50 Miles Later, I Found Myself

Note From Kyla: Another non-analytical piece (however, the human mind is the most complex system of all) Thank you for reading, if you choose to do so! Also, if anyone wants to chat about biking – it’s a huge passion of mine, and I plan to do some bikepacking as soon as I logistically can! Also, as an aside, if you prefer Substack for your reading, I am there too.

The time I biked 50 miles.

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Important Notes

  • I wore a mask the whole ride.
  • The most that I’ve biked in one go over the past 12 months is ~10 miles (which I do 6 out of the 7 days a week, with weekly mileage ~60miles) as I primarily use my wheels for commuting
  • The terrain was relatively flat, but there were some climbs peppered in
  • I don’t clip in. There was a lot of street riding. My bike is 6 years old. I had no fuel (beyond one apple). Excited to hopefully properly do this again soon.

The Open Road

On January 1, 2021, I biked 50 miles for the first time in my life.

It was 3.5 hours, me and my bike, the road, the sky, the music beating through my headphones (and a lovely friend for mile 10–20).

It was bliss.

I didn’t have a specific goal in mind, just to ride.

So I did.

The Moment on the First Hill

Within the first 2 miles, I faced a 13% grade. It was steep. It was brutal. It was long.

I thought to myself — ‘I might not finish make it up this.’ And then, the hill (mountain?) was over.

I had crested it, barely. I let out a whoop when I made it to the the top, my bike swerving. A man walking his dog clapped, celebrating my small victory with me.

In a time of such cautious contact with the outside world, our moment of connection was powerful.

That clap set the tone for the whole ride. If I can get past the steepest hill in the world (or so it felt), I can do basically anything on this ride, I told myself. I carried the encouragement from the man and the dog with me, tucked away.

A small hello can change someone’s entire life.


The Moment the Bike and the Human are One

The first 20% of the ride was smooth (the freshness and excitement carried me). I rode in familiar bike lanes, the cars were kind, and most of the debris from the rainstorm had been cleared.

There are times when the bike becomes an extension of your body — the feet and the pedals are connected, the torque is effortless, the power and cadence a seamless byproduct of movement.

I was traveling on paths I hadn’t been on since I crashed a year ago. It was good to say hi to the old ghosts. They applauded me- my biking has improved tremendously since I had seen them last.

I turned onto the main road, hopped on a bikes-only path (+ pedestrians), onto the Marina.

The Marina is always such a treat. I love seeing the boats, tucked into their spots, gleaming and bobbing in the water.

This was when I realized my tremendous gratitude for my bike, for my legs that would carry me to see the loveliness of the nearby Balloona Wetlands, and for our Earth, for gifting us with such sights.

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Marina Del Rey

It was then that I decided to just keep going until the path ended. However long that would take.

So I did.

I biked into town, and there were no cars. Just me and little shops and a few other riders. It felt like I was an alien visiting another planet.

I stopped and hopped off my bike at the 25 mile point, checked my tires, drank some water (my fueling for this ride was atrocious) and stretched out.

I was ready to roll, still feeling fresh and good.

I biked back, planning to beat the 100 minutes that it took me to do the first 25.

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The end point of my ride

The Moment of Pain

I rolled out of the beaches and was headed back with naïve confidence when I got my first pang of pain. I was ~37 miles in.

I hadn’t had any food. I was on a main road. I was headed back to rougher roads. And I really, really just wanted to not be on the bike at that moment.

I went onto a side road, hit the sharp edge of a sewer cap, and was jolted back to focus. The cars were being really nice (a beautiful rarity) and gave me my own lane and tons of space.

I made it back to the path that I bike everyday, about 43 miles in.

It was there that I bonked.

I ran competitively in college. I’ve been an athlete for years. I’ve done triathlons, 10-milers, +20 mile runs. I have NEVER bonked like I did on this ride.

My body said “We simply will not go forward anymore”.

So I got off my bike, at the start of the route I commute on everyday, a route that is almost painfully familiar, and began to punch my thighs, trying to wake them up and get them going.

“I have to get home”.

I pulled an apple out of my bag and tore into it furiously, all while beating my quad with one hand. Other riders and cars drove by, but I did not care.

