The Wu Tang Claim Helps Dave Understand the Election and More
I'd like to assure Zman that yes I am working on a post about the election results, but I'm taking my time and trying to process and digest everything before I put it on wax, and-- oddly-- one of the things that's helping me think about what happened is Tim Wu's new book The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads . . . the book is ostensibly a history of advertising in America, from snake-oil salesmen pitching addictive spurious cure alls to the first fake news stories created purely to garner attention (my favorite is a report in the New York Sun that Sir John Herschel had discovered four foot tall hairy bat men on the moon . . . people were surprisingly willing to accept this as fact) to Lucky Strike's brilliant campaign proposing that the secret ingredient in their brand of cigarette protected your throat from cough and irritation (It's TOASTED!) and then Wu moves on to things more recent and familiar: radio advertising, product placements, TV commercials for the masses, TV commercials for the unique individual, email, Oprah, clickbait, data harvesting, Google Adwords, Twitter, Facebook, ad-blockers, etcetera . . . as advertising gets more modern, more data-driven, more insidious, and more fragmented, Wu gets more severe in his warnings-- he frames the epic battle to get our attention as a series of technological leaps, which the advertisers soon harness for their own purposes, followed by a revolt of the masses against that particular kind of advertising . . . but we may have reached the end of the road: Wu sees Buzzfeed, essentially clickbait on "the fourth screen," and social media sites like Facebook as the purveyor of "news" as particularly egregious forms of media and while there is hope once more-- for those willing to find it, Netflix and HBO offer some of the best ad free content ever created-- but you've got to pay for it . . . and if you want to learn about it, you can find something of quality on Youtube or in the podcast universe . . . if you're willing to do some research; now I'd like to bring this back to the election and make my Tim Wu Tang Claim: that the media-- driven by clicks and views-- totally dropped the ball with their coverage . . . they focused on speculative poll clickbait instead of doing on the ground journalism-- talking to Trump supporters and doing in depth coverage of the policy and issues that these supporters desired and imagined could Trump deliver, and contrasting this with Clinton policy promises . . . but instead they focused on scandals and silliness; of course, there is a better alternative to mainstream media: I'm quite proud of how I analyzed the race and what I learned about the issues; I avoided internet clickbait for the most part and listened to high-quality long form podcasts like The Weeds, Slate Money, Waking Up With Sam Harris, Radiolab, Common Sense, This American Life, and Planet Money, and I even did my due diligence and listened to Dan Levin and Rush Limbaugh (who were both repetitive blowhards pushing the mainstream media to be less about policy discussion and more about clickbait scandal) and I became something of an expert on the major issues and policies: healthcare and jobs and trade agreements and immigration (and even the spurious email "scandal") and if you like, you can find media that is not fragmented and not totally driven by clicks and views-- there is an alternative to the Facebook/Twitter style news platform, which propagated fake news and bite-sized weirdness (and while some would argue that the podcasts I've listed have a left-leaning slant, if you listened to the many many episodes about the election, they took a much more empathetic and sincere analytical look at the Trump phenomenon than anything on the right di with Hillary Clinton . . . Dan Levin simply chanted "crooked Hillary" and "lock her up" on his show . . . so the mainstream media went right along with this internet model, casting the election as a horse race, with this scandal or that scandal affecting the polls, someone is up, someone is down-- the kind of reporting that could be done without getting out of bed-- and there was no discussion of global warming-- an existential threat-- or the actual implications of repealing NAFTA, or the pros and cons of allowing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, or how unionization might help the jobs we still have in America or anything of substance) and Wu ends with a quotation from William James, who believed that "our life experience would ultimately amount to whatever we paid attention to" and I believe this too, which is why I make my students park their cell-phones at the door and pay attention to me . . . because I truly believe I'm paying attention to and what I'm making them pay attention to is better than the things the vast majority of the American people pay attention to, and that might be elitist and judgmental, but it's also true . . . I spend my attention reading books written by people smarter than me and listening to long, intelligent podcasts presented by experts in various fields; Wu also reminds us of this by quoting the ironically named James Williams: "Your time is scarce, and your technologies know it," and I think the ultimate lesson here is that we all need to remember this (myself included, while I generally use my attention for critical thinking and creative enlightenment, I still occasionally get sucked in to my stupid fantasy football team, which is great on paper and finally peaking, but it's too late . . . I'm 2 - 9 and I could have spent that time reading or practicing the guitar, instead of shuffling players around an imaginary line-up).