Media Narcosis

To talk or to listen, that is the question.

The shrill chaos of a million tweets, blogs and call-in cable and radio shows has entranced us with the sounds of our own voices and immersed us in the white noise of narcissism.  The self-induced attention deficit disorder of pervasive media becomes narcotic, spellbinding us in endless trivia. This informational anarchy has been named “social media” by gurus and is characterized as the ultimate democratization of media technology. But in this vast mediasphere, how do we sort through the self-obsession of tweets, blogs, emails, spam, 500 cable channels, Youtube and Facebook entries to find any relevance to our personal lives or communities?  When the number of blogs, tweets, podcasts equals the number of people alive, to whom will we be talking, shouting or tweeting?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m part of the problem. To the detriment of the environment and my savings, I am a relentless early adopter. I have not yet figured out how to responsibly discard into the waste stream the consumer electronics orphans that I hoped would be useful tools, but that, in fact, are little more than distracting toys.

Increasingly, I must — to use a popular new environmental expression — engage in noise sequestration, meaning simply that I must make time for silence, with no sensory inputs – solitary quiet time to think about what I have heard that is important to people other than myself or quiet time to listen to my wife, my child, a neighbor or friend or just the sounds of nature – time to pull out the earbuds, ignore email alerts, and let the TV sit dark.

I’ve come to believe that the mediasphere induces a sort of narcissistic narcosis, bewitching us into believing that complex solutions can be reduced to a few bytes, just as a glazed donut can be consumed more easily than a fresh salad. Immersed in the din of our own mindless political slogans, empty nostrums, and shouting matches, will the social and economic equilibrium we seek — so beautifully expressed in our own State motto, Freedom and Unity — be possible?  Or will the loudest person, producing the most tweets, blogs or podcasts prevail?  There is a delicate balance between the free individual and the cohesive community that can only arise from calm, deliberative dialogue among thoughtful, educated citizens who value facts and who can listen to one another. It is likewise a diversity of opinions expressed respectfully that leads us to durable solutions.

The mediasphere can and will be a part of our social and economic solutions, but only when the navigational and editorial components that differentiate noise from knowledge are in place and our educational systems help our emerging citizens differentiate fact from fiction, information from noise and civil discourse from shouting matches. Like nuclear technology, media technology is powerful, but we have a long way to go before we can truly claim to have harnessed it for the good of society.

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