The increase in media flow can make things appear as if disasters and tragedies are exponentially increasing. Is it just that we are more rapidly made aware of them and able to process them in real time?
A tsunami alert can be raised for a Pacific nation following a seismic recording and broadcast around the world. Whether we have any connection to that area or not, our attention will be heightened until such time as the alert either becomes an unfolding reality, or the alert is cancelled.
If the warning becomes a reality, traditional media and social media can update us every second of every hour until either the news values are exhausted, or we are.
Acts of war or personal crime is instantaneously broadcast across the world, and with the enduring adage that if it bleeds it leads, news values haven’t taken into account the saturation of available bleeding leads taxing our emotional capacity.
We would wake up to international news that had happened while we were sleeping, either through our newspapers, radio or television and then go on with our more insulated and immediate daily lives.
But even on television we didn’t usually have ongoing live coverage as we might do now via television or internet. The 1969 Apollo moon landing was afforded live broadcasting on television and radio, and it was recognised that the broadcasting itself was a world changing event, as well as the event it was covering. It was certainly novel listening to the coverage and radio conversation between NASA and Neil Armstrong beaming out over loud speakers during daylight hours at school. We could look up at the sky but not see the moon, but we could all put ourselves in Armstrong’s shoes.
We didn’t have mobile phones, or possibly even personal home phones, so even personal news didn’t reach us so instantaneously. In dire situations we might receive the dreaded telegram, followed by a more lengthy letter explaining the bigger story. By the time we received the news we accepted that whatever could be done, had been done, and whatever could be done in the future could be planned with the relative luxury of the time others would understand would be needed for us to respond.
Now, news and response is immediate, or at least expected to be immediate. With immediacy, more issues can be covered, and with global reach more geographically diverse issues can be highlighted.
If we think of things that might be promoted as showing signs of the world falling apart – weather events are natural cause and effect, often seasonally, environmentally and geographically common. Bushfires, floods, cyclones or tornadoes, earthquakes and tsunamis, the formation of sinkholes or the eruption of active volcanoes are dependent upon the seasonal or environmental elements of a region. They are real and they are scary, but from nature’s perspective they are ‘normal’.
Human conflict has also always been with us, but audiences haven’t always seen the devastating effects, or been able to learn about all sides of story quite so freely. What is commonplace now in media reports was shocking when the Vietnam War coverage intruded into our lounge rooms. Even though what was shown then was relatively tame compared to what we see routinely on our screens, what we are shown on our screens is still for the most part heavily edited and culturally or politically skewed.
Sometimes we could learn about things in unlikely ways and places before the media could reach us. In August, 1979, crew and passengers sailing across the Pacific on a cruise ship were alerted that something wasn’t quite right in Britain by the passing of a British warship with its flag at half mast. By asking the sailors onboard in the next port, it was revealed that Lord Mountbatten had been killed by the IRA in an act of terrorism.
We used to be a fairly passive mass audience, now we’re all specifically targeted by our demographic, geography, interests, spending patterns and fears. The impersonal or distant has become more personal and close, but maybe something is missing in the interaction, maybe that’s why it feels like the world is falling apart.
The sense of urgency that something needs to be done NOW is also increasing, from both political and social movements, and commercial interests. They don’t just want you to hear their news or message; they don’t just want your attention, they want your response or reaction as well.
For the most part we’ve grown through environmental and human challenges. We’ve lived through the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
There’s no doubt that positive changes have also come from wider audience awareness of issues. The 1985 multinational Live Aid super concert, and other aid generating programs since, have outstretched our hands across borders and regions in ways that do fulfil the human need to connect, and to share both the good times and the bad, balancing one with the other.
It might be helpful for us all to remember that the Earth has been evolving now for over 4 billion years, and the only constant has been change.
Do you have an optimistic, pessimistic or more balanced sense of the world and its issues?