Friday, June 27, 2008

citizen vs. nomad

I was particularly enthralled by the comparison of descriptor words for the "citizen" versus the "nomad" as described in the introduction to McLuhan's chapters. The author of the introduction describes McLuhan as one who "noticed thirty years ago, the accelerated technologies of the electronic future carry us backward into the firelight flickering in the caves of a neolithic past." This reference to Plato's Caves is pertinent to our current discussion. The idea that our media formats today effectively restrict the proper advancement of society is a controversial one, but an important accusation to examine nonetheless. McLuhan describes the current media atmosphere as prohibiting linear progression and instead sponsoring an endless series of sequences, the end result being that "nothing necessarily follows from anything else." This would explain how advancements in technology can actually take us backwards in time as a society.

According to the comparison, an emphasis on things like pleasure, celebrity, power, war, certainty, and banditry is representative of a nomad-like existence. I was immediately shocked to discover how much our current society fit the descriptions of the nomad instead of those of the citizen. When I read the Collapse of Big Media articles it became more clear to me why it is so easy to distinguish today's media atmosphere from that of 30 or 40 years ago. The journalists of those days were no saints, and as the articles pointed at, many of them made no bones about the biases they possessed or the direction they leaned on the political scale--but they were professional in the way they approached their craft. I say "craft" with no hesitance because to those journalists it was indeed an art form in which dealing with biases and making them known to the audience was merely part of the process. I can't help but think of the movie Good Night and Good Luck, the familiar sign-off from television news prophet Edward R. Murrow. For someone who did not take part in that generation, a lousy movie analogy is all I can come up with. But that movie was done tastefully (and quite cheaply for that matter) and with respect to Mr. Murrow. I have to believe it gave me a good impression of a man and a craft I might otherwise not have a proper conception of.

Though there are semblances of this, seemingly lost, ethical and professional approach to journalism still prevalent today (Keith Olberman who uses the same sign-off as a tribute to Mr. Murrow is one example while the late Tim Russert was another) --they are without a doubt in the minority. Unfortunately, the business of news has become a consumer business in which all the usual rules of the market apply. Regard for ethical pursuit of truth through effective journalism often finds no place on company finance sheets. And so we end up with a routine in which the news becomes smaller in proportion to programming timeframes while advertisements grow larger. Likewise, we see the news take on a depressing tone representative of what is supposed to be "bad" news so that we can look evermore fondly upon the ads being hurled at us. In such an emerging environment, the Rupert Murdochs of the world are bound to one day exercise near complete control over information systems as we know them today. If the idea of our society as "nomadic" does catch on as valid now--it certainly will in the future.

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