Monday, November 26, 2012

The Elephant in the Bubble

The Elephant in the Bubble - Part Two

If America's decline began with Fox News permeating its airwaves, it was exacerbated by the "perfect storm" of talk radio and the creation of the Internet. These three outlets became ubiquitous throughout American society: Everyone was online, watched TV, and listened to the radio in their cars.

As music migrated to the FM band, AM stations, seeking a product to draw listeners, stumbled onto the concept of talk radio. It was cheap to produce (one blowhard and one microphone) and easy to create controversy -- attracting attention and listeners, which translated into ratings and advertising dollars. Invariably, the most ardent listeners turned out to be the angry right-wing, so naturally the radio stations pandered to that audience, launching the careers of Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck, and Laura Schlessinger, among other conservative talk show hosts.

The Internet, meanwhile, allowed anyone to create a Website and fill it with their opinions or what they claim to be facts -- without the traditional journalistic filters of fact-checking editors or journalistic responsibility. Because of the great weight of the printed word, many believe anything in writing to be true; hence the meme, "I read it on the Internet; it must be true."

This trifecta, this unholy triad of Fox News, conservative talk radio, and the Internet, spawned two phenomena: the Echo Chamber and the Bubble.

The way humans form opinions is to receive information from a variety of sources, evaluate the data for relevance and veracity, discard what they deem irrelevant or untrue, and finally accept what remains. Often, they are presented with two or more opposing conclusions and must reach their own conclusions after careful perusal and analysis of the evidence. This process necessitates an openness to receiving new information. For example, if Helen is short-tempered and moody when you meet her, you might conclude she is not a nice person. However, after a friend informs you Helen is under tremendous stress because she is going through a bitter divorce, her son is dying of leukemia, and she has recently lost her job, your brain will process this new information and cause you to re-evaluate your initial conclusion.

When we limit the flow of information to only one source, we exclude the possibility of new information being presented by others. We also eliminate the presentation of conflicting data. This creates a "bubble" insulating us from outside sources of information. In our bubble, we hear the same data on TV from Fox News; from talk radio; and from others sharing these views gathering on, and posting to, conservative Websites. Soon, it becomes easy to believe everyone lives in the same bubble, because everyone you see on TV, listen to on radio, and talk to online agrees on the same talking points. In fact, because the same talking points are regurgitated among the unholy triad, it generates an Echo Chamber, constantly repeating and reinforcing these messages. As Marshall McLuhan said,  "The medium is the message."

This is why so many Republicans -- including Mitt Romney himself -- were shocked when Barack Obama won re-election. They lived in the bubble and believed the artificial reality that had been created within it. In the bubble, the Kenyan-born, Socialist president had been destined to lose by a landslide to Romney. Data from outside the bubble was ignored or dismissed. But as the Coyote taught us in those old Road Runner cartoons, you can ignore the law of gravity by running off the cliff, but gravity still exists, whether or not you choose to accept it.

"The Elephant in the Bubble" isn't an attack on Republicans or the Right Wing. Had Murdoch swung left, it could well have been the liberal segment of American politics that fell victim to the phenomenon. Instead, it is an indictment on the corruption of the state of what passes for journalism today and the gullibility of Americans. As H. L. Mencken said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people." Murdoch knew this.

It is a perfectly valid choice to be a member of any political party or affiliation that represents your beliefs, be it Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Tea Party, Progressive, Liberal, Moderate, Conservative, or Green Party. I might disagree with your opinions, but I respect individuals who have studied the issues, analyzed the facts from a variety of sources, and drawn their own conclusion because such people care about the issues that affect their country and their fellow citizens. What I don't respect, and will continue to rail against, are individuals and organizations that propagate misinformation and propaganda, either by design or ignorance, parroting talking points without acknowledging and considering facts from outside the Bubble to inform their opinions. As Harlan Ellison said, "You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant."

Thus, our current social and political divide, which has split families and set brother against brother with passions not felt since the Civil War, is a wholly artificial creation with its roots in greed. The only hope to reverse America's decline is to tune out the propaganda that serves only to enrich plutocrats like Murdoch, educate ourselves with facts derived from a myriad of legitimate sources  instead of talking point or political propaganda, and then work together -- with the same spirit of unity we employed to climb out of the Great Depression, to win WWII, and to put a man on the moon -- and rebuild our country and restore its preeminence.

No comments:

Post a Comment