RESPONSE 8 January, 2014 Amidst all the statistical noise of the announcement of the 2013 matric results we salute the real stars – not the numbers, the policies, the officials...
By Iswamo Kapalu
Humanity was hurtled with little preparation into the age of information. Cheaper and better technology, coupled with the revolutionary and massively omnipresent internet, has made us all party to a huge media shift that is still unfolding.
Like the steam engine and printing press before it, the internet is sure to change society in unforeseen ways. As young as the internet may be, some of the changes it has brought about have been both noticeable and impactful. This is especially true socially, economically and in the media.
In entertainment, there has been a deindustrialization of sorts. Artists and entertainers can now reach their audiences directly. This has liberated their expressions from corporate control, allowing them the room to stray from the marketable mainstream. With this has come greater freedom to create and tell stories – however unpopular and controversial they may be.
This has had both positive and negative effects. The content created may be harmful and offensive and can be distributed without the content-control of the entertainment industry. The unprecedented access to specific audiences has also had a negative effect. While there is more content widely available, that content is often targeted at certain audiences considered to be most receptive to it.
In the news media, the internet has democratised information – allowing for a more diverse range of views to find audiences. It has taken control of the flow of information away from the massive media empires. These empires have been accused in the past of bending editorial lines to suit the corporate and political agendas of specific interest groups.
However, like in the case of entertainment media, the deindustrialization of news media has had negative effects. Firstly, there is no longer any serious control on, or accountability for, the publication of false or misleading information. The result has been the “fake news” phenomenon.
Secondly, information is targeted to receptive audiences. This creates an existential bubble of unchallenged views which have been accelerated by the newest form of media: social media.
Social media networks are places where you can subscribe to views you like and block out those you don’t. They are places where the most sensational and least nuanced views are the most visible – often encouraging uncritical angry thought. They create an empowering environment for extremism. Engagement is the currency of social media and therefore popularity – measured in likes and shares – as one of the ultimate goals. This creates a toxic environment for truth, especially when the truth is unpopular.
For our own sake however, the truth must always prevail.
As a society we must emphasise the importance of critical thinking – lest we be led astray by disinformation. We must build up trustworthy sources of information whose only commitment is to the truth for its own sake. Additionally, it is important that we build up tools for effective communication with those we do not agree with. We must resist the temptation to give voice to all our anger.
But, most importantly, we must begin a process of re-humanizing all people, grounding all engagement in our mutual humanity. Because, only collectively, can we hope to build and shape a better world based on truth.
Follow the Jesuit Institute on twitter @JesuitInstitu