For the first time in my life (probably) I was completely unconcerned with how others were perceiving me. Go on and judge me for tearing into this apple on the side of the road while doing a small dance to bring my muscles to life.

So I got back on my bike. The wind felt brutal (~10 mph haha). I rode on. I can’t explain where I was during this time. The world was narrow, my eyes were fuzzy, I was not doing well.

When a walker passed me (I was riding so tremendously slow!), I got off again, parked my bike against a tree, and ate the rest of my apple.

I turned on some deep heavy metal music.


The Moment Pain Became Power

And I got kind of mad.

I was in a world of hurt. My legs no longer belonged to me. My face was burnt from the wind. Even the inside of my hands were burning from gripping for the brake!

It felt so dumb. It was such a deep sense of pain, but I didn’t want it. I didn’t want this voice in my head telling me that I wasn’t good enough, fit enough, whatever enough.

I have had enough of that.

Enough of questioning myself. Enough of beating myself down before I can even try. Enough of being my own worst enemy.

For the first time, I wasn’t conflating fitness with my appearance. This bike ride didn’t care if I had six-pack abs, it only cared about my inner power, the strength of my mind in conjunction with my body.

And in the depths of this pain, I found strength.

I was in someone’s front yard, beating my quads again, and telling myself, “You will do this. Go as slow as you need. Just get home.” A few profanities were laced in my self-speech, and I hopped back on.

This time was different. I rode to the breaking point of this route (it’s a very long ~2% grade that seems easier than it actually feels). When the grade broke into flat, I knew I could make it.

I was setting goals — the next stop sign, to the coffee shop, can you make it to the next light?

The voice was silent. Even if it had been talking, I wasn’t listening anymore.

I rode the rest of the route home, my headphones telling me “Low Battery” (how I aligned with the device!) and my head down.

Close to my house, I looked down to see the meter tick on my watch — 49.98, 49.99, 50.00.

I ended at my normal “finish line”.

I dismounted.

“Ha”, I said, “Very cool.”

I waddled my bike up the stairs, and then realized that I was in fact very tired and I very much needed to not be standing or carrying a bike or walking up stairs.

And I gave myself a small high-five.

And said, “I am proud of you.”


I am so grateful to have had a body that carried me for 50 miles. For having a safe ride. For having the space to do this, in such uncertain and scary times. For having the gift of time on this day, a true rarity for me, that I could set aside 3.5 hours to invest in myself.

I recognize the risks of what I did. The hospital system is completely overwhelmed here in Los Angeles. Even though I was careful, there is no such thing as “too careful” right now. Please stay safe and healthy, everyone.

After

We all love math. We just don’t know it.

What is truth?

Andrew Farah tweeted this the other day, stating “we have infinite access to information and we can’t agree on truth”. 

Andrew is right. We do have a lot of information. But having information doesn’t mean we know what to do with it. Just because information is readily available, doesn’t mean it’s parsed to be objectively truthful or reliable or accurate. 

What Andrew has unintentionally posed here is also the main issue that we have with the way that we are taught mathematics: we have all the math information that we could possibly need, yet, 40% of adults can’t make a straightforward calculation based on simple math skills

We know math. We know that it exists for 18 years of our life, in some form of Algebra 1 or Geometry / Trigonometry, but we never get taught the art of math. 

Caitlin Flanagan, a very prolific author, called algebra stupid in her tweet from September 25th. A common sentiment among most of us.

Eric Weinstein (a Math Guy!) responded with “sounds like you got a bad batch of math”, and then listed out all the cool things that math encompasses: snake lemmas, lie groups, and Kac-Moody algebras.

Eric is right. Math is incredible. So why do most of us hate it?


The Story of George Boole

George Boole published The Laws of Thought in the 1850s (yes, Boole of boolean search). This was a book about the “symbolic language of Calculus”. It detailed how we can use operations, such as addition and multiplication, with symbols, such as x and y and z, to create logical arguments. 

The algebra of thought. 

