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Singing in the Choir

by on September 29, 2015

                                                                Singing in the Choir

                                                                  by Marco M. Pardi

                                                  As always, I invite your comments.

“You can’t tell a book by its movie” Louis A. Safian, comp. The Book of Updated Proverbs, 4. 1967

My earliest memories center on books.  As a young child, sensitive to dimensions other than the here and now,  I entered books, not merely opened them.  And that wonder, that transcendence, has never left me. But even then I was developing a sense that some books did not invite me to think and to feel; they sought to harness me.  And some books were trivial distractions, what I later heard called “beach books” or “popcorn books”.

Those who know me through other venues are too well aware I habitually send out group emails on various topics. But as I do so I look at my mailing list and wonder how many recipients glance at my email and say, “Uh huh”.  Some people are probably wishing they could hack my computer address book.

And, as I look at the proliferation of environmental, social, and political emails I send I contrast these with the daily evidence of an American public sliding merrily into torpor, feeding on increasingly centralized mass media, congratulating themselves on having wrapped up the murder case in 30 minutes, only 22 of which were content airtime, satiated by contrived “reality shows” and meat market dramas of finding true love among the casting call of young men or young women.  I see network news programs, owned by the pharmaceutical industry, which devote more time to telling us how to feel about the news than the news itself – ABC (FOX Lite) being the worst.  I sometimes groan the immortal words of Joe Friday, “Just the facts, Ma’am. Nothing but the facts.” I have a proposal for news programs: You report the news, I’ll decide how to feel about it.

But the facts are quite disheartening, as this study published in the International Journal of Public Opinion Research and reported in Science News shows:  “Increasing American political polarization is linked to television news deregulation following the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996, according to a Washington State University study.

“After 1996, we see changes in polarization based on how much television people are using,” said researcher Jay Hmielowski, assistant professor in WSU’s Edward R. Murrow College of Communication. He conducted the study with Murrow colleague Myiah Hutchens and former colleague Michael Beam, now at Kent State University.

The telecommunications act sought to open markets to competition, but the result was consolidation. This included large companies like FOX and NBC buying smaller, independent TV stations and cable news channels.

Scholars and pundits have voiced concern that the U.S. government has become increasingly inept at solving important problems. Many point to political polarization as the culprit, with evidence of increasing attitude divergence among party elites, interest groups and activists.

The Murrow researchers found that U.S. citizens have become increasingly polarized since 1996. And they found that greater use of TV news is associated with higher levels of polarization.

“Our study is unique,” they wrote, “in that it focuses on a specific moment (1996) that perpetuated changes to the media system.”

Earlier studies have put forward various explanations for how these changes may have contributed to polarization, they explained. For example, having more TV news choices means programmers can target particular consumers and consumers can pick news they prefer. Also, corporate consolidation of TV news resulted in drastic cuts to newsroom budgets, reducing coverage and variety.

“We thought it was important to look at polarization in the United States given that we have increasing polarization in Congress and some evidence that people in general are polarizing with their attitudes and their likes or dislikes for the out party,” said Hmielowski.

Story Source: The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Washington State University.

Many people glibly say they rely increasingly on internet access for their news.  Unfortunately, the surviving telecom companies are locked in battle to see who emerges with both monetary and content control over internet access.  That is, if you can still afford to use their internet you will be given their approved content.

Book reading has declined dramatically over the last 36 years.  The Atlantic publication of January 2014 cited: “In 1978, Gallup found that 42 percent of adults had read 11 books or more in the past year (13 percent said they’d read more than 50!).  Today, Pew finds that just 28 percent hit the 11 mark.” At that same time, 2014, PEW found that 76% of American adults 18 and over claimed to have read at least one book in the past year.  That suggests 24% had not.  And, a weekly check of the New York Times Best Seller list tells us even the non-fiction selections are relative light weights, often “pop science” and agenda driven “studies”.

With major school systems such as Texas rewriting American history through openly religious, racist and veiled fascist perspectives, mass media becoming increasingly centralized under the likes of Rupert Murdock (when I see that name I think of Wells’ Morlocks eating the blissful and naive Eloi), and people so increasingly stressed by income production that they turn to mindless entertainment instead of serious thinking I increasingly doubt this society will change its course before it becomes the drones in the service of the masterful few.

Recent years have seen the appearance and growth of the “blogger” phenomenon, adding a new term to the lexicon.  Some bloggers actually derive an income from subscribers.  Some have a vast following.  And some, like me, wonder how many people really are in this darkened inter-dimensional space.  This site informs me of the number of reads and country location of readers (nothing more in depth) and I’ve seen some of my articles reach over 100 countries.  But given the amount of SPAM emails hitting the site (well over 100 to 1 SPAM to bona fide comment per article) I’m left wondering if those “readers” in various places are not just machines keyed in to pick up my site and fire something off at it.

Were it not for the gracious and thoughtful few who are kind enough to take the time to comment on my blog, I would see this exercise (and it is a vigorous exercise at times) as similar to a childhood dream of building and launching little message carrying rockets high into the sky, never to be seen again.  Or practicing my Morse code with a skyward flashlight at night. (Now I would probably invoke a Hellfire missile down my throat.)  A note bearing bottle in the ocean probably stands more chance of being read.

But at the same time it is distressing to feel that all the thoughts in this blog simply circulate in the same room, that is, among the same people. In that light,  even writing and publishing a book now seems very naive.  I read at least one non-fiction book per week, sometimes “resting” between chapters by reading a fiction book from an author I know completely knows his material and can teach me something through this vehicle.  A recent example of a need for rest comes with the biographical book, Alan Turing: The Enigma. Working through 608 pages of largely the pure higher mathematics of cryptography and the more arcane points of electrical engineering is thrilling and tiring at the same time.

