Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sometimes we need an echo chamber

It's Sunday, time for U.S. networks to broadcast their morning political talk shows, with politicians and pundits talking at, not with, each other. Political discourse in the U.S. has devolved into two "echo chambers"--one for Democrats, the other for Republicans, each one telling its supporters what they want to hear and disregarding any evidence that contradicts their views. It's good for all of us to punch a hole in our echo chambers, so that we can be exposed to ideas that contradict our own--that's where personal growth and respect for other opinions comes from. However, there's another echo chamber that we're building for ourselves, and it has nothing to do with politics--but everything to do with self-preservation.

I'm reading the current issue of Wired Magazine. I've subscribed to Wired for years, but it hit me this morning just how inane so much of the contents are:
  • Jonathan Sherman, in a letter to the editor, complained about an article in last month's edition that mentioned the outcome of one of the characters in "The Sopranos." That's right, he complained about being told about the fate of a character in a television show that ended in 2007. He wrote, "Please, in the future, be more mindful of less up-to-date viewers." For Pete's sake, don't tell Jonathan about Rosebud.
  • There's a discussion of how the use of silane in Loctite Epoxy would cause it to burst into flames upon exposure to oxygen. My epoxy bursts into flames all the time, but then, so does my Silly Putty and Fruit of the Loom underwear.
  • A woman in an ad from plumbing fixture maker Kohler looks like she's going to have sex with a guy because of his...toilet. "My, what a big toilet you've got!" 
  • According to watchmaker TAG Heuer, Leonardo DiCaprio wears his watch on the back of his right hand. That would make it difficult for him to use his big toilet.
  • Chevron says that "Oil companies should think more like technology companies." So why don't they?
  • Would you like to hear from Marriott's "Culturazzi"? I didn't think so.
That's just up to page 47. Much of the garbage in Wired is from advertisers, to be sure, but it's garbage that subscribers pay for. And, Wired is one of the better publications. Web-specific sites are filled with aggregated articles and SEO-tuned garbage from content farms like Demand Media. Bleeding has led on local television news for as long as I can remember. Your local newspaper is probably bloated with trivial feature articles and wire service stories, with a little original local news coverage thrown in for good measure.  Content on broadcast commercial radio has become the stuff between the commercials. Cable news channels take one story and beat it to death, then fill in the gaps with meaningless debates between talking heads.

We automatically filter most of this stuff out because, if we really paid attention to it, we'd go crazy. In turn, the media responds by fragmenting even further--putting more versions in more places. Advertisers run more ads, and make them more outlandish, in the hope of capturing attention--which we can measure, sort of, even if we can't measure how well the ads actually lead to sales.

We create our own echo chamber of media that we turn to, and ignore everything else. It's a logical defense mechanism. Spewing more crap through more outlets isn't going to break through our defenses--it's only going to lead to higher and thicker walls. 
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