For some of us, going on a trip without a computer or access to one is like having our brain cells deprived of oxygen. Until the last two days of my California visit (see entries below), when I finally found a guest-use computer in the hotel lobby, I had no sources of information other than my senses, newspapers and TV.
How disconcerting is that? If you're used to spending at least some time every day on the Web, it's like being on a desert island. An intellectual vacuum. A space station orbiting Pluto.
Not that there isn't an overplus of information available on the conventional media — TV in particular will immerse itself to the utmost depths of trivia in search of "content" to fill up a 24/7 schedule — but the mental world that bloggers of almost any persuasion inhabit is gone. Instead, the mainstream media delivers a kind of Cheez-Whiz reality, processed and processed until it resembles an industrial material rather than anything organic. Whatever truth might be contained in news or feature stories has been pre-masticated by producers and editors and regurgitated, like a cow's cud.
For regular Web surfers, it can come as a shock to see how bland and one-dimensional the mainstream media are. Newspapers either rely on the politically leftist Associated Press for copy or, like the Los Angeles Times and the wretched San Francisco Chronicle, are flagrantly PC. Even in oppressed Britain, there's far more divergence of thought in the daily papers.
Two media especially represent American news coverage, such as it is: USA Today and CNN. They are ubiquitous. USA Today is America's Pravda. Not only does it print only the official liberal line, but (much more disquietingly) it ignores any event or shade of opinion that doesn't fit its ideological template. It's the default paper, the one the hotel puts outside your door in the morning or stacks next to the breakfast buffet, the one in the waiting room, the one found at every node of newspaper vending machines.
CNN is the video equivalent, found wherever TV is forced on the public (more and more places, alas). You go into a restaurant and if the TV over the bar isn't tuned to ESPN, it's on CNN.
We bloggers ought to be even more worried than we are about the blandness and lack of intellectual variety of the mainstream media. We flatter ourselves that the Web has broken the eyeball monopoly, and it has, but we tend to overestimate the coverage of the blogosphere. In a society spinning faster and faster, most of the gainfully employed barely have time to catch the TV news over breakfast or glance at a newspaper designed, like USA Today, to offer bite-size stories à la TV. They get a sliver cut from the whole spectrum of political and social thought that exists on any issue, and of course with PC filtering there are certain ideas and even facts that can't be mentioned, even for debate.
An unfree society doesn't have to have laws abridging the freedom of the press. It just needs a compliant Fourth Estate that passes along the Liberal Establishment's views and pitches to the lowest common denominator among its audience. We don't have hundreds of newspapers and TV stations in this country: we have one of each, with lots of different names.