Media, The Reality Funnel

Reading Time: ~5 minutes

Did anyone else feel a kind of dull depression when the stocks first dove recently? Or an exhiliration when they seemed to rise again? Are you a stockbroker? Probably not.

We’ve reached a point where the things we feel don’t have to have any impact on us whatsoever, because we instead feel a sentiment so abstractedly that some blips on the computer or television screen can affect our physical well-being.

Media doesn’t communicate stories to us anymore, it communicates feelings. It’s an omnipresent deluge of information that quickly pours into one single narrative with unprecedented force. Largely thanks to the internet, media has become our funnel for reality. 

Think about a few weeks ago. What was the most important thing in the country? Our employment crisis? The continuing outsourcing of jobs and slashing of unions? The secret “conflict” in Libya? The unrest in Yemen and Syria? What about Egypt, how’d that go?

No, it was the budget deal. Even if the stalwart individuals who tried to remain apathetic to the completely and utterly arbitrary controversy eventually caved, because there was nothing else to talk about. This somehow became THE topic of conversation across the country. Across the COUNTRY we talked about a bunch of adults sitting in a room arguing. And we rarely ever talked about anything else.

And what happened to Rupert Murdoch’s phone hacking scandal? What happened to the death of  the man who initially alerted the media to it? Or the fact that Brooks is still on the payroll of the company? No, it’s too late for those stories. They didn’t get resolved in time.

Take our current image of Somalia or the stock market. One single story is repeated an infinite number of times, with truth fraying at the seams, but the tapestry remains the same. Blog posts and Tweets, news aggregators and mainstream news websites, all flock to the same steady drinking pool of the most popular story of the day.

That leaves us with very little to choose from. Not only that, the accessibility of this stagnant pool of news narrows our dimensions for growth. By creating artifical commonalities and feelings – because everyone is reading the same thing – mass media effortlessly drowns us in opinions instead of facts. It’s inevitable that we try to generate our own news through self-expression, but we’re only basing what we know on what we’ve been told through a medium that grows smaller and smaller as it tries to pinpoint the bright flash of popularity.

In the end, we don’t know anything. The stories are covered so briefly that we’re left with feeling, rather than memory. Why did the stock market come and go, then rally again? Why was the budget deal a failure? How do we know?

Through this funnel effect, mass media narrows what we can believe. Opinions all grow from the same soil, so the diversity is already limited. We’ve taken to staggering into two camps for almost every issue, as if, in every situation, there are just two possible sides to an issue.

At the same time, our empathy is left numb by the electrifying thunderstorm of the latest tragedy. There’s a certain cognitive dissonance to eating a bagel smeared with peanut butter while reading about a famine in Somalia. To reading about unemployment numbers, or the impending stock market collapse, when you’re safely in your cubicle. A dangerous dissonance – it used to be that when this issue was covered, it was a big deal and got people moving. Nowadays, we’re already bracing for the next disaster.

News has turned into aesthetic entertainment that pulls at the heartstrings and occasionally the brain.

There has never been a time in history where our voracious appetite for news has been met so readily with a sugary and endless supply of unhealthy snacks rather than an investigative and substantial meal. Each morning, we can click a single button and be quickly and easily washed in the news of today, forgetting about the news of yesterday until it becomes the news of tomorrow.

We are willfully brainwashing ourselves every day. Asking the internet, asking the television, what we should worry about, not think about. What we should gossip, not discuss. 

Mass media has successfully systematized not only our news consumption, but our culture and, by consequence, who we are as individuals. We have access to every possible model of behavior, every opinion and feeling, so before we even take an action or have a thought, we already know the precedent, effectively turning everything we do into a simulation, rather than an actual reality.

After the real is funneled through the media, there is nothing left but the simulation of these models in the pursuit of a “truth” generated by these same models. Models that emulate all the unproductive and irrational facets of humanity that are so magnetized to the internet and television.

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