An old Chinese saying states that, “The man with two watches never knows what time it is.” Proliferation of mediums – and within each medium – complicates the parallax issue by enabling us to see things from ever more angles. The Standard Rate and Data Service lists more than 6,500 newspapers and 12,000 magazines in the U.S. alone.
Exponential Growth in Media Proliferation
Just a generation ago, most large cities only had three or four television channels. Today cable, satellite TV and the Internet bring hundreds of channels into American homes everywhere, even in rural areas.
Likewise, satellite radio and streaming audio spawned hundreds of new channels and spread the reach of others. Listeners can tune into more than 6,000 radio stations in the U.S. alone.
The Internet spawned millions of personal domains, blogs and social networks. It has turned everyone into publishers capable of reaching audiences only network television could reach a few years ago.
From a societal point of view, this media proliferation has added new dimensions to the parallax problem. Each major medium, each channel within a medium, each reporter, and each message introduce opportunities for parallax distortion, conflict, confusion, and disbelief.
In an era when a few television stations competed for a mass audience, most journalists aspired to objectivity. In an era characterized by hundreds of television channels, most hope to attract an audience.
Proliferation cuts markets into ever-thinner segments and divides advertising revenues into ever-smaller piles.
Selective Reception Begets Selective Perception
Individuals can tailor their media environment today with browser bookmarks, “favorite” channels, RSS feeds and more. Specialized mediums cater to their unique interests and enable electronic cocooning. As one of my employees recently told me, “I prefer to get my news from the Internet because I can get news I like there.”
The tighter focus of specialized media comes largely at the expense of broad-based mass media such as network television news broadcasts, mass circulation magazines, and city newspapers that at one time provided the common frame of reference for society and communities.
The decline of many city newspapers extends a trend that began with the demise or decline of mass circulation magazines such as Look, Life and The Saturday Evening Post in the late 1900s.
Specialized media that cater to narrow interests are replacing general media. We now have television channels that cater to sports enthusiasts, home decorators, cartoon junkies, comedy fanatics, news seekers, history buffs, ethnic groups and more.
Even within the news category, we have shows that cater to Republicans, shows that cater to Democrats and shows that cater to people who like a religious slant on their news.
The tighter focus within the context of media proliferation accentuates the parallax problem by limiting people’s range of view. Selective perception manifests itself as selective reception.