The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

How to Protect Yourself from Doomscrolling & Bad News

This is an excerpt from a section in my upcoming book, Construction of Reality on how to change one’s personal reality. I hope it will help some readers deal with the current media barrage.

Emotional Performance

We discussed this before, how when objects we identify with, whether people, material objects (holy books, flags, your car), or ideas (the Bill of Rights, the Prophet’s words) are treated in ways we see as bad or good, we have an emotional reaction.

Thousands of miles away, perfect strangers are hurt, or do something we like, and we react. A flag is burned, a Koran desecrated, a bombing goes off, and we have emotions.

We have those emotions in large part because we believe we SHOULD have them. We believe that to not have them makes us bad people. “What sort of person isn’t upset when a bomb goes off in the London Subway/someone burns a flag/a dog is hurt?” etc.

We react because to not react, in our minds, makes us a bad person. It makes us not of the tribe. Remember, the tribe is whoever we share an identity with. In the distant past, that might have included ancestors and Gods and stories about our tribe. Today it is our ideology, our religion, our race, our nation, and so on.

But the mechanism is the same.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write this year. If you value my writing and want more of it, please consider donating.)

And if a tribe’s identity was attacked, its beliefs attacked, that means the tribe was attacked, and if you didn’t react emotionally, other members of the tribe will notice that and they’ll distrust you. And if they distrusted you, that near the state of nature, well, that might go badly for you.

So these sorts of reactions are built deep into the human psyche. To not react to violations of the tribe’s identity, ideology, or to the harm of fellow tribe members is dangerous to you.

But that near the state of nature, the tribe could be under a hundred people. Maybe a thousand or two in extended tribal groups.

Not millions or billions of people.

Outrages, harm, and good events, came when they came, and were immediate; in your presence or in the presence of the person telling you about them.

They weren’t coming at you in an incessant drumbeat, from people you don’t know, about people you don’t know, all day long, from an endless well. In a world of seven billion people plus with instant communication, there’s always an outrage or atrocity.

These endless pinpricks jerk us around, never allowing us to relax, and our identities and ideology are constantly reinforced by atrocity and tragedy.

Identities and ideologies, I remind you, that are not intrinsic to you, and generally not chosen.

So to start dis-identifying, you need to break yourself of this sort of emotional performance.

Read the following and return to it often.

Feeling bad about a situation you are not in and which you can do nothing about, hurts you and doesn’t help anyone else.

If you are angry at a terrorist attack a thousand miles away — or a war, or poverty, or anything — that anger is bad for you. It kicks adrenaline into your body, keeps you in a state of arousal (not the good type, sorry) and causes stress.

And it isn’t helping anyone else.

So don’t do it. Start breaking the cycle. Make it a rule that if you can’t do anything about a situation, you won’t get upset about it, won’t worry about it, and so on. Do whatever you’re going to do, then stop reacting to it. Or decide you’re going to do something, and once the decision is made, don’t think about it until the time comes.

“Tomorrow, I’ll take some food to the food bank.”

Great, do that tomorrow, meanwhile stop feeling bad.

This is moral. This is ethical. Hurting yourself and helping no one is bad. It is immoral. So don’t do it.

This doesn’t mean don’t be empathic when you’re with a mate who’s suffering (or even with a stranger), but put it down when you leave. Help, but don’t carry the emotion with you.

This is the right thing to do practically and morally.

Break this bond. At first, it will seem impossible, but if you practice each time such situations come up, you will eventually find yourself calmer and calmer and less reactive.

You will also be more effective, because you will no longer believe that “thoughts and feelings,” absent action, do anything for people who aren’t in your presence.


This is a reprint: It was originally published Nov 8, 2018, but I think people need it again & there are a lot of new readers.


Our Society Is Built on Lying and Breaking Faith


And Here I Had Some Faint Hope for Biden


  1. Herman

    This is very important, thank you. This goes back to my observation that many people are politically disengaged because being hooked into the news all day and night will make you sick and you won’t be able to function. I am not arguing in favor of being apathetic but you need to draw the line somewhere.

    I think that many Extremely Online types are really in it not out of principle but because of the rush they get from arguing on Twitter or Facebook or whatever. They are addicted to drama and fighting and social media is perfectly designed to feed into that type of addictive behavior.