This was from the opening section of his 1847 pamphlet, Mathematical Analysis of Logic:

They who are acquainted with the present state of the theory of Symbolic Algebra, are aware that the validity of the processes of analysis does not depend upon the interpretation of the symbols which are employed, but solely upon the laws of their combination. Every system of interpretation which does not affect the truth of the relations supposed, is equally admissible, and it is thus that the same processes may, under one scheme of interpretation, represent the solution of a question on the properties of number, under another, that of a geometrical problem, and under a third, that of a problem of dynamics or optics. … It is upon the foundation of this general principle, that I purpose to establish the Calculus of Logic

Boole wanted to convey logical thought in equations. He wanted to quantify Aristotle’s work on human reasoning and the Stoics’ logic of propositions, so x, y, and z became collections of objects, such as a collection of trees, a collection of carriages, a collection of people, etc. 

For multiplication, if x were the collection of college students, and y were the collection of newsletter-writers, then xy would be all college students who are also newsletter-writers — the collection common to both x and y. [AND]

For addition, if x were all Business students and y were all Pre-med students, then x + y would be all students that are either Business or Pre-med. [OR]

Boole’s system looked like below— two commutative laws, two associative laws, and the distributive law (pretty similar to ordinary arithmetic). Here, Boole didn’t solve for x, but rather displayed patterns of logical thought through whatever the collections were — a collection of students, politicians, trees, etc. 

If we wanted represent something that didn’t exist, we would write that collection equal to zero. So, (depending on your beliefs), let x = a collection of Santa Clauses, and thus x = 0. 

Boole’s algebra was a bit different than ordinary algebra because x + x could equal x (a collection of men + a collection of men = a collection of men, but 2 + 2 ≠ 2) and y * y could equal y. Boole tied reasoning into algebra, and created a platform for other mathematicians to build on. Boole’s algebra of thought is key to our technological progress today.


What is math?

Boole’s story is incredible. But most of us are never taught of Boole and his attempt to quantify logic. We are simply taught the rules, and told to apply them. Imagine knowing this connection between the unknown and the known, the fact that in some worlds, x + x can equal x (this bothered me to no end when I was younger). 

In fact a Tik Tok video from gracie.ham asked the question that most of us have been thinking our whole lives — how did all this math begin? Why? Why do we need math? Who came up with this, and how? She’s asking about the true meaning of math, something that gets skipped over in most educational systems.

Why is math, math? What is the truth of math?


What is Math to Me?

I am a public school kid. Kindergarten to high school to college, I attended public institutions. I loved my school experience, and am grateful to the Kentucky educational system and all the incredible teachers I had.

When I was in the 3rd grade, I moved classrooms 4 weeks into the school year. I don’t know what happened. But the class that I had moved into was moving at a faster pace than the class that I moved from. In my previous class, we hadn’t discussed multiplication. 

But in my new class, they had already moved into long division.

I was lost. 


The First Realization

I lost a rung in the mathematics ladder (a bad batch of math, as Eric would call it) and thus, I was scrambling for the next 10 years of my life, trying to keep up. I lost the learning. I lost the understanding of the principles, because I was trying not to drown — I didn’t care about swimming, I just wanted to survive.

I never learned how to multiply or divide. I still don’t really know how, honestly. Because of the way that school is taught — a sequence of subjects that advance as you age- if you miss out on one step, you fall. 

In the 4th grade, I remember crying because I had gotten a bad grade on a multiplication test. I had to get a tutor. I never tested well. There was always a semi-permanent gap in knowledge, simply because I had missed out on 4 weeks of a different level of education. Those 4 weeks made a huge difference in my entire school career.

I went into middle school afraid of math, lacking the foundation that I needed for algebra. I had finally learned how to multiply, but I was slow. Long division was a mystery.

High school was the same. 9th grade, 10th grade, I did what I could but I spent a lot of time questioning my ability and my intelligence. I always felt like I was ‘bad’ at math, so I just believed it. 


The Second Realization

It wasn’t until 12th grade, my senior year of high school, that I realized that I liked math. I was in AP Statistics. It was fun, it was challenging, and I wasn’t bad at it. So I went into college, took my first calculus class, muddled through with my peers-but still got an A (the discussion of grading is another article entirely). More importantly, I understood it. 

In fact, I rather liked it. Everything I had thought about my math ability was wrong.I wasn’t bad at math.

