Archbishop Chaput has an excellent article on “Catholics and the ‘Fourth Estate’” that should be read by all Christians. He makes a number of intriguing points, including a diagnosis of the problem with our current media:
Visual and electronic media, today’s dominant media, need a certain kind of content. They thrive on brevity, speed, change, urgency, variety and feelings. But thinking requires the opposite. Thinking takes time. It needs silence and the methodical skills of logic. Today’s advances in technology have increased the sources of human information that the average layperson can access. That’s a good thing. But they’ve also undermined the intellectual discipline that we once had when our main tools of communication were books or print publications. This is not a good development. In fact, it’s a very dangerous thing in a democracy, which is a form of government that demands intellectual and moral maturity from its citizens to survive.
C. John Sommerville made a similar claim in his excellent book, How the News Makes Us Dumb: The Death of Wisdom in an Information Age:
The product of the news business is change, not wisdom. Wisdom has to do with seeing things in their largest context, whereas news is structured in a way that destroys the larger context. You have to do certain things to information if you want to sell it on a daily basis. You have to make each day’s report seem important. And you do that by reducing the importance of its context.
Why do we put so much emphasis on being informed about so-called news? If you tell people that you rarely read blogs, listen to talk radio, or watch reality TV, they will make no general assumptions about your lack of intellect. Tell people you never watch TV news, rarely listen to radio news broadcasts, and only read newspapers on Sundays and the reaction will be markedly different. They will automatically peg you as a person who is ill-informed, out-of-touch, and possibly even anti-intellectual.
Why do so many people buy into the ridiculous notion that a daily diet of current events is anything other than a mindless form of amusement? Even ardent news-hounds will admit that the bulk of daily news is nothing more than trivia or gossip. How much of what happens every day truly is all that important? How many of us have ever even stopped to ask why we have daily news?
The late media critic Neil Postman once wrote that the media has given us the conjunction, “‘Now, this . . .’, which does not connect anything to anything but does the opposite: separates everything from everything.”
‘Now, this . . .’ is commonly used on radio and television newscasts to indicate that what one has just heard or seen has no relevance to what one is about to hear or see, or possibly to anything one is ever likely to hear or see. The phrase is a means of acknowledging the fact that the world as mapped by the speeded-up electronic media has no order or meaning and is not to be taken seriously. There is no murder so brutal, no earthquake so devastating, no political blunder so costly – for that matter, no ball score so tantalizing or weather report so threatening – that it cannot be erased from our minds by a newscaster saying, “Now . . . this.”
As a Christian, I’m expected to reject this “Now, this . . .” mindset in favor of an eternal perspective, viewing events not just in their historical but in their eschatological context. But I can’t do that if my attention is focused on the churning detritus of the 24-hour news cycle. Besides, events that are truly important are rarely those captured on the front page of a daily paper or found scrolling across the FOX News ticker.
The late Malcolm Muggeridge admitted, “I’ve often thought that if I’d been a journalist in the Holy Land at the time of our Lord’s ministry, I should have spent my time looking into what was happening in Herod’s court. I’d be wanting to sign Salome for her exclusive memoirs, and finding out what Pilate was up to, and—I would have missed completely the most important event there ever was.”
Indeed, imagine if CNN’s Anderson Cooper had been a reporter during that era: “. . . three revolutionaries were crucified on Golgatha today. Included among the executions was a man called Jesus, who some Jews considered to be the messiah. Those hopes were dashed, however, around three P.M. when Roman soldiers declared Jesus dead. And now, this . . . ”
(Chaput link via American Papist)