My kids are stunned when I try to explain media and communications of the 70s and 80s.
One newspaper came to the house. Television could only be watched live. There were 3 network stations, plus PBS and maybe 3 UHF stations. Ours were 17, 29 and 48. I don’t even know what their call letters were.
The whole family watched together. One screen. One couch. One schedule.
You could only talk to other people in person, on the phone, or via writing on paper. You had no idea what other people were eating, unless you were eating with them. You didn’t see pictures of other people’s kids unless they had them physically in their hands or mailed them to you.
You did not know the political leanings of most people you crossed paths with.
Obviously you know that things are wildly different now. So much content, so many channels, so many platforms. So many opinions. So many lives presented in detail begging for feedback or inviting emulation.
And of course no one person can take it all in all the time. I consume far more media than it is healthy for one person to attempt to assimilate and I still can only perceive a very, very small piece of what is out there.
We are all tapping into the same flood, but what each of us has chosen to engage with is so very different.
I read (scan mostly) magazines: People, Entertainment Weekly, Allure, Real Simple. I get New York, but the articles are looooonnnngggg and my attention span is short. I get something called Afar (it was free) and immediately give it away to my travel-enamoured friend. I get Southern Living (also free) and give it to my Mom.
I rarely watch TV and I don’t even know when my shows are on or which network. My kids almost exclusively watch YouTube and Netflix. Other people watch sports, but I think it’s been established that I don’t. We all watched Stranger Things 2, but on different schedules, different devices, and even in different states.
Online my Facebook feed is filled with liberal-leaning perspectives on a local and national level. I see what my favorite folks are up to: Bernie, Robert Reich, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Rachel Maddow, Hillary. Sometimes memories of Michelle and Barack Obama pop up and my curated perspective decries how much we miss them (OMG, do we miss them.) I also see articles from People, The New York Times, Scary Mommy, Good Morning America, Refinery 29 (although I am way old for them), and a smattering of healthy food related things. Also friends, of course, some of whom I actually see IRL and others who I don’t ever remember having a live conversation with.
On Instagram I mostly follow a ridiculously large set of food blogger/influencers. Most of these people eat either Paleo, Whole 30, or Vegan. I am none of those things, so I am constantly scanning this sort of aspirational life that I will never achieve. They all seem nice though. Basically this is an hefty daily dose of fabulously healthy and happy white women in their 30s who live in California or the PNW. My people are not really my people.
You all know how social media works (I hope) and what you see is sure to be wildly different from what I see on a day-to-day basis. You’ve chosen to surround yourself with different influences and sources.
The point here is that everything I see (and there is a LOT of it) feels like everything there is to see. And I’m sure you feel the same.
Maybe this is because I come from a time (long long ago) when everyone did see everything there was to see? A time when there was a (more) common experience of the world?
Despite warnings about the dangers of filtering content, we do it and cozy up to our little curated corner of the world.
No one I spend time with has any idea what those healthy Instagram ladies are talking about. No one with a different political perspective is thrilled to see the latest expose from my buddy Rachel. No one in my house cares which mascara Allure says I need to buy.
I don’t know what the other people in my house are watching or reading unless they tell me about it. Luckily we share outrage over the same things. That’s something.
I kind of miss the whole shared experience thing. There’s definitely something great about being able to pick and choose your own experience. But at the same time, being forced to watch Fantasy Island with your parents on the couch on a Friday night had a strong bonding effect.
This lack of common culture is contributing to how much we do not understand folks who think very differently from us. Without realizing how much our chosen inputs influence us, we look at people who perceive things differently (who have been influenced by wildly different inputs) and think they must be insane.
Combine this with so many ways to share our thoughts and beliefs and we end up in a never ending battle to find common ground. Until we give up and block the views that we don’t agree with and comfy up in our safe space.
Yeah, I’ve done that. You have, too.
I have no idea how to end this random rambling rant about the good old days and the weird new days. Maybe I’ll just ask you (oh small and invisible audience) what your thoughts are on the subject.
What do you think? Were we better off with a more common experience with less options? Or are you totally digging the expanding, customizable, ultimately a little isolating world of today?
And how do we get back to the place where there was less conflict and divisiveness and more “Smiles everyone, smiles!”?