Lies and cats and lies about cats

This article originally appeared in the Fillmore County Journal on January 28, 2019.

My older brother went off to college in 1995 with a Brother-brand desktop word processing unit. No, not a computer, but a little thing that did word processing, nothing but. However, he did go off to a school that had an internet connection, and he would come home over holidays and breaks to regale us of tales of that primitive web. Now, this may come as a shock to some of you, but even in those giddy days of early internet one of the first things I remember hearing about was 100% percent fake. It was called Bonsai Kitten, which combined the Japanese love of carefully-pruned tiny trees with, of course, cats.

And thus was born the first two pillars of our modern internet culture: lies and cats.

Bonsai Kitten was a hoax created back in the year 2000. By this point I had just barely gotten dial up internet back in the old homestead in Canton, while my brother had had five years of internet citizenship to marinate in. I remember him explaining the website with a grin that I can only describe as impish: an MIT student had used what was then fairly cutting-edge technology to manipulate pictures to make it look like adorable kittens had been forced to grow in, and take the shape of, glass cases, much like the square watermelons of Japan that were all the rage at the time. After my brother finished the story, the question was of course asked.

“Is that real?” How young I was.

To which my brother laughed and answered that no, it wasn’t. First rule of the internet, folks: assume everything is fake until proven otherwise. Now, for folks like me who grew up in those hazy, crazy, Wild-West days of the early internet, we often learned this the hard way (I still see things when I close my eyes, dear heavens…), some folks who are older or younger than me haven’t seemed to accept this sort of framework when browsing. This is how you get obviously Photoshopped pictures, provably wrong memes, and absolutely bonkers worldviews suddenly presented as legitimate. Remember: assume everything is bunk before you can prove it, without a doubt, or risk being mocked on the internet… or voting for a carnival barker who, it turns out, can’t make the world better with a snap of his tiny fingers like he promised.

Beware of what the smartypants call “confirmation bias” which is a fancy way of saying “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Check your sources, assume everything is hot garbage until you can prove it’s not, and browse safely. Thankfully, those of us bleeding hearts over here on the left side of the fence have been hoodwinked so many times by pretend progressives serving big business that we treat everything with suspicion as default. But, for those of you who aren’t weirdos and are content not to spend your spare time researching marginal tax rates, be careful out there.

The internet is full of liars, and they want your money. And, thanks to a lack of common sense regulation or monopoly policy, they can do darn near anything hey want to get it. Practice safe clicks, develop a healthy sense of skepticism until you see it happen, and if all else fails just find your Millennial sibling, child, or coworkers and have them explain it to you. They’re easy to find: they’re usually the one browsing memes about how climate change will fry us all to a crisp by the time Social Security kicks in but hey, at least we won’t have to worry about retirement!

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