies and find the stores to be filled with people who are clearly going to burning man, based on their attire or vehicle, some of which are large cargo trucks adorned with camp logos, while others are hauling around trailers with art cars of various sizes.

I recognized some flow artists, but was too busy stocking up on supplies to socialize.

We reach the dust and it immediately begins pervading. Maybe two minutes of driving on the playa and dust is visibly gathering behind the truck’s dials. I sense a slight shift in the atmosphere, but my car-companions seem noticeably different, having smelled something far more distinct to them than anything I had picked up. “We’re back!” they cheer together.

I have no idea what I’m in for.

Hundreds of vehicles of every street-legal size are waiting at the entrance to Black Rock City, stopped as the ticketing and vehicle searching process bottle-necked the traffic to the point of vehicles stopping completely for roughly five minutes at a time, so many people, myself included, exited their vehicles to stretch their legs and walk around a bit.

We checked back in with our caravan and found some familiar faces among the nearby early set-up crews, and even made some new friends while the cars slowly crawled forward. It took about 5 hours total to pick up our tickets from will call, get the vehicle searched, and drive to the proper front gate where we were greeted, handed maps and information, and allowed into the city.

We drove to our campsite and set up our personal tents as well as a 15-foot diameter trampoline.

We all shared a beer and slept, though the night was a bit nippy. I had to wear two pairs of socks.

My mind was in a very strange place. The anticipation gave way to a strange calming mood… this was the most adventurous thing I’ve done so far in my adult life, and I was well aware of it, though that was really all I knew for certain so far.

Unexpected Updates!

Hello All! So, I have some super exciting, quick news! We’re bringing on a new member to the team! I understand that this might be confusing as I’ve been using the word “we” for god knows how long… but now we will officially be a “we”! Our new author happens to be a very close, personal friend of mine! He’s brilliant and amazing and presents a very different perspective from me! I think this different perspective is actually incredibly important, because although the name of the blog is “The Opinions of a New Age Student”, there’s more than one kind of new age student. Our new Administrator takes a more meditative outlook than I do, which is super important to consider when looking at issues! At least in the beginning, most of his contributions will be in the political commentary spectrum and his first article is coming out hopefully within the week!

With that being said, make sure to stay on the look out, be excited, and make sure to follow us on Twitter @newagestudent and on Tumblr @newagestudent! You can also reach us at opinionsofanewagestudent@gmail.com or comment on the section below!

Otherwise, I’m very excited for this unexpected development and I hope you guys are too!

Sincerely,

RB

Drastic Changes

Hello All! So you may have noticed some changes over the last couple of weeks. Most noticeably is that we have a completely new theme up! Hopefully you all like it! You may have also noticed that we have some new and unexpected categories being added to the mix! You’re going to want to keep an eye out for many new categories to come.

Also, we’re on Tumblr now! You can find us at: newagestudent.tumblr.com. If anything, you can’t say we aren’t consistent with our usernames.

And finally, an announcement! We’re currently in the progress or writing and releasing a series of articles. These are going to medically and scientifically related articles that are all going to culminate into a huge conclusion piece, so make sure to keep your eyes out for that as well! In the mean time, I hope you continue to enjoy the site and the changes to come!

Make sure to follow us on Twitter at @newagestudent and on Tumblr @newagestudent to like and comment on posts! Feel free to refer us as well!

Happy Holidays everyone!

Love,

RB

Update Progress! Woo!

Hello All!

I thought I would share some good news on progress to the site: we’re officially on twitter!

Let me explain how this came about (though I’m sure no one cares). TL;DR I keep wanting to write and post more things up to the blog, but unfortunately I’ve hit a place where I’m wanting to write too many things, which is resulting in me not posting enough (even though we have lots of stuff in progress!). However, there are a lot of topics in the world that I’d like to bring to the public’s attention. As such, it seemed like Twitter was a great place to be able to publicize articles, and keep my readership entertained and informed!

So without further ado, the unveiling of our twitter handle – @newagestudent !!!

Be sure to look forward to some great content, fun facts and more upcoming updates! And most importantly, subscribe!

Updates!

