Over the last few years we have become more and more divided, increasingly entrenched in our own perspectives. And the deeper the trench, the harder it is to see the surface or allow for anyone else’s ideas.
Decades ago everyone saw the same data. When I was growing up, local or national newspapers and a handful of network stations vied for our attention. Back then the only way to lure us away from our favorite was with a breaking story. And most had a source they trusted.
Like Walter Cronkite. When he spoke, the country believed he was imparting honest, accurate news. At that time, at least two different, reliable sources who confirmed the same story were required before it could be released.
When did that go by the wayside? Maybe when agencies could claim they are just “entertaining us”, not imparting the news?
By side-stepping the line they claim they don’t cross gossip, and lies are now disseminated as “news” to a thirsty population eager to eat up anything salacious and disgorge it as fact.
Years ago, we all knew what they really were- “gossip rags” and entertainment shows that pushed the boundaries regularly to get our attention. The more social norms they could shatter the bigger the audience. Now a thin veil covers what they claim is news so they can spew whatever they want.
Anyone remember the Truman show? It was a Jim Carey movie from 1998. A fantastical and once thought improbable movie that hypothesized what would happen if a movie studio sought to control every aspect of a person’s life. Everything, from friends, job, loved ones, spouse- even the very environment and air he breathed. From birth! They took an orphaned baby and raised him for all to view in a daily show. What kind of man would this produce?
That’s what viewers tuned in to watch every day. They knew the truth. They knew the realities of the world. Only Truman did not. Eventually, when he became an adult little glitches started getting his attention. Slowly, little inconsistencies in his perfectly scripted world got through. And like that kernel stuck in your teeth, it began to fester and grow until he could no longer ignore the true nature of his existence. That’s the analogy a recent Netflix show, The Social Dilemma, used in explaining how we receive our information today- as three hundred million Truman shows, all regurgitating exactly what we want to hear over and over and over again until it is all we hear, see and believe.
How do you interact or talk to someone who has never accessed anything else? Decades ago we all heard the exact same information. Like it or not, the facts didn’t change. Regardless of the station or the broadcaster. Then it was up to each of us, along with debate among ourselves, to form an opinion.That bears repeating- Decades ago we all heard the same data. What we did with that data was up to us. It spurred robust conversations, even arguments.
But the premise was never challenged, only how we perceived it impacted the world and our lives. Social media has fundamentally and absolutely altered that forever. We now have generations of viewers tied to screens that repeatedly feeds and constantly fosters, 24 hours a day, only what we want to hear and see and claim it as fact. In the beginning these companies just wanted what every company wants – success, revenues, a piece of the action. But unlike TV, radio and publications, they weren’t subject to the same regulations. These behemoths were an unknown entity so their actions and the frightening consequences they would create was not foreseen. They just wanted an audience and to grow. So, like anyone looking to expand, they worked hard to understand what brought us to a site, kept us there, and ultimately made sure we kept coming back. Then they wrote codes to refine and process that data until it was all you saw.
Sure it can be changed by the viewer but why would we? It is heaven on earth, getting reams of garbage sent from sources who have to be reliable because, well, hey, they are on the internet! Such a new, unique and overwhelming concept that few truly understand has altered reality as the entire world perceives it. Given the technology, expertise and vast resources at these companies’ command, they knew exactly what power they had at their fingertips and exactly how to profit from it.
How can we discuss an issue when we all seeing different information that we adamantly believe is the only “real data”? Everything else is “fake”. How do we find any compromise or middle ground when the very resources we seek are manipulated to nurture, strengthen and cultivate our individual biases? Who could have imagined it would be this easy to slowly, but surely, reach all human beings on the planet and instill beliefs that could irrecoverably alter our future?
Lenin famously said,“Give me just one generation of youth, and I’ll transform the whole world.” Hitler was an ardent believer. Social media proves it works.