Thursday, May 07, 2009

Twilight Reflections on the World that Cried Swine

Now that it is more or less agreed by everyone that the swine flu panic was much ado about nothing, it is time to ask whether in a world of instant communications it is possible to experience any kind of unusual or newsworthy event in a measured manner. In a world that values rapidity more than reflection, it is increasingly doubtful.

The over reaction across the nation to this event had the feel of an early Twilight Zone episode -- we only lacked a shooting over a fight for a surgical mask to make it a complete Rod Serling moment. School systems closed, people changed travel habits, and the Vice-President of the United States came just short of advocating a self-imposed quarantine by the citizens of the nation. All of this over a flu strain that proved much less virulent than that which goes around in any given year.

What is worse is that this is merely a different variation of a common theme. In politics, economics, weather, and scandal mongering, nearly any kind of news can be sensationalized, throwing the nation into obsessive interest in the trivial or, worse, into a false sense of crisis. Frequently, the ultimate casualty is the truth, as news outlets, both old and new, engage in a race to be the first to push out news of questionable veracity.

It is a problem that lacks any easy solution, as the appetite for this is consumer driven, and we are long past the day when news organizations, not to mention bloggers, will restrain themselves out of a sense of responsibility. The age of instant communications promised to make us more informed. Unfortunately, it appears more likely to bring us to the brink of a world not of sight, nor of sound, but of the mind-less.

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