The Video at the bottom of the page is from Bill O’Reilly on Last Friday’s show. I do not post it as a political commentary (this is not a political blog), but as a social commentary. In it he wonders whether or not American’s are  living increasingly in a world of their own.

I too have wondered this. When I was young, a teenager, there was something of the shared experience of three networks, and the UHF Channel, plus a PBS channel. Most of us kids listened to one radio station with a pop/rock format. And the basic TV shows that influenced us (for worse and sometimes for better) were pretty widely seen and known by everyone. Typical conversation on a Wednesday morning at school was the Tuesday evening episode of “Happy Days.” Not exactly edifying, but it was a shared experience.

News-wise there was also the same rather shared experience of the national news on NBC, CBS or ABC. It is true, it was slanted left, politically, but in those days there was also a wider middle ground that was covered.

Much of all this has changed. It is increasingly possible for many of us to live in our “own little world,” in a kind of self-selected universe.

For example, I don’t listen much to radio any more. Instead I have set up my iPod to download favorite podcasts. I have also loaded only the music I like. Satellite Radio also narrow-casts a very specific genre of music or information. T.V. too can be cherry picked. I can TiVo what I want, and skip the rest.

As for news, here too I can decide who informs me. I pick the blogs and websites that will inform me. As for newspapers and broadcast TV news, they are no longer part of my life. I do not read the paper. Frankly it lost my business as it became increasingly partisan, while still claiming the mantle of balanced journalism. The same is true for broadcast news. At least the two main cable news outlets, Foxnews and MSNBC are quite clear where they are coming from. But again, they cater to very specific niches, and if they are all their viewers watch, the world becomes very self-selected.

Even with blogs which might provide a variety of subjects, I can set up an RSS feed and screen what I really want to read.  Cable TV in general also has increasingly narrow subject matters, there’s a golf channel and a Home and Garden Channel, the Science channel, History Channel, a cooking channel or two and let’s not forget EWTN.

The bottom line is that increasingly I can very carefully control the content of my life, what will influence me and what will be my daily fare.

On the other hand, while, until recently there wasn’t the kind of choice that we have today, we were stuck with three networks and whatever junk was on tended to have exaggerated influence. The news on these networks was usually quite left of center and gave the impression that everyone thought the same way. And to some extent they did. Networks had too much power in those days. Beyond the news, in regular programming one was often exposed to a daily fare on these networks of stupidity, dysfunctional families, and sometimes crudely sexual content. The rock and pop music I grew up with also had a very monolithic influence on my generation and encouraged hatred of authority, promiscuity, drug use and generally unedifying behavior. Once again the limited selections made the “mainstream” stuff too powerful. But now I have options and can rather carefully craft the world I live in.

To a certain extent this ability to craft my world is wonderful. In terms of the moral life it allows a kind of custody of the eyes and ears. I can limit the influence of many and bad things that once were able to reach me. I can be careful of what I listen to and what I look at. Scripture says: A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth (Prov 17:24). Or again: Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. (Prov 4:23-25).

So, I can more carefully screen what will influence me and with more options I am more likely to choose that which is good.

But if we begin to live in increasingly separate worlds what do we share? More and more I find that people mention events, and people that I have never heard of. To some extent I am proud of this for the emptiness of what works some people up amazes me. Some years ago everyone started talking about some one named J.Lo I finally asked who this was and after some moments of incredulous stares I was informed somewhat irritably that this was Jennifer Lopez. Unfortunately the full name didn’t help since I still didn’t know who she was, and why I should care that she was breaking up with some dude. To this day I still couldn’t tell you a thing about Jennifer Lopez.

OK that’s a silly example. But the point is that many people live in increasingly separate worlds and the shared cultural experience is lost. This can surely affect Evangelization and the preaching task enormously. Perhaps I exaggerate the threat a bit and our self selected worlds are not that tightly sealed. But more and more I find it harder to understand what people are talking about.