    Also, I think we are spending way too much time inside our heads these days. Politics today seems to focus on having the correct attitude as opposed to actually doing anything. I have more respect for someone who quietly volunteers at a soup kitchen than for somebody who spends all of their free time being “woke” on Twitter.

  2. Wise advice, Ian! You’re exactly right.

    I think one of the most overlooked problems with living in such a large country as America is that there will always be something terrible happening somewhere, and our mass media will make a “federal case” about it, ginning up outrage all over the country. Especially in the last couple of years, they’ll seize upon something offensive done by some scrub living 1000 miles from you, and broadcast it to all 325 million of us. Nationalism artificially thrusts us all onto the same small platform over and over.

    But this can only result in constant outrage, panic, discontent, demoralization, and even resentment.

    It’s funny when you realize that people who live in Maine and New York are geographically much closer to Canada than they are to Texas or Oregon, but we rarely hear about outrages in Canada.

  3. Cripes

    Yes, the information Highway, or the cable news, or the network news, and before that the newspapers deliver a barrage of contrived conflicts packaged to look like News. These artificial conflicts serve as proxies for us to work out artificial identities instead of acting upon the conflicts that actually operate in our daily lives.

    The audience treats these events and identify with their Nation or political party or name-your-own-identity in the same way they do their favorite sports team.

    A few years ago my partner and I mentored a dozen homeless street women through drug rehab, housing programs and Social Services and got them off the street, qualify for benefits and secure a roof over their heads. Needless to say our virtue signaling relatives and Friends were shocked and thought us crazy for actually doing something about the problems they talk about but never do anything more then throw a few quarters into a beggar’s cup or vote for Democrats.

    Their actual contempt for disenfranchised, out cast, poor women was on full display. Of course none of them saw the irony in their hypocritical, liberal, attitudes. In their colonial arrogance they knew exactly what was needed to fix the problems in Sudan or Myanmar or some remote place they will never have an iota of influence upon.

    MLK was right to say that Liberals are more dangerous than Rednecks.

  4. “Feeling bad about a situation you are not in and which you can do nothing about, hurts you and doesn’t help anyone else.”

    I love that thought, and it brings to mind a thought about hating. It is that hating someone who harmed you, even if he actually did directly do you harm, does him no damage whatever and harms you. He does not even know of your hatred, but you suffer from it every single day.

    When you forgive him, therefor, you do nothing beneficial whatever for him, but you do an enormous benefit for yourself. You free yourself of the burden of that hatred which has been discoloring every aspect of your life.

    Here’s another thought, “Rain is bad if you’re having a parade or a picnic, but it’s good if you’re a farmer.”

    Reality is that rain is just rain, intrinsically valueless. “Good” and “bad” are value judgements which I apply to rain, and I apply them based on how rain affects me. The solution is to not judge events and objects based on how they affect me, emotionally or physically; to remove myself from the center of the universe and eliminate the sense that all things revolve around my feelings.

  5. Gunther Behn

    Well said.

  6. Fox Blew

    Thank you for this, Ian. How far away are you from completing your book? Looking forward to it.

  7. Ian, you are talking about conformists, and I agree that most people are. But not everyone. But if you value your independence then you will make a point of thinking your own thoughts and going your own way. I am proud of the fact that in nearly 50 years of voting in British general elections, not once have I voted for the party that won!

  8. “These endless pinpricks jerk us around, never allowing us to relax, and our identities and ideology are constantly reinforced by atrocity and tragedy.”


    As Noam Chomsky has said, the media creates a particular view of how the world works, that people internalize.

    From this perspective, basically all the mainstream news-like media is toxic, because you get the picture that our society is messed up mostly because of “the other”, and that the other are part crazy, part liar, and largely hypocritical. Now, for sure, a lot of politicians and political talking heads in MSM ARE part liars, and part crazy, and largely hypocritical. But is this really symptomatic of society as a whole, or more of a chaotic image that is INFLICTED by the media?

    Tucker Carlson, in a recent interview by Ben Shapiro that I posted, has said that most of the people he meets throughout the country, including those he disagree with, are just fine. (I can’t remember his exact words, but I think he said “wonderful”). He basically repeated this notion, recently, when interviewed about the threatening mob which vandalized his house, and scared his wife, at his home when he was away on vacation.

