The first thing I do each morning is click on the local news to get the rundown of shootings, stabbings and car crashes that occurred overnight.
Today, our local NBC affiliate had a story about how our metro police department was getting new squad cars complete with “subsonic sirens.” No explanation of exactly what that is or what it might mean for perpetrators – or dogs – for that matter. They were just words on a tele-prompter – a nugget of empty information to help fill a second-and-a-half of a newscast.
This is Lesson One about understanding the modern media. You want insight? Go look somewhere else.
My wife and I looked quizzically at each other – subsonic sirens? What could possibly be the point of that? And why put something in a newscast script that demands more explanation?
The answer: No one watching is paying any attention so it doesn’t really matter.
People are busy – they’re showering, getting ready for work, getting the kids out the door – they only have time to half-hear the news and are mostly only tuning in to see the weather.
The other stuff? Those are just words and images to get you to the next commercial break.
And me? Why do I care? Well, after the most recent election, I find myself with time on my hands, a curiosity about how the media shapes how we think and a desire to jot down my thoughts about it.
For the record, click here to read about what a subsonic siren is. It makes me wonder why the news reader couldn’t have just added: “subsonic sirens, which emit a low-frequency rumble motorists can feel.”
I know you’re asking yourself, why lead off with such a trifling piece of nonsense.
Well, I believe decades of trifling pieces of nonsense, cobbled together over time, have led to media illiteracy on a mass scale. This, combined with an explosion of 24-hour news-talk, means that now more than ever we are being showered constantly with images and words that we are all less equipped than ever to comprehend and process.
Don’t worry. I’m not one of those conspiracy theorists. I don’t believe that it’s the government and the corporations holding us down, maaaan.
In reality, we’ve let it happen to ourselves and the vast majority of us will continue to let that happen. I can’t change that. But I hopefully can do something about it.
On to the shower
Thinking about subsonic sirens, I sent Georgette and the kids off to work and school and took a shower.
Feeling the need for some sensory depravation, I decided to turn the lights out in the bathroom. (We have a shower with no windows or skylight.)
My wife has about 10 bottles of various cleansers and salves in our shower, so I needed to find my body wash, shampoo and conditioner by touch and smell. It was a painstaking process, and as a result, this morning I smell like jasmine infused melon with a touch of vanilla.
As the shower wore on and my eyes adjusted, the bathroom slowly became illuminated by faint light coming from the crack under the door. Over time it became bright enough to see my hand and even my shadow.
Here’s were I get philosophical.
When my eyes adjusted I thought about throwing the door open and letting the light flood in so I could at least see the shampoo bottles. I thought maybe this is a metaphor for what we all need to do: take off the blinders and get exposed to the light – the truth about how we are communicated to and about how the constant stream of messages and images that wash over us shape everything about us.
Eh, not really – that’s Pollyanna.
The world is a dark place, it will continue to be a dark place and the vast majority of us are blissfully comforted by the darkness.
What we can do is help people develop their senses of smell and touch so that they can better negotiate the darkness and then make their own choices about how much light to let in.
And that’s how this experiment starts. Not with throwing open the curtains to reveal mysterious men pulling the levers. It starts with little nuggets, quirks and the subtleties that come together to paint a broad picture about the pervasive role mass media play in so many aspects of our lives.