Technology is a good thing — mostly — even if I don’t always use it. Remember, I’m still lost in the 90’s. It seems to me that email may be becoming passé with the advent of texting, Facebook and Twitter. That’s too bad in some respects. Although I was not always a big fan of email, it served a purpose of getting information to one or more individuals quickly, precisely and without having to track each one down. Of course email still serves that purpose, but one thing that it was used for quite a lot has, in my experience, gone away. Thank goodness.
What I almost never experience anymore is the unsolicited emails from acquaintances that mindlessly pass on “facts,” usually of a political nature, that make no sense or are demonstrably false. It was so easy to fact check the information through a number of independent, apolitical web sites such as “Snopes” or “Factcheck.org” or others, but apparently vast numbers of people never did (still don’t) bother to do that. I’m not sure if that’s because they are too lazy, don’t think of it, or because it reinforces some pre-conceived idea or viewpoint. At any rate, I don’t see much of it anymore, especially because I am not on Facebook or Twitter. A member of my household is, and she gets plenty of that stuff now from “friends” on Facebook. I’m sorry that Facebook is now inundated with that mindless stuff, but I’m glad it doesn’t come over the email anymore.
Still, the accuracy of the information has not improved. I also suspect that if folks checked out the source of the information that they “like” they would be surprised. It’s a whole lot easier to just click on a button without thinking because the picture is “pretty” or “patriotic” or “cute” than it is to actually find out where it is originally sourced and more importantly, the organizations that are supported by those “likes.” Many are down right scary.
In the old email days, much of the junk I would receive would be prefaced with words to the effect that “you won’t see this in the media” or “why don’t they print this” or similar types of refrains. Usually such complaints have something to do with a positive story about the military, or some other related (although often incorrect) perceived slight to our nation and those that serve. I was and am baffled as I try to understand what they are complaining about because as a 28 year veteran of the naval service, I am acutely attuned and often seek out articles and national news reports about the military and surrounding policies and am absolutely convinced the stories are there. Many are positive in nature, or as they used to be called, “human nature” pieces or feel-good pieces. There are, of course, plenty of hard news stories covering events and policies surrounding the military and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the complaints seem to be focused on the fact that there are never any positive stories or reports of the many contributions that military families make to their communities and the like. I read different newspapers and watch different news stations so that I get different points of view on subjects and sometimes a story is reported in one that does not appear in others, but the stories are there. So I thought that we must be reading different newspapers and watching different television news stations because there are plenty of those kinds of stories out there. And then it dawned on me, that is exactly what is happening. They aren’t reading the same newspapers or watching the same news stations that I am, so no wonder they don’t know about them.
I’ll resist the easy conclusion that people just don’t do much anymore other than get their news from a social media source, although I suspect for some that is probably the case. I’ll even ignore the likelihood that they don’t read or watch stories that do not confirm their pre-conceived notion of the facts. Rather, I think it has as much to do with the nature of the traditional media, especially newspapers, as it does with their willingness to look for the information.
When I hear someone say that they “never” see any of these types of stories in their local press, they may be right. I had the good fortune to take a five-week trip by car from the east coast to the west and back again. A great trip and a great experience, but that story is for another day. What I noticed during our travels is that most newspapers from the cities we stopped in and visited are very thin with a lot of local news (nothing wrong with that) and very little national or international news and even less on the types of stories that run regularly in the “name” papers such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and a few others. Not every big city has a big time newspaper and it becomes increasingly less likely that they are going to give the in-depth reporting of the breadth that papers of record are going to provide. Unfortunately, those papers are suffering financially and I rue the day that they cease to publish, or worse, in my view, change their editorial policies to become more pop oriented with a primary focus to make money. In the last few days the venerable Boston Globe and Washington Post have been sold, for example. The new owners vow to keep the papers the same and to retain key writers, editors and most importantly, to keep their editorial integrity. I hope they do.
For those that claim they don’t listen to the “lame stream media” because they are all in collusion and only trust Fox News, I will merely point out that Fox News is part of the largest media conglomerate — In. The. World. Incidentally, Rupert Murdoch also owns The Wall Street Journal, so I’m not sure why one is lame and the other is not, to cite only two examples of his world-wide empire.
The fact remains for the moment, however, that if you get your main source of news from Facebook, Twitter or other social media sources, you just plain are not going to get it all and certainly not in the depth required to understand and assimilate the implications of what you are reading. Unfortunately, more and more news organizations in our country are going in the same direction. If an electorate educated on the issues and able to understand the nuances and consequences of our national polices is the best kind of electorate, I’m not sure where we are headed if we only get 140 characters to understand it.