    Ironically, his show is part of the problem, because he tends to invite political opponents who are on the nutty side of things, and often dishonest, at least in the sense that they evade direct questions in favor of talking points. The result is, if I watch Carlson’s show, I’m often “triggered”, but can’t help wonder “to what end?”. What is this good for?

    Also, while American society as a whole bears no small part of the blame, due to a limited attention span and lack of curiosity and concern, there’s not enough time given to serious subjects to discuss them seriously. This is true even of conservatives on conservative talk shows. E.g., Dr. Roy Spencer’s recent segment on Tucker Carlson was all of 3 minutes and 26 seconds. Spencer is a climate scientist.

    So, the mainstream media isn’t just toxic. It also tends to dumb down.

    It wouldn’t hurt to interview really smart, serious, articulate people, across the political spectrum. I’ve almost never seen Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Edward Said, etc., interviewed inside the mainstream media (basically only on lefty alternative media like Democracy Now). Likewise, I’ve almost never seen conservatives like Thomas Sowell and Srdja Trifkovic interviewed on MSM. This is no coincidence…..

    Given constraints of limited American attention spans and the need to make a profit, on MSM, you may not be able to devote 30 minutes to a Noam Chomsky, but what about, say, 10 minutes?


    I recently posted the idea, on this website, about an unfilled need, which is also a business opportunity, about creating a bullet point type digest of alternative media voices, many of which have a very low “signal to noise ratio”. I.e., they bloviate. Some rant, also. That would make the alternative media more useful, and thus help either damage main stream media, or else, eventually, force it to improve.

    I’d like to post a similar idea, which has been done (e.g., Media Matters, Jimmy Dore), but not as well, and consistently, as I think there is a need for. (Probably also a business opportunity.)

    To help deprogram Americans, it’d be good if there was a show which was a sort of video digest of the main stream media’s constant lies (principally by omission) and distortions. I.e., to create a more accurate framing, and thus expose the absurdity of what’s being presented. To avoid Fair Use violations, it could grab, say, 30 seconds each from 4 shows on Foxl; similarly CNN and MSNBC.

    The idea is to expose all the MSM, and not just shows which support “the other”. In this youtube generation, the videos could be posted with links for further information.

  9. Strangely quiet around here, something’s missing, can’t quite put my finger on it.

    Ahhh! The Ruskies are gone!

  10. nihil obstet

    I don\’t know whether this is off topic or counter argument, but because it\’s Armistice Day —

    Wilfred Owen\’s Dulce et Decorum Est

    Paddy Chayefski\’s anti-militarism scene

  11. Willy

    Ever been in a fight with the wife, all heated up, and then the doorbell rings? Wife opens the door to find the neighbor and she’s suddenly all sweet and neighborly, like a switch got flipped. After a nice little visit she says goodbye and closes the door. Then the switch gets flipped back and she’s all pissed off again.

    People are more in control of their emotions than they realize. Outside of actual danger, they want to be emotional, or not. Unfortunately I think anger is addictive. Media needs to make their money via their advertisers and know a big part of the formula is getting you pissed off. Not sure if commercials are like a friendly neighbor though. They piss me off worse.

  12. Willy

    I reran the Avatar DVD once with a wingnut in-law. The movie opens with that bombastic “20th CENTURY FOX (A News Corporation Company) logo. I chuckled at the irony of that one. The declared most liberal movie of the last decade produced by the most conservative news company. Cameron and O’Reilly were top the earners for those guys at the time. The in-law didn’t quite get my point.

    Movies have ratings for parents like PG-13. I’m thinking that without a Fairness Doctrine, the media needs ratings for these so-called adults, so they’ll better know which news is real, fake, or biased.

  13. different clue

    Perhaps one way to protect the fullest effects of the barragest barrage of bad news is to seek out and consider the trickles of good information and good news which exist here and there. And the existence of good information, even in odd little corners of the Internet, is good news.

    In that vein, here is a website to what looks like it could be a very promising long publication about traditional methods of gathering, conserving, using water in desert and near-desert situations as worked out over thousands of years by peoples who lived in deserts for thousands of years. Here is the link.

  14. different clue


    I can think of an even bigger irony ( if I am clear on what irony is). And that is this: here we are in the 21st Century and that company still calls itself 20th Century Fox.

