The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel. In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.
Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC and the History Channel promised to add texture and information to the TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.
Newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn’t want to hear. We’ve responded by not buying newspapers any more. The decline of thoughtful media has been discussed and is being discussed now more than ever, which isn’t news.
What is news is that a fundamental shift in the culture as a whole is to make everything as simple as possible. Those promoting this shift default to Einstein as their premise. Ironically, that’s not what Einstein put forth. What he actually said was “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”
This begs one two part question: Have we all been duped into believing that the shorter path of least resistance now works better, and is it possible we’ve made things simpler than they ought to be, establishing non-curiosity as the new standard?
We’re very much guilty of being active participants in a media landscape that breaks Einstein’s simplicity law every day. The new economic standard seems to be that the only way to make a living is to reach a lot of people by racing to the bottom, seek out quick hits, make it easy to swallow, reinforce existing beliefs, keep it short, make it sort of fun but urgent, and in short, just dumb it down.
While it’s foolish to choose stupid, it’s also cultural suicide to decide that insights, theories and truth don’t actually matter. If we don’t care to learn more, we won’t spend time or resources on knowledge. We can survive if we eat candy for an entire day, but if we put the garden markets out of business along the way, all that’s left is the candy.
Give your kid a tablet, a game, and some chicken fingers for dinner; it’s easier than talking to them. Read the short articles, the ones with pictures; it’s simpler than digging deep.
Clickbait works for a reason; because people click on it. Why? Because it exists only to catch prey, not to inform them. In the world I grew up in, we called that kind of bait worms. They wiggled a lot and attracted big fish.
So, here’s the good news: We don’t need many people to demand more from the media before the media responds. The media has always bounced between pandering to make a buck and upping the intellectual ante of what they present. Now that this balance has been skewed to the former rather than the latter, we’re left with a breakneck race to the bottom of a bottomless pit.
We can slow the descent by voting with our clicks, our sponsorship’s, our bookstore dollars, our letters to the editors and by simply changing the channel. Even if only a few people use precise words, employ thoughtful reasoning and ask difficult questions, it will force those around them to race harder to learn and understand more so that they can keep up.
Truth Be Told, we can lead our way back to curiosity, inquiry and discovery if just a few of us right now measure the right things and refuse the easy option in favor of insisting on better.