I went to college so I could be a journalist. That's proof enough that I didn't know the first thing about journalism, or I could have saved four years of student loans, but that's also a 20 year old moot point.
Truth is, I was an information junkie, and it seemed to me, way back in the late '80s, that the best way to get that fix was to wrangle a job in a newsroom somewhere. I would have been perfectly content as the guy watching the wire feed come in, pulling stories, editing them and pushing them on to the copy desk, because I'd get to know stuff first.
The reality of my career path set in quickly after graduation: Zoning Board meetings. School Board meetings. A wire feed that spat out little more than livestock futures and state climatological data. Cronkite on the pulse of the nation, I wasn't.
Oh, to have those simpler days back.
The internet has done exactly what I once hoped it would do -- become this wonderful means for linking everyone, everywhere, and giving them the power to report newsworthy information quickly and efficiently. No more must we wait for the evening news or the morning paper; the internet gives us our news at the click of a mouse, 24 hours a day, from reporters on the front lines of battlefields and natural disasters, to some guy filming from inside his Ford Explorer, alternately hooting and cussing as softball-sized hail thuds against his windshield.
And, y'know? Great. I'm thrilled we have this new window on our world. We can see stuff we wouldn't otherwise get to see, especially as local news coverage gets cut back more and more due to budget constraints. And sometimes it gives us the truth of a situation, in spite of censorship and propaganda, and that's absolutely a good thing, no question.
But it doesn't stop there.
Don't have the resources or inclination to chase down a news story? Not at the right place at the right time? Fine: you can blog your opinion about everything you've seen. Don't have time to write a blog? That's what Twitter's for, giving everyone the opportunity to report or opine their own sound-bite sized position on everything at any time of day. The steady flow of information becomes a torrent, because it's no longer what happened that's important, but who's saying what about it. For every real-world action, there is an exponentially greater online reaction.
The result is our transformation into a nation -- a world -- of information junkies. We're tapping it like it's pure heroin in five-gallon drums from Wal-Mart, and it's just been rolled back. Only with this powerful drug, the we're not only the users, we're the cooks and the dealers, too. We take it in and distill it and then frantically push it back so others can hit it and push their own back to us. Faster and faster. That's why books stopped working. Why newspapers stopped working. Why blogs are dying. Why Facebook is desperate to add a new high. Tweeting and texting are the best delivery yet. Fast, sharp. immediate. Shoot it up and RT to the next guy.
All of this has had a ripple effect on how we get our news, or what passes as news now. It feeds the tabloid sensationalism, the confrontational approach to "journalism" so evident on the cable news stations in particular. It's a desperation to be heard among the rush, to count for something, at any cost, in order to feed the system. It's "Dr. Laura" Schlesinger's unniggardly use of a certain racial epithet, during a segment with a caller, a guaranteed career-killing move. It's Helen Thomas, a veteran reporter for more than 50 years, being dumb enough to trash-talk Israel to a rabbi on the White House lawn.
It's the same "I'm gonna share this with everyone because I can" mentality that gives us Mel Gibson's mindblowing phone rants, Heidi Montag's purported sex tapes and disgruntled flight attendants bailing out through the nearest emergency slide. It's all dumped into the media stream for public consumption. And again, it's no longer what these people did that matters, but that it was communicated far and wide in the blink of an eye so that the whole world can feed on it, process it, distill it, and send it 'round again for another taste, this time seasoned with indignance or delight.
That's. just. too. much.
Nearly 20 years ago, The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy called television "the drug of the nation." Gateway drug, maybe. I don't think anyone could have imagined what's happened since then. TV's not even a passive pastime now, it's been co-opted into the same reactionary process. Television today is a spectator sport, with Tweeters doing play-by-play and bloggers doing post-episodic recaps and analysis. Entertainment used to be the point of TV; now I'm not so sure it matters. Assimilate the experience. Share it with the collective. Tune in tomorrow.
I do love the internet; in fact, I just ponied up to double my bandwidth. I love that I can get the information I need, when I want it. I can check the weather radar, rather than hoping the guy with the hairplugs on channel 2 is gonna get it right tonight. I can pull down a recipe with a few mouse clicks and plan a great meal. And yes, I can even go on Twitter and engage in rapid-fire wordplay with other twisted minds who enjoy that sort of thing.
But I don't need to know what's going on every minute of every day. I'm done wading through the shallow reporting and shoddy editing of online news sites, only to end up in a cesspool of talkback comments left by incendiary illiterates adding to the deluge just to provoke hostility and divisiveness. I'm not going to follow - or friend - people I don't know; I'm not trying to be antisocial, I just don't need the mental clutter or the constant temptation to add my own pointless profundities to the digital inundation. And yes, I'll swallow the irony that this column is hosted, promoted, circulated and read online. (The print edition should be available in early 2011.)
I'm gonna get clean.
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
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katherine (aka clevertitania)
8.23.10 @ 10:34a
I've experience two internet burn outs in the last 10 years, but oddly I haven't had a real one since I started on Twitter. But it'll happen eventually. It's true that some times it's just too much information.
Don't agree on TV though. The quality that had been declining steady has taken a dramatic turn in the other direction, and I think that's thanks in no small part to the internet. Instead of needing tawdry reality shows to have event TV, we can now make an event of the shows we love.
8.24.10 @ 8:00a
The first myth of the internet is that all information is equally important; therefore, more always is better. The truth is that all information is not equal, except as it is reduced to bits and bytes.
8.24.10 @ 10:15a
"Simply let your 'on' be 'on' and your 'off' be 'off'; anything else is corrupted code."
Having just clicked away a phishing attempt to my Facebook account, I am even more convinced that narrowing the pipeline is a good thing.
8.31.10 @ 7:37a
A friend of mine commented recently that she was surprised that I wasn't on FB or Twitter or checking e-mail during my recent vacation.
I checked e-mail a bit, simply because it makes things easier when I get home, but as far as FB&T go, no, not really. There was no point. Unplugging is healthy, and many people would be better off if they tried it once in a while.
However, I watched a lot of television news on this vacation, because I was in New Orleans and it was the fifth annivesary of Hurricane Katrina. So there were many in-depth retrospectives and projective features and shots of Anderson Cooper hangin' in the Ninth Ward.
Amazingly, the coverage was actually news. It was informative and enlightening and prompted thoughtful discussion. It was not high wire punditry. It was not conjecture. It simply presented the facts and encouraged the viewer to absorb and consider.
I'm as guilty as the next person for being an information pusher. I'll RT anything I think others might find interesting. But Twitter in particular continues to be a one-way street of social media, a lane dedicated to you alone, discouraging interaction and true discussion. Which reduces our inate ability to care about the other guy, because we're trying to be noticed more than the other guy, regardless of whether or not we have anything to say.