The nature of media has undoubtedly dramatically changed in my lifetime. In the years before I was born and as I grew up, the 24-hour news-cycle system was dawning.
The constant stream of information made available to the American people was and is made possible by multiple cable news channels dedicated solely to news. Headlines are constantly shifting from hour to hour as our attention spans get shorter and shorter. What was once a culture dominated by the written word became one dominated by the image. Television and technology shifted our culture from books and plays to TV and movies.
That was all just in the 1990s and early 2000s. In the last five years, the rate of change became exponential. Social media and remote access to the internet by way of the smartphone once again changed the way we consume media. But, is this change our friend or our foe?
Easy access to the internet can be an unbelievable gift to the world. An average American with a smartphone has the ability to access almost any newspaper on the face of the globe, most of which are free. The information available at the tips of our fingers is unparalleled in human history. Any single Google search, devoid of any special internet services, can send one to the news sites of the United Arab Emirates or India, in English, and completely for free. One is able to find scholarly articles at the click of a button while riding on a bike in the middle of the woods.
Going to the library and looking things up via the Dewey Decimal System? It’s virtually unheard of among millennials.
The rise of the internet has not only broadened the reach of the user but broadened the scope of media itself. Where, years ago, there may have only been a handful of newspapers to get the news from, there are now hundreds and more are being developed every day. Lectures from different universities are easily accessible on YouTube at any moment of any day. Really, there is no good excuse for not learning everything one can cram into one 24-hour cycle every single day.
This gift we have been given is not without its downsides. In effect, it has divided our country and bent it to its breaking point. When one is able to access more and more specifically-tailored media that fits their own ideals, it becomes decreasingly likely that one will stumble across an opinion with which one disagrees. The media is now sequestered. If you are passionate about the environment, there’s a blog for that and you never have to hear about the other side of the argument. When the media was less sequestered, the news simply had to include a more varied viewpoint in order to sustain itself financially. Today, running a blog is much less expensive than running a widely-read newspaper.
Like it or not, we’re in this situation now. It’s up to each individual to keep themselves informed on both sides of every issue they’re passionate about. Granted, it can be hard; most of us have many other things to do besides take into account every externality of every opinion we hold. Most of the time, we read an article or watch a program that affirms our prejudices because it’s the easiest thing to do after a long day. Every conservative should not only read the founders of their tradition like John Locke and Edmund Burke, they should also read the thinkers of the left like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes.
Every politically-conscious person should have a baseline knowledge of the foundational views of both left and right and how these foundations build to what we see in politics today. This way, when we debate, we do not debate with half-truths gleaned off a blog post headline or from glancing at Twitter during lunch. These are important discussions that will decide the future of the West and they require serious deliberation. The reactionary culture that has been building is plainly unsustainable in a civilized society. The desire to simply side with one’s own group is more conducive to gangland tribalism than substantive political debate.
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