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« Principles for responsible media moguls | Main | Q&A: The writing process »

Fake is a fairly new idea (and a not very good one)

When you look people in the eye, you own the results. You're not wearing a mask, you can't easily leave town, this is your store, your house, your car, your place at the front of the classroom. When you can look people in the eye, you're doing something a million years old.

When our ancestors moved around exclusively on foot, it was unlikely that they ever traveled more than a few dozen miles from home. People were wary of strangers, and that was okay, because there weren't many. Reputation was truly a matter of life and death.

On the shiny, perfect, digital landscape of CGI movies and the internet, it's different. No one really died in the Matrix movies. The comics came to life (for a while, anyway). We don't mourn for the make-believe actors demolished by make-believe machines. Because it's not real. And on the internet, it's so easy to perceive that customer or that partner or that icon as the 'other', certainly not someone we need to look in the eye. We can leave a trail of wreckage without much thought, especially if we're anonymous.

So, when the conversation gets tough, we stop checking back on it. When we want to hide behind an alias or the asynchronous nature of email, we do. We check out.

Worse, when we want to deceive or lash out, it's easy to do. Hey, there's always someone else we can start over with, relationships and even reputations are disposable. We don't have to look you in the eye, it's dark in here, and we're wearing a mask.

Our experiment in fake has some really significant consequences. It turns strangers into actors on a screen, and sometimes we help them, but often, we become inured to their reality, and treat them with a callousness and indifference we'd never use in our village.

One philosophy is caveat emptor. Assume the worst. Assume you will be ignored or ripped off or disappointed. Your mileage may vary.

Another is carpe diem. Seize the moment to connect, to keep promises and most of all, to figure out how to look people in the eye or not promise you will.

Do we really need to add another layer of fake?

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