Humans are a very communicative bunch. From the very earliest we have come up with ways to let others of our kind know what is on our minds, what we know and how we are doing. Whether they want to know or not.
Advances on communications have been at the for front of our endeavors from the beginning. Cave painting and early writing and what not. Scrolls and then early books. The town crier and the traveling minstrels.
With the advent of the printing press and moveable type, getting the message out became considerably easier and more timely as well. At least in the general vicinity. Until radio started to come into it’s own in the late 1920s, newspapers and flyers and the printed word in general were the only means of mass communication. Most metro areas of any size at at least two main newspapers and sometimes three. But the news was hardly timely and if you lived any distance from where the events happened, you found out about them long after they occurred.
Radio improved this immensely, of course but reporting of events as they happened was only for those of events of large proportions. Such as the bombing of London during WWII or some presidential speech of a significant sports event. Early television was little better. Most local stations had little if any news and national/network news consisted of someone reading news copy.
Solid state and transistor electronics, satellites and cable made on the spot reporting much easier. But you still had only three national networks.
Now here’s the thing. Nobody, I repeat nobody was going to broadcast anything that might upset the masses anywhere in this country. Since doing so would upset the advertisers and cost them money. So the the messages and programming rarely – if ever – veered from the center. Be they local or network.
This began to change in the 1970s with satellite and cable networks. And exploded there after with the internet and cell phones and all the rest. Where you now have in excess of 1000 different cable channels. Direct broadcast satellite services and international news available 24/7. Think about that. Forty (40) years ago we would have not heard about the Japanese tsunami and earthquake until after the water had receded. We now have instant information even as we jog in the morning.
The problem is that there is too much of it. With all the cable stations, hundreds of news and political websites from the extreme right to the extreme left and in between. All trying to get their message out and the message getting lost in the noise.
And most preaching to their particular choir. Like being in a very large hall filled with people all talking at once and all talking about something different. All all believing that what they are saying is the most important thing in the world.
In the last 40 years or so we have gone from all hearing pretty much the same message to thousands of different messages. Is it any wonder we cannot get much of a consensus on even the weather ?
Marshall McLuhan said “The media is the message.” I think he was an optimist. The problem as I see is not that of the media per se but that there is far too much media and sorting the wheat from the chaff is becoming more and more difficult even for those of us that are media savvy.