January 18, 2008

Information Revolution, you say?

An anecdote from a few days back to preface the actual link for this blog. I cannot remember who I was talking to ... telling them that I have to go to India for a cousin's wedding....the person asked if it was an arranged marriage. Fair question re: Indian marriages, I say!. I told her that ..no, my cousin works for an ad agency and she met him there. The person says: Oh..ad-agency..they have those in India? I wouldn't put have put those two (ad agency and India) together.

Hmm... batao...kya boloo. "We have a billion people to advertise to, you know" is what came to mind but I didn't even say that. Shrugged my shoulder and mumbled something that I do not quite remember! A la George Costanza in The Comeback episode, a better response came to mind much later -- along the lines of: "Yes, we need ads to buy elephants like you need car ads, you know! And how would we know what deals are on in the jungle when we go hunting? And how would we brownies learn how to make fire if we didn't have ads by match companies showing us how! By the way, please return that concept of 'zero' back. Heard you guys don't appreciate anything with no value attached to it anyways!"

Ok..now I'm being facetious and stereotyping here now about materialistic ignorant Americans -- not all Americans are like that and the country continues to be the world leader in the production of some brilliant minds. It also actually can boast of some really socially, culturally, and globally aware human beings...but they do not form the majority or even a significant minority. The above anecdote made me aware to the fact that in "liberal & cultured" Brahminical Boston area, I am still in the US! I would have expected that question in some places in the Mid-West where I lived before but not in the Boston area!

Further proof of this ignorance is brought to light by
a Pew Research Foundation study about What Americans Know: 1989-2007 that has found that public knowledge of current affairs has changed little by the news and information revolution.

Elsewhere, a comment at this thread at plastic.com, which I used to read regularly some years back but have not read it in over a year, may explain some of this 'ignorance.'
People who are (1) ill-informed, (2) can't see through the transparent performances of hack anchors and O'Reilly, and (3) are unwilling or unable to rely on more than one news source to come to their incorrect interpretation of facts.
The comment specifically mentions O'Reilly because the thread is about ..
..a poll conducted by Sacred Heart University has led to headlines across much of America's right-wing media that FoxNews is now the "most trusted" news source for Americans, passing CNN, which was most trusted for accurate reporting in 2003. These media outlets typically lead with the poll results that the most trusted national TV news organizations, for accurate reporting, in declining order, were FoxNews (27.0%), CNN (14.6%), and NBC News (10.90%). These were followed by ABC News (7.0%), local news (6.9%), CBS News (6.8%) MSNBC (4.0%), PBS News (3.0%), CNBC (0.6%) and CBN (0.5%). The follow-up statistic is that in 2003, CNN led FoxNews 23.8% to 14.6%.
Wow...seems only 3% of people believe PBS! Who did they poll? Fox News anchors? Well...

Scan a little further down the page, or look at a more objective news source and additional poll results put the numbers about FoxNews in a very different perspective. ...

James Castonguay, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of SHU's Department of Media Studies & Digital Culture, summed it up:

"The fact that an astonishing percentage of Americans see biases and partisanship in their mainstream news sources suggests an active and critical consumer of information in the U.S. The availability of alternative viewpoints and news sources through the Internet no doubt contributes to the increased skepticism about the objectivity of profit-driven news outlets owned by large conglomerates.

Naah.. I do not think it works that way. While it is true that there is an availability of alternative viewpoints via the internet and while one could hope that the power of information and its ease of access in today's world would dissipate some of the ignorance, the fact of the matter is that birds of a feather flock together. People listen to the news that only fits their world-view and fits into their biases. One finds comfort against the 'evil terrible' world with other people who share your own biases and view-points. A plethora of choices has meant that each person finds such an outlet, which reinforces his or her biases and in many cases even ridicules alternative view-points. Opinion, spun as "the truth", has replaced objective news in America and that is one of the reasons why ignorance prevails in this land. Doublespeak and the Orwellian "newspeak" has replaced honest discourse (political or other) in this country. Like William Lutz of Rutgers University said in an interview almost two decades ago:

Double-speak is language designed to evade responsibility, make the unpleasant appear pleasant, the unattractive appear attractive. Basically, it's language that pretends to communicate, but really doesn't. It is language designed to mislead, while pretending not to.

Double-speak is not a slip of the tongue or a mistaken use of language, it's exactly the opposite. It is language used by people who are very intelligent and very sophisticated in the use of language, and know that you can do an awful lot with language.

What a perfect definition of what we see in mainstream media these days! Do read the interview - its a fascinating discussion of the prevalence of double-speak in media, businesses, government, etc. And I think the explanation below of why not too many people in the US vote also has some merit. People recognize and have become jaded with this BS and double-speak!
I have a hypothesis that I would love to test, and I hope sometime to be able to do that. I would love to be able to track the pervasiveness of double-speak, as it grew, along with the decline in voting, because the reaction I get to double-speak, from a lot of readers of the Quarterly Review, is they write to as, "Well of course, I know this language, I see it all over the place, I see it all the time, but what else can you expect from politicians, they all lie, they all use double-speak." It is that cynicism which leads to, "There's nothing I can do about it." So people withdraw and pull back.
Also this interesting excerpt from a review of Mr. Lutz's book, The New Doublespeak:
It is necessary, for the healthy functioning of a democracy, to have free, open, and honest public discourse. In a world where plain English is being replaced by doublespeak and hot-button word engineering, that honest communication cannot take place. As William Lutz points out, the increasing corruption of our public language — the language we use to debate issues and to decide public policy — is the corruption of democracy itself.
An excerpt from the book can be read here and this site called Doublespeak is a good relevant site to read.

I could go on and on about this... how this ignorance also breeds a certain arrogance but I'll stop here for now, with a link to an interesting site someone forwarded to me: Fox attacks Decency. If you share some of my own viewpoints (and perhaps biases), you will enjoy it. If you are one of those millions in this country who get all their news from Faux..er..Fox News, you will dismiss this as liberal propaganda! :)

Quote for the moment:
Americans seem to have a very difficult time recognizing that there is a distinction between understanding and sympathizing. Somehow we believe that an attempt to inform ourselves about what leads to evil is an attempt to explain it away. I believe that just the opposite is true, and that when it comes to coping with evil, ignorance is our own worst enemy. - Kathleen Norris

1 comment:

janetleigh said...

Excellent article, Sanjeev! There belongs somewhere in this discussion "political correctness" and where it plays in this "doublespeak". It's really late and I'm getting to your website much too late so I'll just say that "doublespeak" could be the end of democracy when you remember it was Joseph Stalin's white paper on "semantics" that posed the theory if you can change the semantics of a society, you can lead them where you want. And totally, off topic except for the fact it's the same author (Stalin) who said it doesn't matter who votes, but who counts the votes..:)

I hope you checked back on your last comment on my blog to see my reply to you, Sanjeev. I hope things are settling down for you these days.. {{{hugs}}}

Poetmeister...on the road to Parnassus

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