But, I have also been harsh at times.  In the early 1980’s a friend, suspecting the more singular path my life was taking at the time, gave me a new fiction book on Iran by a very famous author.  Having read other books by this author I began reading.  Only a few pages into the story the protagonist was in a jet helicopter flying over Iranian oil fields when small arms fire hit the helicopter, severing fuel lines.  The author told us “gasoline” spurted everywhere.  Jets do not use gasoline.  I do not use books with such elementary mistakes.  I “re-gifted” the book.

I do puzzle at the  reasons people have for not reading.  How did the world get so busy?  Are all these other things so interesting, so important? Or could it be people think they already know what they need to know, and the element of want to know is dying?  As I age that trite saying, So many books, so little time rings truer and truer.  Many in the “spirituality” community speak of an afterlife with a vast library.  That’s enough to make me wish it were true.

We live now in an age wherein the “sound byte” has expanded to include the text byte.  Have a question?  Google it.  Check the aptly named Wikipedia – Wiki: Quick. Hawaiian; Pedia: derived from paideia. Education. Greek.  Why bother with context – in reading books – when you can get a quick answer?  Since I bought my wife the smart phone she wanted she seldom asks me questions, unless she can’t frame them appropriately for Google.  You see, I have this miserable habit of insisting on the provision of context for answers; so last century.  

My keyboard is even more elaborate than the Oija boards I have seen.  So, although it does not share this function with the Oija, as I prepare to fire this off into the ether I’ll sit down before it and ask. “Is anyone here?”     

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5 Comments
  1. Actually there is good news. People are reading and returning to actual books. http://time.com/3661173/book-sales-increase-ereaders-slump/

    While this report is a few years old, reading trends have been increasing. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/the-next-time-someone-says-the-internet-killed-reading-books-show-them-this-chart/255572/

    And the even better news is more young people are reading. http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/young-people-are-reading-more-than-you

    As to who is reading your blog, the replies won’t give you a clue. I think I have posted this quote from Seth Godin before, “Michael: That totally makes sense. The next thing: practical aspects of blogging. I also blog and many people blog…but then they just stop… how do you manage to post so regularly?

    Seth: Well, I think the most important thing to understand about blogging is that if you are blogging for other people you are going to be disappointed. Even if no one would read it I would still blog. And the people I know who blog passionately, all of them say exactly the same thing. So that is the way you have to look at it, you can’t say: “I’m not getting enough comments I’m not going to blog. I’m not getting enough money, I’m not going to blog.” You have to say: “this is a great chance for me to clear my thoughts and put them into the world, what an opportunity.”

    I read several blogs and yours is the only one I have left comments. Because this is somewhat a safe environment. I don’t care to engage in battles, which is the case in many comment sections.

    With so much information I was finding most of what I was being bombarded with was negative stories. As you know I am a great supporter of animals and I found the constant stream of stories of abuse was taking a toll. I know terrible things are happening but I look for the good stories and avoid the ones depicting horrors. I try to read those stories where good change is taking place. Focusing on progress and positive stories definitely impacts ones views. Because of the Internet I think people have to become much more selective in their readings. Also, I have become much more skeptical in my readings and knowing my source. There are so many stories that have ended up to be completely false. But because of that I think we see much more fact checking, especially in the political arena. Yin and Yang. With these new sources of information comes good and bad. Keep on blogging. The universe hears you.

    • Thank you so much, Mary. You do bring heartening news. I agree with you about the blogs where it feels unsafe to leave comments. I got a couple of nasty ones on Google+ and just dropped it rather than provide a forum for those people.

      I will try to post more positive news about non-humans, though humans may be a stretch. Thank you for commenting. It may seem maudlin, but I do most certainly appreciate someone taking the time to engage in commentary. And thanks for the links.

  2. My apologies for a taking so long to respond to this post, it is not for lack of interest, but simply lack of time. I have wondered on more than one occasion whether you inwardly groaned to discover that a comment was from “just” me. It’s not that I think my words are unwelcome, but that you wished it could be from someone else. Now I know that both parts of my thought were accurate.

    Reading has been central to my life for as long as I can remember. I don’t remember my parents reading to me, as I did for my children and grandchildren, but I also don’t recall a time when I was not able to read. From the “Dick and Jane” stories which graced my early education, to the philosophy and self-help books which find their way onto my shelves now, books have been an important part of my life. Put plainly, I love to read. One room in my house is dedicated to books, and it does not hold all that I own. My husband owns an electronic book, but I stick to the “tree” variety. There’s something enticing about the covers; they practically scream “read me!”

    I also like writing. I can’t thank you enough for this blog, or for the inspiration to write my own. I know that very few read mine, but as long as there is one reader, and as long as I enjoy the writing, it will continue. You see, I’m not doing it for the others, but only for my own satisfaction. That others tell me they enjoy my words is a bonus. On the day I need the validation of others to express myself, I will start to wonder whether I am writing my own thoughts, or theirs.

    Keep writing; I’ll keep reading, and I’ll let you know what I think about what you have to say.

    My brother has a saying, “Buy ’em books and buy ’em books, and all they do is eat the covers.”

    • Thank you, Rose. Indeed, I very much look forward to your comments and if there’s a delay I try not to think the worst. There are precious few like you around, who have not only a mastery of language but facility with which you can inspire and draw out others.

      You can certainly see I like to write for its own sake, but I can’t compare to you. So please keep on writing.

      • To make it official, I want to thank you very much for your comments here, but you tell a falsehood when you say I am in any way comparable to you in writing skill. Our styles and subject matter are much different, that is true, but if one must be judged better, I bow to the master. In fact, it is your writing which challenges me to be better than myself. Rose

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