ColumnsFromStauffer.com

Recently I have been hearing the media labeled the “enemy of the American people.”  This charge has escalated the continuous campaign to discredit the very news organizations that we have relied on to keep us informed and to hold the people in power accountable. However, the problem has become more complicated and the stakes are higher than many people realize. Americans used to value “the truth” above all, but currently, we do not know if we are getting “the truth” from the major media organizations or are we being subjected to what is being called, “fake news.” Part of the problem is that the “businessification” of the major media organizations has blurred the line between news and entertainment.

 The new term “infotainment” was invented to justify sensationalism and aggressive investigatory journalism. This form of journalism has, overall, served the country quite well. It was vital in informing the public about racism and the indignities of segregation, revealing disturbing facts about false government reports and outrageous military actions in Vietnam,  the causes and impact of widespread accounting frauds at Enron and other huge public corporations, and the disastrous consequences of the financial collapse caused by unethical and illegal manipulation of the mortgage system and more recently the Equifax security breach resulting in the  theft of millions of American’s financial information.  The media’s power can shape public perceptions and undermine public policies and individual careers, however, this power has not always been used wisely.  Much attention has been given to trivia and also to stories purporting to be investigatory but are little more than self-serving journalism. These scandals are totally designed to tarnish the reputations of public figures based on hysterical exaggerations of facts.  Even the most respected mainstream media organizations have been tainted with mistakes, editorial bias or strategic decisions to over report tabloid-type stories and ignore far more significant, but possibly less compelling, international and domestic events. 

The power to criticize, reveal and challenge people in power and to influence public perceptions embodied in the concept of a free press is enormously important in a democracy. Even though it may be difficult, it is important to hold accountable all mass media, especially those claiming the prestige and privilege of journalism and the constitutional protection of a free press. The current problem is that the public confidence in the entire institution of journalism has been undermined by accusations and the American public no longer trusts the media’s reporting causing a severe indictment on the state of our democracy and our values in “knowing the truth”.

The internet gives anyone the power to be a publisher. There are positive aspects to this democratization, but it has also made assessing the truth and messages packaged as news vastly more complicated. The press is uniquely suited to investigate the accuracy of assertions, but blogs, tweets, other social media posts and newsletters have polluted the informational environment. In an increasing number of cases outright deliberately false stories have obstructed the search for objective facts and truth. This is the real meaning of fake news.  However, I believe, despite some exceptions, every major mainline media organization (regardless of their political leaning) are dominated by men and women who deserve our trust.  The truly professional media is needed to monitor and fact-check claims and assertions that have great social significance.  A free press is essential to democracy and to what makes America great.  The press has rattled the cages of every American President and have criticized their behaviors and decisions which is what they are expected to do, but when the press loses tract of the truth, the American people suffer the indignity of confusion, misinformation and disrespect.  We cannot  forget the importance of truth and the relationship to trust!  We can’t have one without the other.  Thomas Jefferson said,   “ Our liberty depends of the freedom of the press,”  Our right to free speech is part of what makes America great!

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Recently I have been getting lots of emails that are reminiscent of life back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.   They really call attention to the amazing changes that have occurred in the last 50+ years.  I can’t believe that I have seen telephones go from crank up wall phones with party lines to pocket sized smart phones that can answer questions, surf the Internet and send verbal messages via the Internet. These smart phones can take photos and videos so you are never without a camera or a video recorder. They can house your daily calendar and your address book and in an emergency, you can even open your car door if you lock your keys inside via Onstar.  Last week I attended a presentation on droid delivery that is already happening in Canada.  Imagine going to your front door and receiving a package, groceries or a meal delivered to you by a flying machine? How about driverless cars? That is hard to imagine too after fighting the dense traffic on our freeways any time and any place.  It is projected that all we will have to do is call a service, a driverless car will arrive, pick us up and deliver us to our desired destination then leave and come back to pick up us when we are ready.   No hassle with car maintenance, parking and visits to the gas station. It blows my mind! 

 Every day I hear about something else that will be coming from new technology, but I really wonder if all these incredible advancements are truly making our lives better.  I must question the value of our complete dependence on computers when I observe a group of high school students at MacDonald’s enjoying time together but not talking, just texting back and forth on their smartphones. Do they know the importance of making eye contact when talking to each other or modulating their voices to show excitement, joy, or sorrow?  It reminds me of the robot existence we joked about when I was in high school and reading “Brave New World.” Perhaps it has really come to pass.

 I am also concerned when I see a child at a restaurant with his family that is not involved in any human interaction but is only amusing himself by playing a simple game on his electronic tablet. Whatever happened to teaching the art of communication that included speaking, listening and not interrupting when others are talking?  And how about basic table manners?  Have they disappeared as well by allowing the tablet and smart phone to be at the dinner table?  And my mother made us turn off the television before we sat down to dinner…humm!

Along with the inability to communicate correctly and effectively, the smart phone poses a serious danger when used while driving.  We were almost broadsided last week by a driver texting. He was completely oblivious to the cars around him, not paying attention and was swerving into the other lanes. Driving requires complete focus and concentration, especially when driving on our crowded freeways.  Even with numerous fines and warnings, people continue to text and talk on handheld phones while behind the wheel of their cars.  That isn’t very intelligent even with a Smart Phone.  It is just plain stupid!

These are just a few examples of how I believe technology has changed our lives and not always for the better mostly due to human behaviors and the misuse of the technology.  I am concerned about the loss of communication skills, both written and spoken.  I am concerned about the loss of respect for the law caused by the constant need to socialize via smart phone even while driving a car as well as the lack of concern for the wellbeing of others on the road.  Is checking Twitter and Facebook really that important? I am concerned about the inability of people to read books for information and enjoyment rather than rely on their smart phones for instant answers and immediate gratification.  What will happen to the libraries, books and other print materials?  I guess they will eventually disappear as more and more information on all things will be instantly available via the Internet and no research is needed to find the answers.  That really makes me sad as I have always enjoyed reading and writing. There are special feelings associated with these activities.  There is still nothing quite like turning the pages of a good book and shedding a tear or two when a story tugs at your heartstrings or experiencing real heart stopping  excitement from an adventure story.

 I believe that technology is making us lazy when it comes to learning and studying.  It makes us lethargic as we sit in front of computers rather than get outside and walk or exercise.   It makes life too easy so we do not have to struggle to complete that research project, find the answer to a crossword puzzle, communicate with a friend or stay in touch by letters sent over the miles.  Even sending e-cards is easier than hand writing a note for a birthday greeting. I guess I am mourning some of the basic pleasures from my earlier years and fear that my grandchildren will be losing out on some of life’s most meaningful experiences. But who knows, perhaps their meaningful experiences will come from the advancing technology that I won’t be around to experience.

 

Heads Up!

By

Sue Stauffer

Have Things Really Have Changed For the Better?

Heads Up!

By

Sue Stauffer

“Is The Truth Still Important?”


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