I vividly remember my introduction to 80’s rock and roll. I was sitting in a movie theater watching Back to the Future for the first time and all of a sudden “The Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News was blasting at me in surround sound. I turned to my friend and asked who it was, he told me, and then he did me a truly amazing favor. He had a copy of Huey Lewis and the News’ album “Sports,” which changed my life forever. I soon owned all three of their albums, a copy of the Back to the Future soundtrack, and I never looked back.
Soon I started listening to top 40 radio, discovered more outstanding artists like Billy Joel, Genesis, Phil Collins, WHAM!, Hall and Oates, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper and my musical taste was expanded exponentially.
What would have happened if my friend had not lent me that cassette and told me where to listen to more? Would I still be listening primarily to John Denver, John Prine, Abba, and the music of my parents’ generation?
A couple of weeks ago author Gillian Tett was on Bill Maher’s panel, and she mentioned what she called “Generation P,” with the “P” standing for “Playlist.” She was talking about how now kids don’t really listen to the radio, but rather stay within their own favorites with streaming services like Spotify and Amazon Music. It sounds great, but it also limits or eliminates exposure to other kinds of music.
Project this out and we have one of the bigger issues facing our society today; namely, the growth of alternative facts. One can choose to listen to just one point of view and never risk exposure to anything that challenges the worldview presented. No matter which flavor of Kool-Aid we choose, it’s still just Kool-Aid, and some of the flavors out there are proving to be harmful.
Gillian Tett is a student of anthropology, a field I have long found fascinating. Essentially, it’s the study of why people do the things they do, something I have found essential in attempting to make sense of American (especially) “culture.” My dad instilled in me a sense of curiosity and open-mindedness, a drive to learn about things I don’t understand, and further to refuse to accept things at face value. For example, just because a bunch of people believe something that doesn’t make sense, that’s not reason enough to join them in their belief. I like to do my own research, my own study, and come to my own conclusions. Even if I come to believe something, if contradictory information comes along I don’t cling to previous notions, but look to incorporate the best information to inform my worldview.
What happens when we don’t live this way?
Getting back to Tett’s Generation P, it plays out in a rather disturbing way. Let’s say, for example, that you see a documentary claiming that the world is flat (there are plenty, believe it or not). Thanks to the internet and social media you can easily connect with lots of other people who believe the world is flat. Those people, in turn, can recommend podcasts, books and YouTube videos where “experts” produce evidence that would seem to prove that the world is, indeed, flat. The internet algorithms will make no attempt to show you anything contradictory, as their goal is to keep you looking by showing you as much as possible that agrees with your search parameters. (If you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary entitled “The Social Dilemma” you really must.) Congratulations! You’re officially a Flat Earther.
The problem is, the Earth is not flat. (If you need an explanation of that statement, I’m here for you – click here).
That brings us to the January 6th Commission, which is wrapping up their months-long investigation and putting a great big bow on top for the American people to open. Normally, this would seem like a good thing. The evidence, if you’ve followed the proceedings, is quite damning for former President Donald Trump and his millions of worshipers. I use the word worshipers quite intentionally, as worship involves blind faith and allegiance, and blind faith is what’s required to be a disciple of perhaps the world’s greatest charlatan. Of course, these worshipers will not be exposed to the bulk of the facts of the commission’s findings, nor will they get the unfiltered conclusions. Instead, they will get a spin version that adheres to their worldview and further supports their worship mindset.
This, too, is a characteristic of Generation Playlist, where people have chosen the kind of news they want to hear and that news has been carefully tailored to never challenge them in any way. After all, to do so would mean losing those subscribers/viewers/listeners and we definitely can’t have that. We must maintain our audience at all costs…even the cost of American lives and, perhaps, our society as a whole.
I’m not one to focus on nostalgia and wish for the “good old days.” The old days were not as good as my memory paints them. Like a picture on my phone, it has been filtered, cleaned up and made into a somewhat fictionalized version of itself. That being said, there was a time when we were all given the same set of facts, and from those facts we could draw our own conclusions. I would argue that that aspect of the past is dearly missed. Being given opinions and spin in place of facts, being able to subscribe to a fiction instead of being told the truth, is creating an enormous rift in our country that may not ever be repaired. My only hope is that those who predict another civil war are exaggerating, but then I see more footage of the assault on our nation’s capital and I wonder. Historically, ideological rifts of this magnitude usually don’t end peaceably.
I don’t know the solution here. How do you make people curious about other points of view? How do you get people to accept that the worldview they have accepted might be flawed? What do you say to a person who believes a certified and recognized expert in a given field is just another person with an opinion? What I do know is that if we can’t solve the dilemma of Generation P things are going to get pretty ugly around here, and sooner rather than later.