Media self-aggrandizement is nothing new. However, it's been grotesquely magnified of late thanks to technology leaps, the evolution of consumer hyper-connectivity, and the 24/7 news cycle.
It's easy to forget that only a few decades ago, the "news" was narrowly punctuated against the grander mosaic of everyday living.
That is not to suggest that news subject matter didn't coalesce firmly in the ideological and political identity of American citizens. Since the founding, we've been a nation of news-readers, eager to absorb the current issues affecting our republic, our liberty and our local livelihood.
But its delivery was neatly compartmentalized: the newspaper arrived in the morning on the porch or doorstep, and the television newscast aired in the evening. Radio headline news breaks occurred at the top of every hour, and in-depth reporting by news magazines was, truly, periodical: most arrived monthly, some biweekly.
The bulk of everybody's day was generally made up of in-between non-news zones. The stuff that consumed most of us, by and large, involved work or home or children or church--not national political issues, campaigns or persons.
There is a season for everything, of course, including politics. But even in the height of election fever back then, the most fervent of candidates had no hope of intruding on voters' personal lives much beyond the segmented time slots previously mentioned.
In other words, our diet of "man-bites-dog" sensationalism and scandal was proportional to their actual rarity. News spotlighted the atypicality of society. Most of our living, and most of our thoughts, fell into the normal order of things--where dogs did the biting, if you will--that is, by its very nature, the consolidating essence of civilization and social organization.
It's impossible to return to being a news-limited society, and nobody wants to backtrack on the advantages and benefits that telecommunications technology delivers.
It is possible, however, to consciously counteract and balance the never-ending onslaught of spin, commentary, breaking news, protestation, blind-bias advocacy, talking-head shouting matches and other quasi-reporting that has supplanted traditional informative journalism.
With "all-news, all-the-time" carnival barking and instant mobile phone communication, it takes discipline and effort to avoid distraction and distortion.
Fortunately, counter-trends are emerging. Consider the reach of highly popular content on Facebook, which more properly should be called Lifebook (it's now more a chronicle of life events). Videos with the highest number of views--10 million or 20 million is not unusual--are seldom the same subjects or topics debated on that day's amped-up news. They aren't ugly, or crude, or violent.
They're funny and heartwarming and uplifting.
A viral example that popped up as I scrolled Facebook recently carried the title, in all caps, "THE WHOLE WORLD IS IN LOVE WITH THIS VIDEO."
My sentimentality was piqued, so I clicked. Last time I looked, more than 13 million people had also watched it. (For scale, CNN nightly prime time averages fewer than 1 million viewers.)
The video starts with some young boys, 10 or 11 years old, playing basketball on a carport court, jumping and shooting and running around.
A missed shot bounds down the narrow alley, and when a blond-haired kid goes to retrieve it, he sees another boy about his age on a next-door porch--in a wheelchair.
A moving truck is out front, and there is a pensive pause.
"Hey," the blond boy says.
"Hey," the boy in the wheelchair replies, nodding, then looking away.
The blond boy's gaze lingers a moment, then he smiles softly and runs back to his game.
The scene shifts to a little while later, with the boy in the wheelchair back inside his house, and the camera zooms in to frame his puzzled expression.
Through his screen door, he sees a basketball sitting on his porch.
With the ball in his lap, he wheels himself up the alley and we hear the sounds of a game growing louder. But as it comes into vision, the kids aren't running and jumping about this time.
Each of them is straddling something on wheels or casters: a wagon, a desk chair, a stool, a tricycle, a milk crate strapped on a dolly.
They're all rolling themselves around the concrete, passing to each other, hoisting shots at the garage-mounted hoop.
"C'mon!" the blond boy shouts to the kid in the wheelchair, who smiles in a closeup, and then hurries into the fray.
From the kitchen window, his mom watches, smiles, and continues unpacking.
It's hard to watch the 1-minute video just once. And without a lumpy throat or pepper nose.
The shared version on Facebook ends before the credits roll, so most people don't know to thank Canadian Tire Co. for reminding 13 million of us (and counting) how good--soul-deep good--it feels to be kind and considerate.
But now you know.
Omni-coverage media outlets compete by stirring the pot past the point of saturation.
It's important to stay disciplined enough as a consumer to remember that individual life has always been shaped more by backyard acts of compassion--that never make the news--than by sensationalized headline stories.
To modify a credit card ad's catchy closing line, "What's on your screen?"
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.
Editorial on 11/02/2018