I was just deathly afraid of it.

Melodramatically, it felt a bit like meeting the love of your life at the wrong time and the wrong place. “Where have you been all my life?” I would whisper to my Mathematics textbook, wishing that things could have been different for the first 18 years of our time together.

I have spent ~80% of my life living in fear of something that I really enjoyed. 

I was trying to climb a ladder with missing rungs. 

Would I say that I am good at math now?

Probably not. In our culture of speed and execution, I wouldn’t be considered a ‘math wizard’ by any means. I am still slow at adding and multiplying and dividing. But I know the theories, and know when to apply them. Most importantly, I enjoy it. I know what it means to me. I have found the ‘truth’ in my mathematics journey.


The Third Realization

Most of my friends were in the same boat as me, circumnavigating the choppy waters of arithmetic with fear of the great white whale of Math. 

Our education can shape our worldview of ourselves. A lot of us live in fear of mathematics. We think that it’s something that we aren’t able to do, and thus live in a world where we avoid it completely. Why is this? 

Math is a Process

Math has an element of specificity to it that other subjects don’t really have. You can fuddle your way through history if you have a general understanding of everything that happened With math, you have to know the specifics in order to feel comfortable — the answer is usually either Right or Wrong (sometimes).

Also, math is interconnected. If you can solve for the area of a triangle, you should be able to solve for the area of a rectangle. But we are often taught things in a disjoint fashion, so the connections between everything gets lost, so everything can feel like a bunch of floating objects that sometimes bump into each other.

This is partially because school systems try to cram so much into students that there is never time for synthesis. This isn’t the fault of the teachers — it’s the fault of the testing culture that we exist in. Get the kids to the test, get a good test score, rinse, repeat. 

You memorize, and then you move forward.Math is more than a set of rules to be memorized or a methodology that can only be used in one place. It’s an adaptation to a set of problems, a process that can be used outside of the classroom.

Source: Science Alert

Math is Art

Math has patterns, and ultimately can be a route to creativity and expression. Paul Lockhart wrote the very famous “A Mathematician’s Lament” about the importance of math as art. 

Lockhart brings us into a world where musical education is taught like math is today, showing us through comparison how sad our math system sounds.

Source: A Mathematician’s Lament

He tells us of a world of worksheets and memorization, preparing for standardized musical tests, and the despair of the students — the students are “bored in class, their skills are terrible, and their homework is barely legible”. 

The world is “Paint-by-numbers”, in which students are tracked by ability and get a “good foundation” for college. The students don’t actually “paint” until high school- everything before that is simply learning colors and applicators, how to wipe and dip the brush. 

It’s terribly clinical. 

Lockhart explains that math is art — and the fact that it’s being taught as a prescribed ritual of memorization and testing is the reason that “math class is stupid and boring”. 

Lockhart highlights that we miss out on figuring out WHY the area of a triangle is 1/2 x b x h. We are just expected to know that it is, and apply it moving forward. This is Paint-by-Numbers- no creative freedom, no application to the unknown, just rote and bland rinse and repeat. 

We discount the importance of creativity and independence during the mathematical process, and instead place value on the outcome — who can test the quickest, who can solve the fastest? Along the way, we lose the art form. 

We get to plug-and-chug. We don’t get ownership over math like we do with arts and science. Math should be fun.

Math is Fun

My brother is excellent at math. When he was little, he would take the sports section of the newspaper and memorize statistics. His brain turned math into something that was fun for him. 

He was a whiz all throughout our school years, and aced most of his math classes (which I had struggled through two years prior). That’s because his mindset was different than mine. It was something that he could use to analyze basketball, and determine which player was going to do what based on their previous metrics. 

For me, it wasn’t until I got to college that I began to have fun with math. I was using math without realizing it.

In economics, my professors were more interested in how I got there, rather than my final answer. In economics, the price elasticity is the slope of the line (algebra) or a first order derivative (calculus). The only difference between the two is the application.

But I had to understand the basics first. Only then was I able to apply it.

Data analysis is the language of math, taking those concepts that “we will never use again” and building them into narratives and stories.

