The Media Kaleidoscope of Memory

By Norman Solomon

August 10, 2007 5 min read

News coverage often fixates on many aspects of digital memory. The products, services, technologies and near-infinite implications of the Internet are constant media fodder. And enormous attention gets focused on the power of hard drives and small chips to do amazing things.

There's no denying that the Internet and miniaturized computer technologies add up to a huge multilayered story that's constantly evolving. The story runs the gamut from effects on individual lives to politics, economics, political machinations and global relations.

But meanwhile, the emphasis on the tangible and the measurable tends to overshadow what is far less defined — and, arguably, far more human. Computers can "remember" facts so prodigiously that human memory can seem feeble, even pathetic. Yet a lot of what humans remember is far beyond the realm of digital recall — and routinely beyond the grasp of media outlets.

Whether media organizations are reporting on events around the world or across town, the technical capabilities of speed and clarity are truly awesome. But, in terms of actual human experience, how true are the stories they convey?

The distinction between facts and truth is more elusive than journalism is apt to acknowledge. The baseline of reporting provides images, phrases and any number of informational fragments that are, for the most part, accurate. For that matter, a local phone book — typos aside — is filled with facts. But how much truth does your phone book convey about where you live?

In their day-to-day rush to meet and greet deadlines, media professionals literally don't have time to linger over gaps between empirical information and elusive truth. And even though few journalists strictly adhere to a timeworn mantra like "just the facts," the skeletons of factual information are rendered in news accounts and feature stories as the structure of experience and meaning.

Beyond that corpus of narrative, the reporter is not particularly supposed to go. The accent is on external events, behavior and perhaps some windows into personalities and internal lives. But the province of journalism is not expected to extend into the territories more routinely trod — or at least eyed — by poets, novelists and the more reflective of essayists.

This might all seem abstract. But in a way, that's the point. What appears in newsprint, or airs under the heading of "news" on radio and television, is notably literal in its affect. Ambiguity is normally shunned to allow for the easily understandable — yet, often, somehow not quite believable.

When we turn loose our more skeptical eye on the reportage that cascades from the media mountaintops, we might perceive the dripping supply of news and human interest stories as little more than fairy tales — concocted and mass produced in formulaic cadence, predictable in their gloss, essentially prefab and lockstep in their conceptual essence.

If the gist of propaganda is repetition, then the cliche is the enemy of meaning. This is no problem for digital conveyance. As a matter of fact, we have many reasons to conclude that — for advertisers and for political marketers alike — true complexity is to be avoided in favor of familiar boilerplates.

A significant degree of confusion may be an intermittent aspect of human existence, but the digital renderings of life and experience are much better suited to constellations of factual snippets. Computers are great for organizing gobs of information and making them searchable.

Meanwhile, humans are stuck or blessed with other sorts of memory. Journalists sometimes do admirable work in exploring what enlivens and haunts human recollections. But in an era where digital speed and visual acuity from broadband and uplink are so dominantly prized, what kind of space exists for human memory to be truly evoked and explored?

The search for answers to questions is now central to many people's time in front of computers. And we've learned a lot about how to find the answers to valued questions. But we might all benefit from more efforts to also search out some deeper questions.

The new documentary film "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death," based on Norman Solomon's book of the same title, will be released directly to DVD in June. For information about the full-length movie, narrated by Sean Penn, go to: www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org. To find out more about Norman Solomon and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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