The Information Highway: More Like a Roller Coaster
On March 20, 2009, the AFP reported that President Obama initiated a new type of diplomacy -- "YouTube diplomacy" -- to usher in better relations between Iran and the United States. Although TechPresident.com's Andrew Rasiej boasted that the publicly viewable foreign policy communiqué "allowed Obama to deliver his words directly and unfiltered to the Iranian people," it's safer to see this as a harbinger of the dangers attending the openness of post-modern technology.
In this day of embedded war reporters, live footage of car chases, airplane crashes, hostage situations, and ubiquitous cell devices that allow us to take our phones, our email, and our television wherever we go, we appear lost when it comes to ascertaining which advances are a curse and which are a blessing. For events of the day and political messages don't simply come to us quicker than they once did -- they actually come to us with an unchecked immediacy.
Therefore, if Obama's "YouTube diplomacy" teaches us anything, it's that our ever-evolving technologies may be driving us more than we are driving them.
Today's news has been transformed into an image-laden medium delivered with a totality that overwhelms our senses. In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves To Death, social critic Neil Postman foresaw the capacity to disperse such a deluge of information and predicted "that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism." And if apathy and self-centeredness aren't two of our most prominent traits in the 21st century, what are?
Others, more recent than Postman, have also indicated the impact that imminent news reporting has on people and culture. For example, in 2001, Cindy Petterson described how former President George H.W. Bush once "ended a presidential press conference [by] saying he had to leave to call the President of Turkey. In Ankara, [the President of Turkey] turned off CNN, walked into his office, picked up the ringing phone and said 'Hello, Mr. President.'"
This "CNNization of the world," which Postman saw as "television [presenting] itself as a carrier of important cultural conversation," presses down on us with an almost irresistible force. It's an encroaching technology that crosses borders, as the episode between Bush and the president of Turkey so aptly demonstrated.
But physical borders aren't the only lines disregarded by this immediacy; it has no respect for ethical parameters either. For example, how many times have news choppers filming high-speed car chases unintentionally broadcast the suicide of the pursued? Whether the suicide is the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, a purposeful head-on collision with oncoming traffic, or death by policeman, these images are seared into our minds as "unfiltered" news is thrown at us with great rapidity.