I also find that many people don’t have a clue as to what I am talking about either. Often they have not heard of basic biblical figures and stories. Increasingly they are unfamiliar with Church teachings, feast days and basic theological terms. The clear challenge is that we have to get our message “out there.” But lately there are a lot of “theres” out there! The opportunities to communicate are enormous but so are the challenges as many people (me included) continue to live in a world that is more and more a self-selected universe which shuts out all unwanted influence and only admits what is pleasing and affirming but far less challenging and expansive.

The self-selected universe can greatly aid a proper custody of the eyes but it also runs the risk of becoming insular.

Ultimately this is the same point that Bill O’Reilly makes in this clip. And while his argument is essentially political, it is not wrong to wonder whether Americans are really informed at all about the basic political issues that may have tremendous influence on their life. Further, how is it possible even to get anyone’s attention anymore when we live in such self-enclosed universes.

Today I walked passed three people on the sidewalk and said hello. None of them responded. They were staring into their cell phones. They did not even know I existed.

16 Responses

  1. John says:

    There is no going back. Get used to it! Frankly, for all the pitfalls it presents, I find it extremely liberating. And, if it means being insular to Jennifer Lopez, all the better!

    • What do you think of O’Reilly’s application of this phenom to the election?

      • John says:

        I think he is correct, but I recall how frustrating it was when the networks force fed us their liberal diet day in and day out. Now, I get to ignore them at will. And that helps with my sanity level! I really don’t care what the Left thinks. And, I doubt they care what I think either. The media has becomea modern day virtual city with burroughs, divided by cultural and political factions. Not perfect, but better than it used to be!

    • Scott W. says:

      The reason we shouldn’t get used to it is because it is unsustainable. Much like our usury-based economy.

  2. Kim says:

    I am SO GLAD I am not the only one who feels this way. The lack of shared experience in my life makes for a great deal of loneliness, and I can only imagine how much loneliness there is out there in the world these days, even though on the surface it seems more social with social networking and such. If we’re going to do things together with others, we have to be more deliberate about it. It doesn’t just happen anymore.

    • Cynthia BC says:

      Several days ago, on another forum in which I participate was a debate about whether “May-December” relationships could be successful. A lack of shared experiences was a primary concern to those who look askance at such relationships. The greater the gap in age, the fewer shared experiences.

      Those 20 years older than I remember where they were and what they were doing when JFK was assassinated. They watched the moon landing live (or as live as possible, given the transmission time) on TV. They may have served in or protested against the Vietnam War. They watched the Watergate scandal unfold, and Nixon’s unprecedented resignation from the White House. They grieved the loss of Elvis.

      Those 20 years younger than I weren’t born when the hostage crisis in Iran began (BTW one of them was an alum of my high school) or when attempts were made against the lives of JPII and Ronald Reagan. They were infants when the Challenger exploded. They didn’t watch the TV movie The Day After. They didn’t watch, open-mouthed, as the Iron Curtain began to fall, beginning with Coucescu’s (sp?) death.

  3. Plain Catholic says:

    The joy of the life well-lived breaks down all kinds of insular communication barriers. After a bit, people do look up from their phones and their computers. If they see a smile and the joy of a Catholic who loves God and others, it will get their attention far more effectively than another sound byte. People do crave a positive real-time interaction after all is said and done.

    Multiple times in the Scriptures we are told that our lives and works should match our Hope in Christ. Let us make it thus.

  4. Cathy says:

    In downtown Cleveland, it is common to see blind people walking about independently. Early one morning, I noticed a blind man whose “seeing-eye” German Shepherd had unwittingly become trapped in an area of cafe tables and chairs. I asked the man if I might help, and he said, “Yes, please, thanks, grab the harness and guide the dog back to the sidewalk.”
    As I contemplated this essay and video, that image of the blind man with guide dog standing motionless kept coming to mind. The poor man could not see and the dog, despite best intentions, had led him astray. How sorry I feel for all poor souls who do not hold onto Jesus and the Church and her pastors as their anchor in a world of “spin” and “alternate reality”.

  5. Cynthia BC says:

    Msgr, I hate to break this to you but your ignorance of J.Lo may not be related to your use of technology…


  6. tz says:

    Communism had an even more ubiquitous shared experience.