We all do that. We all subconsciously calculate probabilities and count occurrences, building out our world view in our mind. We keep friends close, because on some level, we are quantifying our relationship with them. We conduct cost-benefit analysis every single day. We think about tradeoffs.

Math might be fun, but it’s not free of struggle. That’s one of the pitfalls with the process — we give up too early because it can get hard. Nobody ever said art was easy. 

Math is Failure

Math is tough. It requires work. And if you miss a step along the way, you are moving against the current, which only gets more powerful the more that you miss. 

We need to be told WHY math is important. Only then we can build mental models, understand processes, and continue to grow. One missed step can lead to a long time of frustration. Not understanding the ‘why’ leads to disinterest and disengagement. 

When ten or more years instruction fails to leave people having even the faintest idea what something is, why it is done, or what it is used for, then something is seriously wrong.

Even Pascal and Fermat struggled, as noted in their famous letters to one another. Math is an art, a science, an approach to life. It is not free of struggle, and we shouldn’t give up on it.

The struggle is a part of the story.

But we have to make room for the art too. 

“I was made to learn by heart: ‘The square of the sum of two numbers is equal to the sum of their squares increased by twice their product.’ I had not the vaguest idea what this meant and when I could not remember the words, my tutor threw the book at my head, which did not stimulate my intellect in any way.” — Bertrand Russell

Math should not be paint-by-numbers. Imagine a world where Bertrand Russell, a famous mathematician (amongst many other things) gave up on math. But how many young mathematicians have we lost due to what Russell describes above?

Math as Truth

Math is the art of thought and ideas. Our teachers used to say, “in the real world, you won’t carry around a calculator with you” (modern technology makes a mockery of predictions). So now that we have our calculators and Wolfram Alpha, what’s left to learn?

Keith Devlin explains — 

A sufficiently deep understanding of all those procedures, and the underlying concepts they are built on, in order to know when, and how, to use those digitally-implemented tools effectively, productively, and safely.

No longer are computation skills of utmost importance, but rather, it’s the understanding of the concepts and the procedures, the application of the process that mathematics requires now. It’s called “number sense” — 

Fluidity and flexibility with numbers, a sense of what numbers mean, and an ability to use mental mathematics to negotiate the world and make comparisons.

Computers can’t understand this yet — they can simply compute. But we, humans, can “think and reason flexibly with numbers, use numbers to solve problems, spot unreasonable answers, understand how numbers can be taken apart and put together in different ways, see connections among operations, figure mentally, and make reasonable estimates”, as described by Marilyn Burns in About Teaching Mathematics. 

Mathematics is more than the algebra that Caitlin Flanagan described. It’s the science of discovering patterns, the science of developing logical thought around the processes, and ultimately using it in how we shape our world. Everything is a data point, and if we understand how to process and implement these data in our lives, we are that much more successful. 

But we should also recognize math for what it is- an art form, digging deep into the reasoning of ideas and questions, building fantasies. Math is meant to be fun. As Lockhart wrote, “A good problem is something you don’t know how to solve.”

The world is meant to be a place to explore curiosity. A place to test ideas, try new things, explore concepts and questions. But we have placed so much rigidity on the ‘effectiveness’ of curriculum in order to build ‘ideal candidates’ that we have lost our students along the way.

We all want to know ‘why’ — why do we solve for the area of triangles, and what does that mean? It doesn’t need to apply to real life. Not everything needs to be a building block towards the ‘successful future’. 

Math as art is probably part of a more idealistic world where students aren’t standardized and creativity is valued over letter grades. It’s not so much the pursuit of one great truth, pieced together from infinite pieces of information, but rather our own individual mathematical truth that teaches us to think and process. A world where we do not live in fear of math, but rather, embrace it for the beauty it holds.

Memes as news: The Importance of Short-form Content

Meme — is an idea, behavior, or style that becomes a fad and spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme.

Wikipedia

This week has been a whirlwind, to say the least.

On October 1st, the President announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19. This article will not discuss what that means, what the implications are, or take any political stance — rather, it will discuss the path that this information took.

Source: Donald Trump

It was 12:54am on the East Coast when the president tweeted. A lot of East Coasters were either in bed or just about to go to bed. As a West Coaster, I was still awake, and watched the entire timeline unfold from Hope Hicks testing positive, to the eventual above tweet. 

