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|'Tsunami of data' Could Be Boon To Democracy
by Doug McIntyre [radio
I'm an analog man trapped in a digital age. I liked the old gas pumps, the ones with the numbers on a metal ring that clicked as they spun by. I also liked 48 cents a gallon for regular. And that Dick Nixon; he was some character, wasn't he?
I don't know if I'm a coot or a codger, maybe a crank. I know I'm at least one of 'em, but fear I might be all three. See, I had one of those weeks when everything I knew as a kid seems better than anything today. If you're reading this with an actual newspaper in your mitts, I assume you know exactly what I mean. For the dailynews.com crowd, allow me to explain.
This isn't about nostalgia. Lots of things were crummy when I was a kid. If you were black, gay, a chick - pardon me, a woman - or a whale, life was considerably more difficult.
When I was a kid, let's say 1971, it sure seemed like the country was coming apart like a $4 snow tire; Vietnam, race riots, those hideous San Diego Padres uniforms, just awful stuff was happening. But even at its worst, there was also intelligence behind the turmoil. All that rage was fueled by ideas, by the notion that things could be better, should be better, and the average Joe demonstrated a willingness to take a stand. Hippies and hard hats might not have agreed on anything, but at least they believed in something.
Today, the world wobbles on its axis and the debate is often led by simpletons, demagogues and grifters. Worse still, while society fragments into
40 gazillion Web sites and satellite channels, we shrink into smaller and smaller cliques that are seemingly less tolerant or even interested in any other point of view. We are manufacturing apathy at DSL speed.
It's the great irony of the information age - despite unprecedented access to all the world's knowledge, maybe because of it, we are losing faith in facts. It's hard not to suffer from information overload. We're bombarded by junk knowledge, we're told constantly the trivial is important, and we are confronted with the challenge of running a complex city, economy and nation in an increasingly complex world, with a population that is disengaged and disinterested.
But it's one thing to tune out Uncle Carl's 68th retelling of the time he blew off his index finger with a cherry bomb. It's another thing to have zero interest in how Los Angeles is run.
Or more correctly, run into the ground. We have reached a critical threshold, the apathy tipping point. The political structure of this city understands all too well that the vast majority of us have given up looking to them for anything. In fact, they count on it.
The less people care about Los Angeles, the easier it is for the well-placed and well-funded few to write their own ticket. In the desperate fight for life, newspapers, radio stations and TV, too, have had to shed reporters and entire categories of news. City Hall stories aren't sexy - unless, of course, the mayor is boffing a hot-tamale news anchor.
The county Board of Supervisors? You've got to be kidding! Who wants to hear about them?
So, the state of California and the city of L.A. are run for the few, with nobody minding the store for the many.
The barrage of silly trivia and trumped-up "controversies" distract us from the daily outrage of the greatest country on Earth being driven like a spring break rent-a-car.
The premise of America is predicated on an "informed electorate," so the information age would seem to be a boon to democracy. And it can be yet, if we choose to use it for a higher purpose than cheap downloads of pop tunes and Korean porn.
I'm definitely a coot.
As newspapers thin down and die off, as a generation of kids grows up without a daily paper in their lives, as radio and television cover the lurid over the learned, the weight of ignorance and apathy puts the future in fewer and fewer hands, and the great American citizenry is reduced to consumers and only consumers. Our value as human beings is determined by our buying power.
It's vital we re-engage with the political process and nurture critical-thinking skills. There's a Web site for every possible belief system, every possible entertainment and stray thought. How we allocate our time, how we consume, process and use this tsunami of data will determine how free a people we remain. CRO
first appeared at L.A. Daily News
2008 Doug McIntyre