A 19th Century rural American family knew very little about the world outside of their immediate community. No radio, television, telephone, automobiles, airplanes or computers. For many their view literally ended at the horizon. A neighboring village could burn to the ground and they might never know it. In the scheme of things a national or global perspective is a very new phenomenon.
USA Today, CNN, the internet summarize for the average citizen, at a glance, over breakfast, every significant event on the planet, and if there are active astronauts, off the planet as well. We know more immediately about our world, its weather, financial markets, wars, scandals and disasters, its winners and losers, than our 19th Century counterparts might have learned in a lifetime.
“The Red Sox have the best record in baseball – the Celtics win game 3 against Detroit, the lowest score in NBA playoff history – Paraguay upsets Argentina in soccer – West Indian cricketers trounce New Zealand – Hanssen gets life without parole – the Dow Jones slumps under 10,000 – a London train crash kills 6 – a Nobel Laureate dies – Spiderman breaks all box office records – Osama bin Laden believed hiding in Pakistan – John Ashcroft touted as presidential timber if George W. is reelected – Bill Clinton rumored to have been offered fifty million dollars to do a talk show – college student admits to planting multiple pipe bombs – Mariah Carey back on tour – Ally McBeal cancelled.” Rush Limbaugh, Crossfire, Meet The Press. Information overload designed to offer all of us daily more data than a supercomputer can effectively process, let alone the average human being.
The technology and manpower required to produce this colossal volume of facts, analysis, and conflicting opinion is paid for almost entirely by corporate marketing budgets in the belief that our appetite for news will stimulate our interest in purchasing the goods and services that are promoted in print, on our web pages, and throughout visual media programming. Judging by the high cost of advertising on the nightly news, and the number of new news channels being offered by the cable providers, the strategy seems sound. People apparently want to know everything or at least be able to sound like they do.
Coping with the cost and consequences of crime and disaster in one’s home city is a daunting challenge, dealing with all noteworthy crimes and disasters everywhere creates enormous additional stress, which could be argued serves no useful purpose. Does it help to build a better life knowing the graphic particulars surrounding every drug related assassination in Colombia, every tribal massacre in Africa, every suicide bombing in the Middle East? Terror and destruction, war, famine, and pestilence dominate the headlines and virtually own the top story position in print and broadcast media throughout the free world.
Conflict, dissension, violence, divorce, rape and infidelity among the world’s kings, princes, business and political leaders, entertainers, sports stars and celebrities is big news worth of saturation coverage inconceivable even a quarter century ago. There is so much pressure on the major providers of news/opinion to be first, that situations like CBS declaring Gore the Florida primary winner based on very limited sampling, are now commonplace.
Any pretense of objectivity in reporting the news is obsolete. There is a pronounced and easily identifiable bias in editorial content whether in the press, on the network news, or presented by the countless current events talk show participants. James Carville and Mary Matlin are happily married, highly intelligent, politically astute individuals. Their interpretation of the same bill before Congress, or the qualifications of the same judicial appointee, would make you doubt they shared the same planet, let alone the same bed. Their association with the major networks gives their analysis of the news considerable authority, no matter how outrageously prejudiced.
If there were nothing else in life to do but to stay current, it would be impossible for even the most scholarly to digest basic top line data relevant to the United States and its interests around the world, let alone sort out the wildly disparate opinions that nearly every major story creates.
It’s doubtful that in the 19th Century a professional wrestler could be elected governor of a state, as there was no statewide media coverage in that period, and few in the general population could conceive of a wrestler being qualified for the job. National Public Radio, Minneapolis, reported this morning that governor Jesse “the Body/the Mind” Ventura will lead a Minnesota trade delegation to China next month. As Jesse clearly represents the most unlikely character to ever sit in a governor’s mansion, and is the country’s only elected Independent state leader, there will no doubt be countless stories surrounding Jesse’s junket. While it is difficult to imagine how Jesse might communicate with top Chinese trade ministers, we can count on considerable media speculation and analysis of anything “the Mind” may say.
There is clearly so much to know, and unhappily so little worth knowing.