My best friend was asleep as all of this was happening. When we called yesterday to discuss, they told me that they first heard about the positive test through memes on Instagram. They hadn’t heard it from the ‘news-news’ — rather through derivatives of the above tweet. Not an official news source.

Source: Journalism

The President’s diagnosis is extremely serious, and is full of conflicting emotions for many of us. I am including Jake Tapper’s State of the Union, because he eloquently explains the sheer cruelty of the President’s neglect to America, concluding with a message of “ Get well and get it together” to the President. I will not be including any COVID memes in this article.

But the memes that were generated were more than just jokes — they were visual news sources, effectively transmitting information across platforms and to users about the president’s diagnosis.

Think about the process:

  • We learned about the President’s positive case on TWITTER. This was the mode of communication chosen to tell us something VERY important. 
  • People began to respond to the tweet (572,000+ responses to be exact)
  • Memes were generated almost instantly
  • And thus, network sharing and cross-platform posts led to some finding the news out via meme

Beyond Trump’s diagnosis, think about all the things that have happened so far in September 2020. RBG’s passing. Kenosha. Rochester. The fires. Portland. The debates. The tax returns. Breonna Taylor’s case. 

Just one of these probably could have been a news cycle item for an entire month — but 2020 is evolving at a rapid pace. So we use memes.


What are memes?

Memes, via Wikipedia: an idea, behavior, or style that becomes a fad and spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture and often carries symbolic meaning representing a particular phenomenon or theme

The Wikipedia article is pretty meta about memes, and poses the fascinating parallel between meme virality and biological evolution.

Source: Wikipedia

For the purposes of this article, I will focus more on political memes as news sources, but meme culture is deep. MIT wrote a piece in 2018 about where memes come from and exert their influence. As you can see in the below diagram, it’s pretty complex.


Why Memes?

Most of us learn visually. We like to consume short-form content. That’s why TikTok, Instagram, etc., are all so popular — we like pictures. Memes convey a lot of information in a short amount of time.

Which Learning Style Are You? - Tutoring Services Manhattan
Source: The Education Insider

But you have to understand deep Internet to truly get some of the memes that are floating out there.


The Science of a Meme

Reply All, one of my absolute favorite podcasts, has an entire segment called ‘Yes Yes No’ that breaks down tweets. These tweets are usually quite ‘Deep Internet’ and require understanding of multiple online events. I’ve broken down one of their segments below to give a glimpse into the complexity of this topic.

Area 51 and Bret Stephens

This tweet from Casey Johnston is the tweet that the Reply All team dissected:

Some background – in sequential order, the New York Times newsroom got bedbugs back in 2019. So Dave Karpf, an associate professor at GWU, called Bret Stephens, a NYT reporter, a bed bug — specifically tweeting:

Source: Dave Karpf

Bret Stephens didn’t like that. So he then emailed Professor Karpf and Professor Karpf’s boss. 

Source: Dave Karpf

Area 51, which is what Casey Johnston is referencing, is referring to the Area 51 Facebook event, in which people were going to storm Area 51 to see what’s going on. Matty Roberts created the event after listening to Bob Lazer on Joe Rogan’s podcast stating:

“If we naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets. Lets see them aliens

So Casey Johnston’s tweet is referring to all of the above, essentially stating let’s storm Bret Stephens (whose newsroom has bedbugs and who has been called a bedbug) a la Area 51-style, a naruto run.

To understand this tweet, you have to understand:

  1. Area 51, more specifically Storm Area 51
  2. The NYT bedbug problem in the newsroom
  3. Why someone would call Bret Stephens a bedbug

That’s incredibly convoluted — convoluted enough that the Reply All team made a podcast about it.

You have to be very online to understand some of these memes.

Someone on Reddit made a history of memes video, detailing the most popular memes from 2004–2019.

Memes are essentially based on this deep knowledge — you have to understand the context, the background, the ~meaning~. Some of them make sense, but others you have to know what the meme format means, like with the Area 51 meme.

Source: Lolmemez

Memes and Social Media

Memes are primarily distributed through social media. So what role does social media play in society?