    The shared biblical view was Protestant, taught in ‘public’ schools with your tax dollars until recently. It is harder to unlearn falsehoods than to start with a tabula rasa.

    I don’t think it is harder, only that the environment is different. Instead of a nominal and hypocritical pseudo-Christianity (not very Catholic), we find weak agnosticism-paganism that doesn’t satisfy the inmost being.

    Yet what example do we present? Why would anyone want to share our experience?

  7. Jennifer Fitz says:

    I think it’s important to consider why we don’t have these shared experiences. There’s no real benefit in all of us “sharing” the experience of something morally offensive, and ultimately those of us who’ve dropped out of pop culture have done so for that reason. If the only difference between left and right were an economic debate, there wouldn’t be nearly the polarization; it’s the moral divide that keeps traffic from crossing over (in either direction).

    In contrast, the separation that comes from our car-centered culture, where we all drive this way for work, that way for church, the other way for ______, and never see our neighbors in the process? I think that’s the big divider that needs to be dealt with. It’s too easy to disappear. Just the other day I was speaking to my neighbor (happens a few times a year), and we were both wondering if the lady across the street had died or not. Seriously. We couldn’t tell. That’s a problem.

  8. Proteios1 says:

    It’s universal. At the university I work at, all the “diversity” that is claimed to exist actually means, the black engineers society, the Asian American society, and on and on. The only place I see diversity at the university is in the recruitment brochures where the one white male, one Asian female, the black male and the Hispanic female and often a non description race are photoshopped in one group…or they are actors, as spontaneously I’ve yet to see it out in nature. There’s no diversity unless you consider the overall statistics of the whole university. It’s sad, because when I was in college it really was less diverse, but people mixed with anyone. Now the self segregation that exists means we understand others who are different even less. Now we “tolerate”. Which is outright stupid. My own personal favorite is the narrow sighted els of some groups. For example, the women’s group on campus is so fixated on being oppressed they openly argue with facts such as the 60/40 female to male on campus ( in my dept its 67/33 women to men). Yet the talk two weeks ago. Guess the topic. Getting women into science. Ummmm, maybe you should title it getting men into science….I’m not against any of it, it’s just we are all so myopic that reality only interferes with our preconceived notions.

  9. RichardC says:

    This new ‘channel for everyone’ culture should makes Catholicism more appealing, since Catholic faith and morals remains unchanged. So, even if we are all watching a different channel are response to the channel is understandable to other Catholics.

  10. Peter Wolczuk says:

    It feels to me like any ideas which people put together from checking information is attacked, not by presenting proof of error but, by devious means. Such as saying that the one originating the idea has no value instead of showing flaws in the idea; taking things out of context by chopping someone’s words off in mid sentence; ignoring the facts and screaming abuse and claiming that they’re abused with unsupported (or outdated) accusations of how abused they are (as Proteios1 points out)
    In the last instance, a friend of mine began a transition home for males coming out of abusive relationships with his own resources. Once established, he applied for government funding and was asked what he was going to do about women’s needs in this direction. He pointed out that there were several funded facilities for women (womb men?) and none for men. The application got filed and forgotten. Another devious destruction. Read most rules of order and it’s clearly stated that “tabling a motion” is to give time for group members to prepare to deal with the motion effectively and NOT to get rid of it.
    How are these devious destuctors any more clever than a half wit goon who breaks other people’s stuff with a sledge hammer? Like children building sandcastles and one kicks apart the others’ creations and claims that theirs is the best. Sure it is, because it’s the only one. So, if it’s the best because it’s the only one … isn’t it also the worst because it’s the only one? This, second, apparent conclusion would be the consequences of one’s own actions.
    Yet, we ignore this obvious flaw in the reasoning of the destroyer until people withdraw into their own private, and hidden, search until that never to come day when their discovery is so perfect that everyone has to accept it. Isolating in media controlled research in the never ending meantime.
    Why does society do this and allow the destroyer to look so intelligent with their poor quality disputes? Is it because we design our own imperfect conclusions to be accepted on a basis of blind loyalty of our friends or somehow brushing aside other ideas?
    Perhaps society needs to learn the strength of true humility.

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