That the term ‘narrowcasting’ shares a descriptor with ‘narrowmindedness’ is no accident. Saw Fareed Zakaria’s GPS this Sunday on CNN and it reminded me of the phenomenon that I believe has had a bad influence on our current political and cultural environment. In an internet world, we can get our media from exactly the source we desire. Left, right, sophomoric, high-minded, centrist, old, young, International or local, we can find news slanted perfectly for us. It’s the beauty of the internet.
And, of course, a curse. Because we aren’t challenged to think differently. We aren’t even challenged by different facts. Watch the news concerning the current budget crisis and you’ll hear, for the most part, about how Bush spent so much more than Obama, and this debt is his. You’ll hear about how the rich are paying less taxes by percentages than the middle class. You’ll hear plenty of numbers to back them up, and we’re all inclined to like and believe numbers.
Switch the channel, though, and you’ll hear different numbers. These describe the tax burden and talk about how the top 5% of the nation is paying for the government. The talk is instead about flattening the tax code. And the welfare state. And more numbers. And maybe some denigration of the other media sources that are giving the other numbers. You can see how this might contribute to a political climate where pandering to a base makes more sense. You can’t even really get your message through to people who have chosen to receive their narrowcast from a different direction.
I don’t claim to have all the answers. I know that I am guilty of narrowcasting myself. I believe that I listen to some that lean more ideologically right than many in my close circle — the first party I ever felt allegiance to was the Libertarian Party — but I don’t think I understand where the right is coming from completely. It seems to me that we’ve had tax cuts for some time, and we haven’t seen the economic growth that was expected. But I don’t read the right as often as I used to. I’m not sure exactly how the argument goes.
We have excuses. There’s a ton of stuff out there and it’s hard to sort through all of it. As we are overloaded with options, we start to focus on the things we like and understand. It’s the easy way out, but it’s also easier than sorting through all the channels and recording all the shows and reading all the blogs and sorting through all the newspapers. I have to read a ton of baseball stuff for work, I don’t have the time to ingest a ton more. There are a few political sources of information that can sneak into my reader, and they are even in a folder I don’t always open.
And there you have it. Even with my Google reader, Google +, Facebook, and Twitter streams on full blast, I’m still missing a ton of stuff. The old broadcasting model might have even done a better job of introducing different ideas, as the whittling down of choice made for more dedication to one source, and that dedication in turn put pressure on the one source to be diverse in order to appeal to as many as they could. Even as I try to keep my mind open in our current media jumble, there are forces — work, love, life, and the proliferation of choice — that actually conspire to help close it.
We have to keep trying, and that’s all we can do. I’ll keep trying to find different angles on our world here, but who knows, you might have followed a narrow pathway here.