Day By Day

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Unending Apocalypse

Gregg Easterbrook observes that things are going well for nearly all Americans, that we are doing much better than at any time in the past, and asks "So Why Do We Feel So Bad?"

His answer:

Increasing pessimism from the news media is surely a factor – and the media grow ever-better at giving negative impressions. Now we don't just hear about threats or natural disasters, we see immediate live footage, creating the impression that threats and disasters are everywhere.

Whatever goes wrong in the country or around the world is telecast 24/7, making us think the world is falling to pieces – even when most things are getting better for most people, even in developing nations. If a factory closes, that's news. If a factory opens, that's not a story. You've heard about the factories Ford and General Motors have closed in this decade. Have you heard about the factories Toyota, Honda and other automakers opened in the U.S. in the same period? The jobs there have solid, long-term prospects.

The relentlessly negative impressions of American life presented by the media, including the entertainment media, explain something otherwise puzzling that shows up in psychological data. When asked about the country's economy, schools, health care or community spirit, Americans tell pollsters the situation is dreadful. But when asked about their own jobs, schools, doctors and communities, people tell pollsters the situation is good. Our impressions of ourselves and our neighbors come from personal experience. Our impressions of the nation as a whole come from the media and from political blather, which both exaggerate the negative.

Read it here.

Will the endless drumbeat of disaster at some point reach a saturation level at which people simply turn it off and return to a more realistic mind-set regarding the world in which we live? I doubt it -- evolution has hard-wired us to pay attention to threats, whether real or not. Politicians and those who run the media know this and use apocalyptic themes to draw our attention. They aren't going to stop doing so anytime soon.