Digital Dilemma

Last updated on September 3, 2021

I recently went to my doctor for a physical. He said I was due for my DRE. “What’s that?” I naïvely asked.

“Your DRE? Oh, that’s your Digital Rectal Exam,” he answered. “Need to check out your prostate.”

My first thought: Uggh, what a pain in the ass. Literally. My second thought: I wonder what kind of high-tech digital gadget this DRE inspection device will be?

Of course, “digital” in this instance meant the doctor was going to “use his finger.” I figured that out pretty quick when the doc donned his glove and globbed some lube out of a jar. Makes sense. Sometimes you just can’t beat a good old-fashioned finger.

I had to laugh at myself a little about how the mere mention of the word “digital” put me immediately into electronics/device/computer/technology head space. I forgot all about the finger reference. Funny how that works.

It really got me thinking about digital stuff in general. And, as you know, sometimes my thinking leads me here to the TPD blog page, where I can wear my tinfoil hat with pride and do some digital rambling about the state of the world. (I’m doubling down on digital here – I’m using my fingers to type words into my computer ! Boom.)

Respectfully presented here is a little something to ponder.

Homeschooling Blues

About a week ago, a good friend of mine shared a story with me. She’s a part of a big community of home-schoolers in this area.

These families do their own thing in terms of educating their kids (good for them!), and a part of that is occasional group get-togethers with a bunch of other home-schoolers for large-scale activities like field trips and such.

Most of the local home-schoolers with whom I’ve spoken are pretty darn happy about having been in a position to side-step all the Covid-19 insanity that took place in the public school systems. As you’d imagine, kids being forced to play tubas in bubbles and wear masks all day long is not their cup of tea.

That being known, my friend found it to be really odd that there was this one family – a mother, father, and a few kids – that chose to wear masks to all the homeschooling events throughout the entire year – even when the local mandates and recommendations for doing so were not in place. Apparently, they were the only ones among dozens and dozens of families that turned up wearing masks to homeschooling get-togethers – and get this: They’ve carried on with their mask-wearing through the summer months and even right up until now. Puzzling.

Mask Family

My friend made a great point, and followed that with an excellent question: Even though home-schoolers have, by default, “broken away from the herd,” they themselves make up their own little herd, their own little tribe. And as with all tribes, there are plenty of opportunities (and pressures) to conform. [For example, a non-Christian homeschooling family might choose to maintain their cool in a homeschooling tribe that swings predominantly the other way by avoiding ill-timed “Jesus!” blurts when seeing a kid fall off the monkey bars or what-have-you. No sense in ruffling the feathers of the majority and inviting looks of disapproval from tribal elders, etc.] So how can it be that the Mask Family did not feel as if they were the odd man out? How can it be that they were so comfortable in repeatedly and consistently sporting their face masks, in direct violation of the tribal code? Why didn’t they fall into lockstep with the homeschooling gang and ditch their masks?

Shooting from the hip, I blurted out to my friend that perhaps the Mask Family was just a little slow, since any person with a reasonable intellect and a pinch of natural curiosity is only about three mouse clicks away from discovering the dirty truth about the ineffectiveness of face masks. But I quickly shot down my own theory – since, if you’re a little slow on the draw, it seems like you’d be even more likely to follow whatever herd you’re in. Then I wondered aloud if the Mask Family was simply living in fear? My friend and I quickly vetoed that theory too – because if you’re really that afraid, why would you show up for group events and gatherings at all? Our brainstorming continued. Were they virtue signaling? Naah, that’s way too trendy for home-schoolers.

On it went for a few rounds, until we arrived at something that we couldn’t shoot down.

Digital Tribes

Here’s the best solution we could figure to the Riddle of the Mask Family (I’d be very interested to learn what you think, so leave a comment below if you’re feeling fancy!):

People are social creatures, for sure. This means we’re all probably hard-wired to some extent to actually want to conform to whatever tribe we’re in. So in the case of the Mask Family, even though they have meaningful and frequent social interactions with the other home-schoolers, it may be a mistake to assume that they are actually members of the Homeschooling Tribe.

It may be that they are members of another tribe that actually encourages mask-wearing as one of its customs. I do not personally know the Mask Family – in fact, my friend didn’t even divulge any names or hints – but I’m going to go out on a limb here and make a guess as to which tribe the Mask Family belongs, and I’m even going to take a stab at giving it a name.

It’s the biggest tribe in the country right now, yet oddly, most of the members do not even know each other personally. Anyone can join at any time. There are no real social obligations, in the traditional sense. And as long as you follow the rules, you can be sure that your tribe’s always got your back. Sounds almost too good to be true, I know. Where do we sign up!?

Wait, you’re asking if there’s a catch?

Well…the Digital Tribe (…name reveal!…) would prefer that you not ask any questions.

Phil’s Two Cents

We hear a lot about digital bullying. It’s devastating. I can’t even imagine how unbearable my growing up would have been if my hometown bullies had been weaponized with today’s technologies.

But equally devastating, I’d say, is what I’ll call “digital support.”

This is the Digital Tribe thing. And really it’s the opposite of digital bullying. Sure, there can be some bullying-like aspects to keep members in line, but this comes in the form of subtle negative reinforcements rather than traditional bullying tactics – such as overtly “making fun” of someone. All-out attacks are reserved for tribal rule-breakers, and this isn’t really bullying either – this is more like character assassination, ex-communication from the tribe. But wait… Here I am describing what “digital support” isn’t rather that what I think it is.

Here’s what I think it is: It’s when you are supported and encouraged in digital space by your digital “friends,” as opposed to finding support in the real world amongst real people. It’s a really dangerous situation, of course, because digital “friends” can sometimes turn out to be agents who are attempting to mother you, turn you into an asset of whatever agenda they happen to be serving. Gulp.

Message to all: Be careful out there in Digital Play Land. It’s awful messy. It’s easy to think you’re hi-tech-bad-assing your way around, only to find out that your “friends” are digital in the doctoring sense instead of the tech sense – meaning they’re not so much about being on your side as they are about giving you the old finger.

– “Phil”

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