  15. NRG

    Your thesis here compliments Jaron Lanier’s ideas on algorithmically built social media realities. Negative, distressing, disturbing, enraging content draws a quick emotional response, meaning, online, a click on a link where people see the ads and the authors of the negative content are paid.

    To an extent, this has always been true. However “if it bleeds it leads” was based on a human decision made by guessing and generalizing about the audience at large. The difference now is that algorithms are learning and picking out the personal hot buttons of people like each of us, by examining vast troves of data people trade for “free” services. The result is basically a contagious mental illness called social media, which rewards some of the worst and most unhealthy instincts of both readers and writers by default.

    Your advice jibes with Lanier’s. Be both aware and self-aware enough not to be manipulated on a level you cannot control.

  16. e.a.f.

    sort of like every one talks about the climate change thing and how we need to do something and then go out and purchase a new phone or a larger t.v. or a new car or a more fashionable piece of clothing.

    if we stopped freaking out about it and just purchased electronics when the old ones were broken we might be on to something. A few years ago an item in a newspaper in formed me, the most polluted city in China is the one where they make solar panels. Then there is the problem of when their life is over, we can’t get rid of them.

    You can only worry about what you can control. The rest, look at it in terms of what you can do to protect yourself if things go side ways and if you can’t protect yourself, well, have an exit strategy.

  17. Dan

    Terrible advice for the poets, artists, and anyone reading novels, watching films, television, even listening to music and looking at art, definitely theatre. They have to take the pain in things for the team, to teach practical sociopaths how to expand their imaginative, empathic capabilities.

  18. Zachary Smith

    A few years ago an item in a newspaper in formed me, the most polluted city in China is the one where they make solar panels. Then there is the problem of when their life is over, we can’t get rid of them.

    It’s interesting to learn that Exxon’s troll schools are now encouraging a “delicate” touch. Naturally there are no links provided – they’d tell a tale of their own.

    I’ve heard solar farms kill off the wildlife in areas where they’re built. No doubt somebody will soon be claiming they produce less energy over their life span than it takes to make them.

    Every once in a while Forbes produces an honest and readable article, but those are an exception. More typical stuff:

    “If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste?”
    Michael Shellenberger

    The procedure is to find a good, reliable hack, and turn him loose.

  19. Zachary Smith

    Outrages, harm and good events, came when they came, and were immediate: in your presence or in the presence of the person telling you about them.

    They weren’t coming at you in an incessant drumbeat, from people you don’t know, about people you don’t know, all day long, from an endless well. In a world of seven billion plus with instant communication, there’s always an outrage or atrocity.

    These endless pinpricks jerk us around, never allowing us to relax, and our identities and ideology are constantly reinforced by atrocity and tragedy.

    I don’t disagree with the diagnosis presented here. Our brains are incapable of handling the “incessant drumbeat” from all directions, and we usually react badly. IMO part of the solution/treatment is to begin retreating from most of the inputs. My first “withdrawal” was from televised sports – all of them. The emotional ups and downs just weren’t worth it. My second exit was from the TV. In my living room is a large screen, but it’s hooked to VCR and DVD players and nothing else. Even those are seldom turned on, I might add. I haven’t had any kind of inputs running into the antenna jacks for decades. Not even rabbit ears. So when I’m compelled to be in a relative’s home with a TV running, I have to avert my eyes, or I often become ‘car sick’.

    Ditch the “social media”. I have a “facebook” account only because I once visited some blogs which required one for logging in to comment. Ditto for “tweets”. Zero visits to the Facebook site, and I’ve never “tweeted” and likely never will.

    How do I survive? Stick to selected internet sites which aren’t more than 50% awful. There are many of those – the internet is a really large place. Books. And NOT ebooks. This computer is plugged in to the Internet Service Provider connection by means of a DSL cord instead of wi-fi. I had an expensive lesson this Spring when Covid first hit. The new Kindle device demanded constant access to wi-fi or it quit working, so after many tries I gave the thing to a family member with wi-fi. My books are old-tech – made of pulverized soft-wood trees. They’re MINE and not temporary rentals from Jeff Bezos. It’s fair to say I now have more and better SF books than the local county library. Ditto for a couple other subjects.

