Saturday, October 21, 2006

Following the News

I've heard this idea come up a couple of times recently, that it's not a healthy thing to follow the news, because so much of what happens on a global and national scale isn't anything you can do anything about; it's little more than voyeurism and a distraction from the good you can do in the local world you actually live in.

I think it's true that the news is rarely relevant, and that political awareness and involvement is irrational from a pure self-interest perspective. The chances that your vote, or your letter to the editor, or your contribution to a cause, will be a deciding factor, is slim-to-none, unless you have more money than George Soros.

But I wonder what will happen as people are more and more able to create their own realities, by choosing to read only stuff that interests them, and ignore the larger direction humanity is heading day to day. Maybe the animosity between red- and blue-state people in the US is fueled by the fact that we're drifting into different informational universes.

When Turkey and France got in this tiff about whether the Armenian genocide really happened, I don't think it's that one side or the other is blinded by hate or something; it's just that people getting a general education in the two countries, get presented with a different consensus, that they usually just adopt unless they have a special personal reason to take an interest in pursuing the truth.

The fact that the Turks and the French disagree about this, then, is no big surprise; they're different cultures, consuming different media, speaking different languages. But with the diversification of media that the internet allows, we're starting to see this same divide happen within our own culture, with liberals and conservatives clustering around their own media.

In the end I think more choices in media will end up being a good thing somehow. I can't say how; I just have a kind of faith that people are basically good, and so personal empowerment leads to good things in the long run. But I'd advise anyone who cared to listen, that maybe it's a good idea to keep one eye on the global media, as awful or irrelevant as it seems sometimes, just so your personal universe doesn't totally wall itself off into a mirror maze where every piece of data you have about the world is something you put there yourself.

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