Hello all! It’s been a while! As usual, I’ve been seriously neglecting my audience. As such, I wanted to update everyone on what’s new, as well as future changes (potentially) coming!

First and foremost, looking back at my previous work, I’m utterly ashamed of the quality (as any writer can attest to having felt at some point). However, this self-criticism has brought some interesting points to my attention. The first is probably the most important – the lack of listed sources. As such, moving forward, if it is not an opinion piece, there will be a list of sources at the bottom of the article. In these sources, I will try my absolute best to not only NOT use any Wikipedia articles, but also to include at least 1 book source. Fun fact however – your favorite blogger is actually a boss researcher so this shouldn’t actually increase time between articles (the average being 4 years). So you all will have some fun new places to go to for additional information!

The second point, is that we’re going to be changing up the format of the site up a little bit. First off, we have a new email! If you have any requests for a topic that you either want my opinion on or that you would like me to research, because you don’t want to, you’ll be able to do that by sending me a message on WordPress! WordPress has changed some of their own formatting so I’ve also added a contact section on the left side, where you can find our new email, plus some other fun things! This brings me to point three. If we start getting enough requests and audience participation, I will be setting up a Facebook page (and I might even consider jumping on the Twitter train) for the site, to keep you readers engaged and with constant streams of new information!

Additionally, we’re also adding three new sections – Medicine, Science and an advice column! That’s right! As a bio major, I’m not sure why I’ve never officially set these up, but you can see scientific leanings in a lot of the already published articles. So these future articles are not only going to focus on new information coming up in the science and medicine fields, but also focus on mental and personal health! And yes, a lot of this will be controversial. That’s basically my whole life, so you’ll just have to deal with it. As for the advice column, I’m an expert advice giver, and I figured why not capitalize on these talents! So if anyone needs any advice, I’ll be offering it free of charge! A big part of this will be anonymity. It is my personal guarantee to those writing in that your name will never be mentioned. So moving on, what will be happening once people start writing in is that I’ll be posting the question, along with my advice and my background and reasoning for my answer (this will definitely carry over to the update I make in the next paragraph and will make responding much easier!) Until then, what I’ll be doing is the same as usual, and just giving my opinion when it’s unasked for~ But actually, I’ll be posing some general life issues people face and give very general advice on that.

And finally, and perhaps most exciting is the last bit of news – I’m (hopefully) starting a podcast! Sharing the title with the site, this podcast is just going to be a verbalization of what I already write about, but with more in-depth information. We’re already in the process of recording. Here’s the (bad?) news – I’m not going to start releasing episodes until I have at least 5 recorded. The reason for this is simply that my follow through with this site has always been a problem, and I’m going to make sure I’m dedicated to all of these new changes, before I have an undertaking like that.

Now a lot of you may be asking where all of this is coming from. Well frankly, I’ve been through some major life changes in the last year. I’ve really come full circle, and I’m making a dedication to going back to the things that I love. A big thing I’ve started doing lately is listening to podcasts. This activity has really brought about a lot of peace of mind for me, and in an increasingly hectic world, people don’t really have time to read (myself being no exception). So that’s where the podcast idea is coming from. For all of those individuals that love learning as much as I do, but spend 90% of their time driving or working with barely a moment to scratch their head, this will be the alternative. Eventually what will happen is that every article will be available in audio and visual format, so the audience can take their pick! There will also be show notes available on the site!

So just to recap: new writing style, taking audience requests, potentially new accounts and expanding brand, new sections, and a podcast (probably)!

So that’s about all I have in terms of updates! I know it’s a lot and hopefully I’m not teasing you guys again! We already have several great articles lined up and ready to come out, so I hope you guys are looking forward to that!

Otherwise, I hope you guys enjoy and don’t forget to send me your messages, whether they be for requests, advice, or just general comments!

~Ruchi Kaur Bal

POLL!!!

In honor of the upcoming elections, i hoped to have a little poll myself. With the awkwardly awesome amount of hits the blog has been having lately, i was wondering what it is you guys like best about the site. If you could take literally 5 seconds (unless you’re a REALLY slow reader) to just answer 1 question, it would be very much appreciated! 😀 Thanks guys!

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