But what happens when we learn that we are more disconnected than we could have dreamed? How can we deal with the fact that with all of this information we are losing the ability to communicate with each other? What do we do when we learn that the media we surround ourselves with are inaccurate and do not tell the real truth?
It took an event that was deemed worthy of “national news” status to happen in my backyard for these realities to strike home to me. The massive protests against governor Scott Walker's bill thrust myself and my friends into the limelight. Suddenly I was living the events that normally one must use mass media to learn about. At first it was fascinating to see how my cause and my peers were part of the news. As our involvement and the gravity of the situation grew deeper, we found ourselves in search of accurate information on a minute to the minute basis.
The interesting part of this was that as my urgency to be in the know grew, I found it advantageous to turn away from print, TV, and web sources. Within a few days it was clear that the best information came from human discussion and questioning. Instead of scouring online newspapers to find out what legislators were doing, we either talked to people in and around the state capitol, or scoured blogs of tweets posted by individuals who claimed to be near the action. With a bit of analysis it was easy to figure out which ones were accurate.
The reason for turning away from published sources was for one simple reason. You could not believe what you read. What was printed in newspapers and shown on TV wasn't the truth. At first I glossed over the inaccuracies of the news stories and moved on in my search for information. But, over time it became clear that these inaccuracies were pervasive throughout all of the various media. It was a disheartening realization to say the least. When you watch TV or read the newspaper you are getting a carefully controlled and polished version of the truth set to appease the interests of those who pay for or stand to gain by the message.
With these multiple sources of inaccurate information, it is no wonder that we are terribly polarized in our views. Our current leadership is banking on our inability to work together. They are leading by example in their complete unwillingness to even discuss the massive amounts of new legislation that will greatly affect the very fabric of the lives we live. No wonder we can’t stand to sit in the same room or walk around the same capitol building with our ideological opponents. However, in reality, this ability to communicate is exactly what we need most. A return to healthy discourse requires freedom from false news and access to each other as people.
It is clear that those who control the message are doing a disservice to the public as a whole. What is written, published, and broadcast over the airwaves becomes truth in our America. Whether we like it or not, our media decide our reality. We consume what we see and read. Our decisions and stances are dictated by it.
At this point in my diatribe I want to make my intentions clear. Here is a call for a step away from corporate owned newspapers and their lackluster money driven journalism. Here is a call to not base our knowledge on “fair and balanced” newscasts and talking heads so ridiculous that they are almost funny. Here is a call to step away from 30-second TV commercials to help us decide who we elect.
We need to slow down the speed at which we gain information. We need to curtail the ability of those with money to shape our beliefs based on what they pay for us to consume through media. Please, go to the barbershop and talk to the people getting a cut. Chat up your neighbors as you park your car. Take time to go to happy hour with the people at work. Host a pot luck. Walk around the capitol and see what it is like. Talk with the people. Listen. Experience the news for yourself. Break down the walls that normally center you on whatever glowing screen is closest to you.
We might just find the truth. We might just get along. And we might get what we need.