I recently published a story called The Box Is Protection, Not Prison, and the idea for it started with a simple question my friend asked a few months back:
How do you decide what’s true?
My first thought was to tell him we don’t get to decide what’s true. Reality isn’t up to us.
But then Oxford Dictionaries declared post-truth the word of the year. Then fake news came to mean not just stories from websites that invented facts to prank or deceive, but also stories from biased publications, or even stories the hearer didn’t like.
Then I realized just how much we all decide what’s true.
I’m not saying truth is relative. I still believe we only get one, so we need to treat it right. But the great irony of the Information Age is the more informed we’ve gotten, the hazier truth has become.
Before I got on Facebook, before I started paying attention to the news, my circle of truth was pretty cut and dry. I knew Tyler cut in line because I saw it with my own two eyes. I was pretty sure Tommy dumped Aly because Sarah told me, and she’s never lied to me.
But now I can get on Google and look up stories written by people I don’t know about people I’ll never meet. I’ll never be able to verify the vast majority of things I read online, but unless I find something totally outrageous, I will decide it’s true.
There was a story a few years ago about a girl who told her friends and family she was on vacation. She posted pictures on Facebook of herself swimming, visiting exotic landmarks, and generally having a great time. But it was all faked. She was in her apartment, Photoshopping everything the whole time.
I guarantee most people who saw those pictures decided they were true.
I think we can all agree that the truth is important, but the tricky part is no one can agree on what it is. When I was younger, I used to marvel at how two different news outlets could look at the same facts and come up with such different interpretations. Now it seems like they aren’t even looking at the same facts.
So that’s why I wrote The Box Is Protection, Not Prison. It’s a story about the nature of truth and the value of good journalism. It’s about the way we shape our realities and the way our realities shape us. Mostly, though, it’s about a society that’s lived inside a box for centuries, and the one man who believes the creatures outside don’t have humanity’s best interests at heart.
If any of that sounds good to you, I hope you’ll check it out.