This just in: Confucius is still dead. Wait, there’s more: Mahatma Gandhi is still dead, too, and nothing has been heard from Ashoka for TWO MILLENNIA. That’s my news report, inspired by a recent one which said astronaut Neil Armstrong had died. Thousands of people shared this report over the internet, despite the fact that Mr. Armstrong had died a year earlier.
Why be greedy? One death should be enough for anyone, right? On the other hand, when I die, it would be quite nice if people share the news year after year until a news report eventually appears saying: “Irritating Columnist Continues To Irritate From The Grave: Mass Demo Set For Major Cities Worldwide.”
But of course the real message is that you can’t trust the news on the Internet, which I know will come as an astonishing surprise to everyone.
Yet it IS scary when you think that the web is where most people get their news these days. As a scientific experiment, I decided to compare the top items of actual news in physical newspapers with the top news items on the internet on one particular day.
At the international newspaper stand at the railway station I wrote down the front page stories: political upheavals, civil wars and of course the United States’ Mass Shooting of the Week, a weird tradition they have there, guaranteed by their most important law, the Second Ablution to the Fourth Adjustment of the Fifth Abatement or some such thing.
Back at the office, I looked up top items for Google News Trends for random places. US: Rejoicing as new violent computer game launched. Singapore: Rejoicing as new violent computer game launched. India: Rejoicing as brown woman wins Miss America contest. Japan: Rejoicing as new ultra-cute computer game about cookies launched.
When World War III is launched, no one’s going to actually notice, as they will be reading about computer games and beauty queens. I can’t decide whether this is good or bad. We’ll soon find out, since the next war may have started. A Chinese newspaper recently announced that China’s military had developed the capability to drop TV shows from fighter bombers. No, I don’t mean they will throw actual TV presenters out of airplanes, although I suspect everyone on the planet would applaud that one, including Mother Teresa watching from her cloud.
Instead, warplanes will take over all TVs and computers beneath their flight path and beam their own programmes into them in a “psychological warfare” technique to “give the enemy nervous breakdowns”, the Global Times said. Having tried to watch Mainland China TV myself once, I can confirm that a dose of 90 seconds caused severe mental pain and after three minutes I felt so suicidal that I actually ate the Beijing hotel café’s Daily Special.
Yet I’m not sure how hard it was for military scientists to develop this system, since it actually happens by itself. At a British funeral recently, the nephew of the dead man went to the pulpit to deliver a eulogy but the words that came from the sound system were: “Fasten your seatbelts.” It probably came from a plane overhead, said the Daily Mail. Or perhaps Neil Armstrong’s ghost, popping down to see why he’s back in the news.
(20.09.2013 – Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller. Send ideas or comments via www.mrjam.org)