Enough About You

We've made the media more democratic, but at what cost to our democracy?

  • While the mainstream media were having lunch, members of the audience made other plans. They scattered and are still on the move, part of a massive migration. The dynamic driving it? It's all about you. Me. And all the various forms of the First Person Singular.

    Americans have decided the most important person in their lives is ... them, and our culture is now built upon that idea. It's the User-Generated Generation.

    For those times when the 900 digital options awaiting us in our set-top cable box can seem limiting and claustrophobic, there's the Web. Once inside, the doors swing open to a treasure trove of video: adults juggling kittens, ill-fated dance moves at wedding receptions, political rants delivered to camera with venom and volume. All of it exists to fill a perceived need. Media executives--some still not sure what it is--know only that they want it. And they're willing to pay for it.

    The larger dynamic at work is the celebration of self. The implied message is that if it has to do with you, or your life, it's important enough to tell someone. Publish it, record it ... but for goodness' sake, share it--get it out there so that others can enjoy it. Or not. The assumption is that an audience of strangers will be somehow interested, or at the very worst not offended.

    Intimacies that were once whispered into the phone are now announced unabashedly into cell phones as loud running conversations in public places. Diaries once sealed under lock and key are now called blogs and posted daily for all those who care to make the emotional investment.

    We've raised a generation of Americans on a mantra of love and the importance of self as taught by brightly colored authority figures with names like Barney and Elmo. On the theory that celebrating only the winners means excluding those who place, show or simply show up, parents-turned-coaches started awarding trophies--entire bedrooms full--to all those who compete. Today everyone gets celebrated, in part to put an end to the common cruelties of life that so many of us grew up with.

    Now the obligatory confession: in an irony of life that I've not yet fully reconciled myself to, I write a daily blog full of intimate details about one of the oldest broadcasts on television. While the media landscape of my youth, with its three television networks, now seems like forced national viewing by comparison, and while I anchor a broadcast that is routinely viewed by an audience of 10 million or more, it's nothing like it used to be. We work every bit as hard as our television-news forebears did at gathering, writing and presenting the day's news but to a smaller audience, from which many have been lured away by a dazzling array of choices and the chance to make their own news.

    It is now possible--even common--to go about your day in America and consume only what you wish to see and hear. There are television networks that already agree with your views, iPods that play only music you already know you like, Internet programs ready to filter out all but the news you want to hear.

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