Wednesday, October 18, 2006

History in the making?

A while back, I watched an online animation about the future of the press. You can watch it here.

The basic gist is that several mergers of online giants like Google and Amazon, combined with technology that allows people to create their own news portals, basically made the concept of news a self-selecting enterprise. For example, if you wanted to select, say, only information about pro wrestling and the latest on Pamela Anderson, then that is what would show up each day as the top news. Nothing about Korea. Nothing about a national election. Nothing about crime rates in your town skyrocketing. Only pseudo-athletes and big breasts.

In this futuristic world, what we now know as the giants of the fourth estate have become bankrupt and obsolete. Nobody reads the New York Times or listens to APRN. They simply get their “news” spoon-fed to them via the billions of self-proclaimed “journalists” across the Web. There is not even a baseline assurance that the things that you read are true or well-researched or created with any eye toward basic journalistic ethics. Everyone creates the news. The line between the journalist and the wingnut down the street is gone. The concept of balanced reporting is gone. If you want to hear only that all gay people are evil perverts, then you can set your channels to feed you gobs and gobs of diatribes to reinforce your bigotry on a daily basis.

I can’t help but wonder how close we are getting to this place. And I should state up front that I am a journalist by training and may be a bit snobbish about the journalist’s role in society. Still, the bottom line to this scenario, and to a certain degree this holds true even today, is that people seem to be growing less and less informed. And the scary thing is that they seem to be choosing to become that way. It’s ironic that in this age of so much information, people seem to have less information about things that are important. Perhaps it’s a consequence of information overload.

At any rate, I wonder if this scenario has ever played out in modern human history. What happens to a society that chooses to be ignorant of the things that allow it to govern itself wisely? Certainly we have plenty of examples of authoritarian regimes that block out their citizens’ access to information, but has there ever been a country where the people actually chose to simply look away, where people, even though they could learn about the important things in their society, simply say, “You know, I don’t really feel like it.”

Are we choosing the path to our own destruction?

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Innocence slipping

My 12-year-old son has always been a lot more insightful about human behavior than he ought to be at his age, so I guess our conversation tonight shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to me. Still, it says a lot about all of us when a seventh-grader picks up on the hypocrisy around him.

Our conversation began with him bemoaning the fact that some of the kids on his basketball team were giving him a hard time, telling him he is no good, etc. That was hard enough to hear, since I remember how damn hard middle school was. The worst thing was hearing him say, “The thing is Mom, is if you tell on them or they get caught, it really doesn’t do any good, because they don’t care about the consequences. They probably do get in-school suspension, but they don’t care. Their parents all just come in and say, ‘it was some other kid’s fault’ and the principal maybe believes them. And even if the principal doesn’t believe them, the kids don’t get into any trouble from their parents because their parents believe that their kid didn’t do it.”

What the heck do you say to that last statement? I make it a practice not to lie to my kids about the way the world works and I have to say that, in a lot of cases, he is spot on. I did mention the whole, “You have to live with yourself and your behavior at the end of the day” thing, which I believe strongly in, being a great avoider of guilt. Still, pretty sad that a 12-year-old observes this phenomenon that so many adults are blind to.

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