Technology has added a fourth powerful ingredient to the mix of people, places, and events that make up our world. That ingredient is the ever-present, all-encompassing entertainment media.
It is so powerful that an almost unanimous response of drivers 18 to 29 was that it is “absolutely impossible” to drive without music in the background.
Professor Warren Brodsky at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) led the study. He found, “To young drivers, 18-29, music in the car isn’t just entertainment, it’s part of their ‘AUTOSPHERE’ whether they’re alone or not.”
What is the result? “They are so used to constant stimulation and absorbing great amounts of information throughout the day that they don’t question how the type of tunes they play might affect concentration, induce aggressive behavior, or cause them to miscalculate risky situations.”
That is one of the countless examples of how entertainment media infiltrates and influences every area of our lives. Notice, the sample of students in the survey “… don’t question…” how the entertainment affects them.
We can say the same about how entertainment media affects us on the receiving end of it.
Neil Postman captured the essence of our age in the title of his classic book on communication, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Our lives are endlessly bombarded by attempts to capture and hold attention utilizing entertainment.
People from every socioeconomic and geopolitical group are lured by entertainment. That doesn’t leave much time for musing or thinking deeply about anything.
When we muse, we seek to look at our world objectively to notice causes and effects and weigh the pros and cons of decisions. Tragically, that happens less and less because more and more we are amused. “Amuse” literally means to think not.
We all need downtime. Amusement in the right place is not necessarily harmful or dangerous. But in other areas, the effects can be devastating, and the consequences are far-reaching.
This transformation has made us susceptible to influences we would otherwise notice and avoid. That is particularly true of the information we take in from the world around us.
Specifically, it has allowed “news” to morph openly into something that would not be recognized as news a few decades ago.
Our media-driven world of entertainment and amusement has landed us somewhere beyond even “advocacy journalism.”
The term “advocacy journalism” is what we call an oxymoron. An oxymoron is “… a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired to make a point or reveal a more profound or hidden truth” (www.litcharts.com/literary-devices-and-terms).
The more profound or hidden truth in the case of advocacy journalism is that what passes as objective news today is anything but objective. Many in the academic world, who promote advocacy journalism, deny the possibility of anyone being accurate about anything outside themselves.
News today is seldom intended to tell us what has happened. Instead, the trend is to persuade us that a particular interpretation of what happened is the reality.
As I stated, we live beyond even advocacy journalism. By definition, advocacy journalism is distinguished from propaganda by the foundation on which it rests. Propaganda can be and typically is based on untruths or falsehood or, plainly, lies.
Advocacy journalism is, similar to propaganda, an effort to persuade, but unlike propaganda, it is always based on truth.
The concept of truth is a wonderful idea. At its core, truth means that which conforms to reality. We know the truth if what we know corresponds to what exists in the world beyond our thoughts.
Too often, zealots on both extremes of the political spectrum from left to right do not allow truth or facts to get in the way of their arguments and efforts to persuade. That position is beyond advocacy. It is propaganda.
Sadly, it is not uncommon for media figures of every political persuasion to bend, shape, or create “the facts.”
My son, Stephen, tells me he is doing an interesting study. The research consists of watching different network news shows to compare their content. That includes what is and is not covered and the spin put on what makes it on the air.
Several media watchdog groups do this regularly, but my son wanted to try it for himself.
Stephen is still only a few weeks into his investigation. Yet, he is already surprised to see the differences among the channels. It is as if the networks are in different worlds.
It is ironic that at the very time when we have instantaneous access to events around the globe, the quest to know the truth is increasingly a challenge. Like watching a magician do sleight of hand tricks, we are easily entertained, amused, and mislead.
Because we see and read so little straight news, how can any of us presume to know the truth about what is happening in the world? It takes thought and reflection, but we can do it!
Perhaps, the place to begin is with an awareness of the game. I have very high regard for many print and electronic media journalists. Many strive to be objective, but their number is shrinking.
Even the reporter who seeks to be objective suffers from psychological biases. We all do. We try to recognize and correct for them, but we each have our blinds spots. The biases shape what they—and we—see, and it colors how they capture in words and pictures what they are presenting.
The simplest example is what in the world of psychology is called “labeling.” If you think you have caught someone lying, the brain quickly assigns what we might call a label on that person. She or he is a liar.
That becomes a perceptual bias.
Suppose you hear two people make an identical statement. If your brain has decided—that is, if you have decided—one of the people is a liar, you automatically hear what she or he says with doubt. You question her or him to a degree you would not ask the other person making an identical statement. Without deliberate effort, we all do the same.
Try this experiment: First, reflect on who in your personal life you have labeled. (Because of the nature of human nature, it would be easier for us to list the people we have not labeled.). Second, try to honestly admit to yourself the labels you have assigned to each of them. Third, see if you can recognize how the label you put on a person affects how you listen to and interact with each of them.
Being aware of the game is an excellent place to begin. The experiment I just suggested will help you develop mental habits you can use to notice how reporters have labeled a person and how the labels shape their coverage of people and events.
We will look further into this vital topic in future blogs.
Be discerning and courageous, Chuck
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