    OK, I’m no longer overwhelmed, but should I go cold-turkey with things I can’t immediately change? On that one Mr. Welsh and I will just disagree. I’m not going to tune out the head-chopping and burning alive ISIS folks – I want to know WHO in the US and elsewhere is assisting them. Nor will I ignore the stunning thefts and murders committed by God’s Favorite People. Here is the main reason I departed the Hullaballo blog years ago:

    On his last point, I’m not yet entirely helpless. I can boycott the murderous bastards, and do my best to educate relatives and others on the issues involved.

    Speaking of murderous bastards, I never miss an opportunity to dump on Saint Obama. As a side effect, this often ensures a more sympathetic audience when speaking with tRump Kissers. Before the election I happened to make the acquaintance with a genuine Q-Anon type. My agreement with “some” of his beliefs left him with a far more open mind to some of my own points. After the elections we ran into each other again and I asked him about his thoughts on (exact words) Socialized Medicine. After a few seconds thought he said “hell yes”! This man would have voted for Bernie Sanders in a heartbeat if the Democrats hadn’t arranged for his political execution.

    In Cloud Atlas there was this exchange between Hugo Weaving and Jim Sturgess:

    Haskell Moore:
    There is a natural order to this world, and those who try to upend it do not fare well. This movement will never survive; if you join them, you and your entire family will be shunned. At best, you will exist a pariah to be spat at and beaten-at worst, to be lynched or crucified. And for what? For what? No matter what you do it will never amount to anything more than a single drop in a limitless ocean.

    Adam Ewing:
    What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?

    My single-drop efforts may be doomed at the outset, but I’ll have the satisfaction of actually trying.

  20. Ten Bears

    And yet, though its light is wide, the moon reflects in a puddle of only an inch, the whole moon and all of the sky are reflected in a single drop of dew.

    No diss, Zach, good call. There’s a whole new generation of trolls hitting the links, this is but one example of the ‘new’ approach. We used to call ’em word salads, don’t know what happened to that, though word salads tended to be all words with nothing said. This new approach, which we have seen several here, is to post two or three paragraphs of seemingly reasonable stuff before slipping a zinger under the guise of ‘comity’ into closing. Q-whistles. Some of ’em are pretty good, too, have to read through it a couple of times to see it, or know something about the topic at hand.

    They are much improved, but there are still tells.

  21. Mark Pontin

    Zachary Smith wrote: “I don’t disagree with the diagnosis presented here.” re. Ian W’s original post.

    For the record (not that it means anything): I almost never disagree with Ian’s assessments of matters.

    The only thing that surprises me is that there might be people who don’t immediately see what he sees and need it explained.

    (Herewith, an apology: if I sometimes wander off-thread or apparently off-topic, that’s one reason why. Much of what Ian says seems to me at the level of is-the-pope-a-catholic level obviousness, not debatable by those with eyes to see.)

  22. Plague Species

    The only “Q-whistle” around here is you, Ten Bears. Every chance you get, you accuse someone of being Q Anon, which is tantamount to blowing your “Q-whistle.” You’re like Borat with Jews — you see Q Anon under every bed and hiding in every closet and around every corner. Even your old boss who screwed you over considering you have said as much is Q Anon apparently — that there was a conspiracy against you by nefarious forces. If anyhting is a “Q-whistle,” that is.

    This is the only blog I regularly visit on The Net. Occasionally I read Naked Capitalism, but it’s difficult to stomach with the commentary inundated with Russian Trolls and Trump Apologists.

    I don’t do Twitter and I don’t do Facebook. I don’t even do texting. I do NO SOCIAL MEDIA. I rarely use my phone and when I do use it, it’s for the reasons a cellphone should be used. I have it as an insurance policy. I use it. It doesn’t use me. My children? That’s another matter entirely. They have been reared by their cellphones, much to our chagrin, and they are thus slaves to it. The cellphone uses them, not the other way around. They’re not exceptions, They are the rule.

    Speaking of Obama, how callous of him to release his latest book at a time like this where the pandemic surges roughshod over a hapless population of dimwits who can’t think objectively or critically. People are dropping like flies from this pandemic and this sob is hawking a book, a book by the way that few will read but many will own as a token symbol of their diversity. Obama’s fine with the token symbolism. In fact, he’s exploiting the disingenuous gesture all the way to bank while those left behind by centrist neoliberal policies enacted by the Dems die from another pandemic.

