The other day, Andrew Torba was scheduled to appear on the Tucker Carlson show so I figured out how to find it off the underground TV system. I no longer have a TV subscription, so I have to rely on the dark web for this stuff. Cord cutters can say what they like about services like Kodi, but it is a hassle compared to regular cable. So much so, in fact, that I rarely watch television. Instead I download movies and TV shows and binge watch when the spirit moves me. I watched Deadwood last month, for example.
Anyway, I found a stream and tuned in to the show. I did not know when Torba’s segment was scheduled so I had to sit through the whole thing. Watching Tucker interview some old guy, who looked vaguely familiar, I felt like I had gone back in time. I have not watched these shows in a long time. I get my news on-line. I skip the Blue Team – Red Team hooting that makes up political banter in the mainstream press. In fact, I barely notice most of what passes for current events discussion. I just don’t care that much.
The Torba piece was short and I got the sense that Tucker Carlson spends little time on-line. The things Torba said about Twitter and FaceBorg zapping bad-think on a daily basis were obviously news to Tucker. He was genuinely surprised when Torba explained the realities of who controls the internet and the power they have over speech. The reason for this is no one in the mass media understands any of this stuff. They live in the media bubble and the sorts of things we experience on-line are alien to them.
This is not a new phenomenon. Back in the olden thymes when people were coming home every night to a dozen CD’s in the mail from ISP’s offering a free month of internet, the mass media was unaware the internet existed. I recall laughing myself silly one night, watching a couple of airheads on the local news in Boston, talk about “the mysterious underworld of the internet” as if it was the back room at Rick’s Cafe. They carried on like the internet was an opium den. The astonished look on their faces was priceless.
It is another example of the gulf between the people in the mass media and the public. We are at the point now where most everyone under the age of 50 is getting their news and information from on-line sources. The median age for the TV chat shows is mid-60’s and the age for traditional print publications like magazines and journals is 70. The people working the chat show circuit are people who came into the business from newspapers and political magazines. Even the young people on TV are living in the old mindset.
That’s the thing. When you consume news on-line, you scan the high points until you land on something of interest. On a daily basis, I visit maybe fifty sites. I don’t read every word of those sites. Often, I just skim and move on. Social media provides a feed to skim what others are skimming. Information about the world is now a stream and you can dip your cup into as you see fit. Since you can absorb vastly more information by reading, the on-line experience is more informative and more customized to your interests.
News consumption in the information age, for most people now, is on-demand. You take what you want, when you want it, at the speed you want. The old model was an on-supply model. You got what they gave you, on their schedule and their pace. Sitting there watching Tucker and his guests plod through each segment was painful. I no longer have patience for the banter and mugging that is traditional television. I just want the facts and don’t have any interest in their attempts to color it with their personal touch.
It’s not just an age issue, but that is certainly a big part of it. The young people you see in the mass media are just are fogy-ish as an old fogy. They are positive that the old model is still relevant. They create the news and supply it to you in doses they believe you can handle. Meanwhile, most people have consumed the stories via their social media accounts long before they turn up on the chat shows or big shot news sites. People tuned into see Torba inform Carlson about what was happening with speech on-line.
The people in charge get this to some degree. That’s part of why they are berserk for cracking down on dissident speech on-line. Trump was elected because an ad-hoc army on disaffected people went on-line and drove the news cycle, while the people in charge were selling that old hag Clinton on TV chat shows that no one under the age of 60 bothers watching anymore. Their efforts to match this have resulted in memes like “How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?” where the old thinkers are made to look ridiculous.
It’s tempting to cast this as a bad development. The Fake News phenomenon has simply been met with a guerrilla version of it. Mike Cernovich peddling PizzaGate on twitter is just as corrosive as the New York Times making up stories about Trump. It’s important to remember that the news has always been fake. In the 18th century factions had their newspapers promote false narratives in favor of their faction. It is the source of the Sally Hemmings stuff. Yellow Journalism was a thing before radio existed.
The only question today is the impact of the speed and volume. Fake News delivered by town crier can be mulled over and debated. Propaganda posing as news in the daily paper only comes in once a day. For people glued to their computers and mobile devices, being immersed in a solution of fake news, agit-prop and craven nonsense is a fact of life that is new to our age. Maybe it cancels itself out and all of it becomes background noise or maybe is erodes public trust and begins to set off panics. Or something else.