For much of this year, I’ve been exploring the biases of digital media, trying to trace the pressures that the media exert on us as individuals and as a society. I’m far from done, but it’s clear to me that the biases exist and that at this point they have manifested themselves in unmistakable ways. Not only are we well beyond the beginning, but we can see where we’re heading — and where we’ll continue to head if we don’t consciously adjust our course.
Is there an overarching bias to the advance of communication systems? Technology enthusiasts like Kelly would argue that there is — a bias toward greater freedom, democracy, and social harmony. As a society, we’ve largely embraced this sunny view. Harold Innis had a very different take. “Improvements in communication,” he wrote in The Bias of Communication, “make for increased difficulties of understanding.” He continued: “The large-scale mechanization of knowledge is characterized by imperfect competition and the active creation of monopolies in language which prevent understanding and hasten appeals to force.” Looking over recent events, I sense that Innis may turn out to be the more reliable prophet.
I agree with Nicholas (and by extension, Innis’ thoughts). The natural progression moving forward will ultimately result in a complete and total rejection of communicated truths (and falsities alike). We’re certainly on the road there. Between Facebook and Fox News alone, we’re in the bad place. We’re essentially on a ship, in the middle of the ocean, without a sextant to correct course. If we don’t get it together now, we never will.
So, what lies beyond this uncanny valley of communication? A haunting, morbid, unreliable, and utterly horrifying formless thing. It’s not truth. It’s not quite full of lies either. It’s, something else devoid of definition. A post-modern chimera. The closest thing I can form to describe the world of communication we may come to inhabit goes by another popular name: reality television.