  23. Ian Welsh


    yeah, you get me. I feel like I’m screaming the goddamn fucking obvious into the void.

  24. Dan

    Frankly, the praise is over-the-top. The great seer and thinker Ian is reaching god-like status. I can’t imagine he wants such a pretentious image of himself presented to the public.

    Hey Ian, what are some things you’ve gotten wrong over the years? I mean, you’re quite eager to share your correct predictions – and heck, why not, we all need a little confidence. But we mere mortals need to know we’re among fellow human beings, not demigods.

  25. Ché Pasa

    The news business exists to trigger us — and to make lots of money. So the advice to decouple from much of what passes for news these days is good advice and should be followed.

    And no, there was not some Golden Age of Journalism in the past that we should strive to revive or emulate. For as long as it’s been a business, journalism has had the same basic motives: to trigger us and make lots of money.

    For what it’s worth, the Ché household has never allowed cable teevee within its doors, and we dropped newspaper and news magazine subscriptions nearly 20 years ago. We get more than sufficient news (of some kinds) online. We find there’s a terrible dearth of local news of any kind, as most online resources don’t pay attention to the hinterland at all — or when they do, they get it way wrong. We have to rely on neighbors and friends who don’t have many more information resources than we do. And some are prone to gossip. Or, like we did the other night, we witness — for example, watching a neighbor’s place burn to the ground. So we know that happened because we saw it ourselves. The ruin stands in stark relief.

    Thanks in part to the virus, what we see for ourselves is circumscribed however, extending perhaps a mile or two from our home. Even a trip to the Walmart in the next town over, which I have to do from time to time for supplies, is almost like an adventure to another country.

    Don’t count on delivery. Ha! What a joke.

    So we actually know little outside our limited ken, and what we do “know” is subject to a good deal of dispute. Maybe we can’t resist being triggered, but still, skepticism is a virtue. What we’re told may not be true or honest or real. Then again, maybe it is.

    And how much of it can we do anything about? If we can’t, then let it go and fight the fire nearby.

  26. Ian Welsh

    Well, Dan, I have repeatedly pointed out that I suck at making election predictions, for example.

    But if you think I mostly get things wrong, you should spend your time reading whoever you think mostly gets things right. If you think I’m more wrong than right, PLEASE don’t read me. Jesus, have some self respect.

    (I have never understood the urge to tear everyone down, to say “everyone sucks”. Well, actually, I do sort of get it, but the point is “every many is my superior in some way.”


    I have spent my life thinking about certain issues, if I am not better than the average at at that, well, goddamn, tell me so and leave, I’m not worth your time.

  27. Dan

    I didn’t say you’re mostly wrong, Ian. You seem to have missed the point entirely. And in writing what I did, I maintain my self-respect, thank you.

    I remember you wrote a while back that you don’t read the comments here regularly. That’s frankly hard to believe. What else do you lie about?

  28. Ian Welsh

    I, in fact, do not read most comments. Kindly leave, you are no longer welcome here.

  29. Dan

    You’ve always responded to comments and since you wrote that you’ve directly responded to even more comments than you had previously. It’s quite obvious you read your own blog regularly and you like to have a good sense of what’s being talked about. It would be unusual if that in fact weren’t the case. I just don’t know why you’d lie about it. But it’s your blog, and that’s your prerogative.

    I’ll continue to read but won’t comment. Best wishes.

  30. Ian Welsh

    Thank you.

    Again, in fact, I don’t read most comments most of the time, because when I do they make me angry (today is a good example.) There are, of course, times when I do read comments.

    One of my few virtues, in fact, is that I very rarely lie.

    Be well.

  31. GlassHammer

    Life within an Empire is full of peril.

    Life within The Global Empire is even more perilous.

    Americans are at all times both too aware of the peril and not aware enough.

    It matters not that we are closer to The Global Empire’s center, a great cost (too great a cost) is still exacted. So we can’t stop looking at the tally, we know that none of it can be paid. And since we know none of it can be paid we also know that nothing (or nearly nothing) is unclaimed.

  32. the pair

    can’t help but think about curtis’ “ohdearism”.

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