I subscribe to a number of blog feeds, email digests, etc. for work and personal interests. A co-worker turned me on to Seth Godin’s daily emails from his blog – they’re short (usually) and specific to a single topic. While I don’t buy into everything Seth professes, I found today’s of interest:
MBP is a particularly tragic form of child abuse. Parents or caregivers induce illness in their kids to get more attention.
The thing is, the media does this to us all the time. (Actually, we’ve been doing it to ourselves, by rewarding the media for making us panic.)
It started a century ago with the Spanish American War. Disasters sell newspapers. And a moment-by-moment crisis gooses cable ratings, and horrible surprises are reliable clickbait. The media rarely seeks out people or incidents that encourage us to be calm, rational or optimistic.
Even when they’re not actually causing unfortunate events, they’re working to get us to believe that things are on the brink of disaster. People who are confident, happy and secure rarely stay glued to the news.
The media is one of the most powerful changes we’ve made to our culture/our lives (I’d argue that the industrial revolution and advances in medicine are the other two biggest contenders). And yet because we’re all soaking in it, all the time, we don’t notice it, don’t consider it actively and succumb to what it wants, daily.
Steven Pinker’s brilliant book makes it clear that the world is safer than it’s ever been. A large reason his thesis feels wrong to so many is that the media wants us to think that we’re on a precipice, every day. Paradoxically, the cultural-connection power of the media is one reason why things are actually safer. [Check out Matt Ridley’s optimistic take as well].
I’m fascinated by this paradox. By connecting us, by integrating cultures and by focusing attention on injustice, the media has dramatically improved the quality of life for everyone on the planet. At the same time, by amplifying the perception of danger and disaster, the media has persuaded us that things are actually getting worse. It creates a reason for optimism and then makes a profit by selling pessimism.
I don’t think the media-industrial complex has earned the pass we give it. They built what we wanted, they built what worked, but the race for attention often is conflated with a race to the bottom. It takes guts to say, “no, we’re not going to go there, even if the audience is itching for it.”
We’re the media now, and we can do better.
Two thoughts on this:
First, I think he’s spot on. The media has decided, consciously or unconsciously, that creating a sense of impending doom (government shutdowns, a healthcare system that is completely broken, warmongering political candidates, etc.) they’ll captivate an audience. It’s akin to the over-dramatic, misbehaving child. Or the melodramatic “squeaky-wheel” employee. It consumes our time and attention but if we stepped back and took a more objective (and by some perspectives, a harsher stance), it may nip the issue in the bud.
Second, I wonder if there is a parallel between Seth’s comment, “the race for attention often is conflated with a race to the bottom” and the Race to Nowhere film concerned our competitive societal focus on our children’s success at all things including youth sports.
GorT is an eight-foot-tall robot from the 51ˢᵗ Century who routinely time-travels to steal expensive technology from the future and return it to the past for retroinvention. The profits from this pay all the Gormogons’ bills, including subsidizing this website. Some of the products he has introduced from the future include oven mitts, the Guinness widget, Oxy-Clean, and Dr. Pepper. Due to his immense cybernetic brain, GorT is able to produce a post in 0.023 seconds and research it in even less time. Only ’Puter spends less time on research. GorT speaks entirely in zeros and ones, but occasionally throws in a ڭ to annoy the Volgi. He is a massive proponent of science, technology, and energy development, and enjoys nothing more than taking the Czar’s more interesting scientific theories, going into the past, publishing them as his own, and then returning to take credit for them. He is the only Gormogon who is capable of doing math. Possessed of incredible strength, he understands the awesome responsibility that follows and only uses it to hurt people.