A recent article in the Washington Post - yes I read it once in a while - underscore something which many, including myself, have been pointing to for some time. The fact of the matter is that there has never been a better time to be a consumer of information. The wealth of options available to people in the free world are nearly limitless. As a consumer I can see a story on network television, research it on the internet, e-mail the originators and gain a level of understanding heretofore unheard of in society.
The cost of this undertaking is small. All the hard work has been done by scholars and others who full the net with content. I can even search libraries for original source material, read UN transcripts minutes after meetings (which never make the news) are concluded.
So why do people cry foul and claim that the news consumed by the masses is skewed this way or that? Why do Democrats whine and moan about a fairness doctrine? Doesn't the failed Air America project underscore that there is little market for liberal talk radio? And doesn't the fact that a Kucinich voter would hardly listen to (much less be swayed by) a Sean Hannity mean anything (and vice versa)?
The premise of the WaPo (I love these homey nicknames) article is that it's not about the plethora of information, but the range of choices. Simply put, most people (and I mean ALL people, everywhere) opt out - to some extent. They turn on Dancing with the Stars or idle away their time online in MySpace or any other of a host of niche realms. This is what the market has wrought. If you offer me NBC Nightly News or a repeat of the Sopranos, I may not choose the news. Even Katie Couric, in all her intern slapping, photo-shopped tartiness can not save such a narrow track vehicle (network news).
So how do you get the population of a country so overflowing with choices to pay attention to politics long enough to make some informed decisions ? The politicians do not care. They know that as long as enough people keep voting for them the rest of the nation can quietly slumber on in ignorance. The sleepers actually risk little. Their interests are connected inextricably with those of the engaged. If you are routinely reading blogs, news and other informational sites you are not one of the sleepers.
Does it all matter? As long as a sufficiently representative portion of the populace maintains watch, the rest of the country seems happy to cede its authority over to us. In essence, we have a representative, representative government. One which we earned and one which we (apparently) deserve. If I ran the zoo. I would require every citizen to devote some period of time to government.
Augggh! Deux! That's dictatorship!
Perhaps, like the Heinlein novel, Starship Troopers - in which only those who served in the military could vote - an arrangement could be struck. If you participate, you get to vote - otherwise you are excluded from the choices.
If you think about it, we already compel folks to engage with the government. The payment and preparation of taxes requires no small amount of effort and certainly conscious engagement.
I don't think a couple hours per week on local, state and national matters would be too much to ask.
Wait a minute, isn't that the premier of Kid Nation?