A surprising large number of people in the U.S. trust social media as a way of getting news about COVID, relative to the U.K. and Germany. According to the Oxford and Reuters study

“Only a small minority of our respondents identify social media as their main source of news (about 1 in 7) it is clear that platforms play a keyrole in how people access and find news and information about the coronavirus”

About one-quarter of those surveyed in the U.S. trust social media as a way of getting news about COVID- much more than that in the U.K. and Germany.

Source: Misinformation, Science, and Media: The Infodemic

The article then goes on:

“Younger people rely much more on newer, more visual networks like Instagram and Snapchat for information about COVID-19. Even TikTok, popular with teenagers, has been used to pass on public health messages such as the Vietnamese song and dance about handwashing which went viral.”

I think there is a crossover between social media and news apps too. Most news sites post their articles on Twitter — thus, I would estimate that actually ~2/3rds of young people get their news from social media. 

There is skew to getting news from social media. We often create our own echo chambers, hearing from those that think the same way we do, and can ignore things that we maybe don’t want to pay attention to.

Pew also found that people who use social media for a news source were less likely to follow some of the below topics — but I think the element of choice (being able to choose what we consume) via social media influenced the results. The social media users might not be following those topics closely, but they know about them.

According to Pew Research, when asked 29-fact based knowledge questions about current events, the social media group was more likely to report that they were ‘Not Sure’ rather than giving a yes-or-no answer. 

It is not that most adults who rely on social media for political news chose wrong answers to these 29 questions. Instead, they were much more likely to say they were not sure: An average of 39% of social media news users said they did not know the answer across these questions.

It’s not that the social media group gave answer was wrong about current events, just that they were unsure. This highlights the barrage of information the social media feeds us, more so than the users not paying attention. Social media is an endless cycle of refresh-and-reload, and we consume hundreds of datapoints every time we log on. The ‘Not Sure’ is a signal of information overload, not information ignorance.

Here are some of the 29 questions that drove the above results:

There’s room for social media to be more educational. Can memes help with that?


The News and the Memes

There’s a crossover between news and memes. The news is meant to give us objective information about important things, versus memes which can skew the information in a subjective way. 

With each day of 2020 feeling like an entire year, the lines are getting increasingly blurry between news and memes. There is almost too much information to keep up with. 

Memes have an element of virality. If we want to get information out quickly, what better format than memes? It normalizes the news (somewhat), makes politics something that can be more bearable (if possible) to discuss, and can encourage people to do more research (hopefully).

Memes are visual.

News articles are not. 

Memes lessen the blow of the surreal nature of the current state of the world. Things are overwhelming, and every single day we have to process information that directly impacts our everyday lives. Memes bring levity to the intensity of what we are experiencing. Memes can have the power to make us take a step back and reconsider events, but there’s risk for desensitization and disassociation. 

It is extremely important to note that memes can be incredibly offensive. Things like the memeziation of Breonna Taylor are extremely harmful. Her death is not a joke. 

It’s a fine line. These are memes that are designed to make people question their beliefs (like “arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor”) but ultimately can trivialize the issue at hand and diminish the seriousness and importance of truly arresting the cops that killed Breonna.

Also, there are many meme accounts that are hateful and racist. The “Pepe the Frog” meme evolved into a “politically active, racist, and anti-Semitic” meme back in 2016

Memes are tools of navigation, meant to be used in conjunction with actually news sources. We use them as methods to process the massive amount of information that is thrown at us every single day. 

Remember the toilet paper fiasco earlier this year? This meme is a cultural artifact of that time. The time when Americans were rushing grocery stores to get toilet paper, of all things. This meme conveys the intensity of that event, the ludicrousness that only comes with hindsight, and brings humor to a very odd situation.

We now have a visual museum of 2020, archived in memes and other short-form content, for better or for worse. Even SNL was “flat and uninspired” after its first episode back since COVID-19 lockdown began. The world is so bizarre right now that it’s become difficult to build satire around it.

Memes are not journalists. But they do help us process 2020, and piece together everything that is happening, to an extent. We are all tired.

Should they become our primary source of information? No.

But do they serve some sort of purpose as we all navigate the eon of 2020? Yes. 

Source: Lib Guides