Note from CM: A piece by Michael from 2009. Some of the cultural references are dated, but in the light of yesterday’s post and discussion, I thought it might be a good reminder that we here at IM have always seen the online life as something which needs constant monitoring because it incessantly challenges our calling to stay grounded in earthy and human reality.
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Is This the “Better World” You Were Talking About?
I grew up as television was growing up. I was born in 1956 and lived through the “Golden Age” of network television.
Television was part of my childhood and teenage years, but I had no reference point before television. Captain Kangaroo had always been there on the black and white television in the corner of our modest house.
My parents also lived through the “Golden Age” of television, but they had many years of life without television. They had grown up in rural America in the first quarter of the 20th century. Nether had education beyond high school. They grew up around the birth of radio, but television was something new to them.
I remember the many experiences we shared together around the television. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Kennedy and King assassinations. The Space program. Sporting events. Vietnam.
Every evening, the news with Walter Conkrite was the touchstone for my family’s view of the world. Yes, we had a local newspaper, but the immediacy and authority of television worked its way into our lives as it did the lives of so many Americans.
I never thought much about what television meant in our family until years later.
My dad had many anxieties, and one of his worst was the weather. He was extremely afraid of storms and he was devoted to the local television weather reports, the weather warnings on local radio and the information from his weather radio.
All of this before the Weather Channel and the endless hype about weather on every television channel.
When storms were coming, my dad was terrified, and the weather media helped him stay agitated and frightened for hours.
If my dad had lived to see the Doppler Warnings on today’s weather reports and the endless focus on weather disasters on 24 weather channels, I’m pretty sure it would have caused strokes, heart attack or a complete nervous breakdown.
But that’s how the world has changed. My dad didn’t know all kinds of things that I know, whether I want to- or need to- know them or not. And that seems to be a good thing.
I now have media telling me about every disaster, every danger, every warning, every piece of research, every scary statistic and every threat to world peace imaginable. If I don’t imbibe the media kool-aid myself, I’ll meet ten people every day at work who have information bombs to explode.
(Christians are so susceptible to media gullibility that it’s frightening. When I sit down to lunch in the cafeteria and hear the sentence, “I’ve been researching his on the internet,” I know I’m very likely about to hear 1) complete distortions and untruths 2) swallowed whole, digested and now spit back up with authority that would make any scientist blush.)
Last week, one of the major internet news outlets did a front page piece on 5 ways the world might end. Have a nice day America. Here’s your water cooler topic. For a whole day, we learned how a solar storm would take us back to the Neanderthal age. (If you believe in that sort of thing.)
I’m glad my dad didn’t have to deal with that amount of information. Or the story just below it: Oprah Gushes Over Winslet’s Breasts. Or the next day’s proclamation that the national debt won’t be paid off unless Jesus gives us the money.
My dad didn’t have Bill O’Reilley or Keith Obermann ranting five nights a week about all the terrible things the ordinary person can’t get by without knowing and getting furious over. C’mon, ordinary Americans. Are you pissd off yet? Well WHY NOT!!) Of course, the irony is that most people get by without knowing those things quite easily, but if you watch the media flamethrowers, western civilization and the existence of God are all up for grabs every night .
The farmers, illegal immigrants, working Joes and people in the nursing homes seem to get by just fine without knowing there is a desperate crisis every ten minutes.
The whole world is now drowning in undifferentiated information; everything is a panic and a crisis. Everything must be heard, everyone must pay attention. All the bad news that has happened and could happen must be paraded out for panic drills. All the unsolvable and uncontrollable situations must be heard about so we can demand the governments solve the problem.
Contemporary life must be lived with maximum information and maximum hype. It’s a crisis!! All the time!!! But first….ANOTHER CRISIS!!! AFTER THE COMMERCIALS!!!!!!
My mom and dad lived through the onset of the television era when we still had some sanity regarding the amount of information a person needed to live. The Cuban missile crisis really was more important than……I’m actually afraid to write anything ridiculous here because some of you will go nuts no matter what I mention.
The world is the world as its always been. But now we know about our carbon footprint. Now we know there’s a war on Christmas. Now we know what President Obama’s pastor once said in a sermon somewhere. Now we know what Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews consider to be worth writing a book about. Now we know how many pets were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and how big Paris Hilton’s lips are after the injections.
This isn’t a better world than the world of my parents. Oh sure, there’s better health information in there somewhere amidst all the hype, spin, ads and unadulterated crap. I guess we can all be grateful that we’re able to see the problems in the world we can each solve with a small monthly check, just before we learn if Tom Cruise really has Katie locked up in a tool shed on a Scientology ranch.
The information age is the ultimate double-edged sword. It’s brought to you by the same technology and information pipeline that brings you this blog. (A blog where, by the way, posts on egg nog are right next to the ones on starving children in the Sudan.)
My parents grew up in a world where a crisis was the ’37 flood taking away the farm or a world war taking away your brothers. They grew up in a world where television entertained and only occasionally sought to tell you what was important.
For my parents, what was important happened in your family, your neighborhood or maybe your county. Events in Washington or around there world were distant, and when they touched you, it was for reasons of obvious importance.
Were they ignorant? Were they under informed? Would their lives have been better if they could set in front of Fox News or CNN and watch the stock market’s every move?
I don’t think so.
They trusted a few sources of information. They believed that what they heard in church and Sunday School was what was really important. (And that came from their own pastor! Not a religious channel!!)
They believed in talking to their neighbors and family about what was going on in the community. Perhaps they needed to be overwhelmed by information, so they would know they couldn’t be happy without the stock market at 14,000 or a flat screen television. Perhaps they needed to be wired into the world-wide information superhighway, where “friends” are tiny pictures on facebook that may never say a word to you and “neighborhood” is the a collection of property belonging to other strangers you never talk to.
No…I think their world was better. And I say that with full knowledge that I never saw my parents read a book or listen to music that wasn’t on the radio. They were deprived of a lot, but their world wasn’t utter and complete chaos.
They didn’t believe the nonsense we believe. They weren’t enslaved to the consumer religion. They didn’t judge their children in comparison to anyone other than Wally and the Beaver. They didn’t judge their lives in comparison to the houses on the Better Homes Channel. They didn’t judge a meal by Rachel Ray or a church by Joel Osteen.
Media occupied its place in their world. They didn’t serve as pawns in the world of media.
And that’s what many of us have become. Pawns in a game where we hardly exist except as an audience for the information, consumer and entertainment establishment.
Shall we talk about pornography? The entertainment addicted personality? The damage to American health by the couch potato lifestyle? The philosophical relativism that lies at the heart of this construction of reality? The loss of our souls? The loss of simplicity and blissful ignorance?
For another day. For now, I’m just remembering the lives of my parents, and wondering if anyone has lived through the same sad revolution in the quality of our lives?
Would you consider anyone who lives submerged into today’s media culture to have much of a dependable idea of what it means to be a normal human being?
Yeah, me neither.