My, how social media has changed the way we source and digest the news. These are indeed interesting times. It’s perplexing to consider how divisive we’ve become on platforms intended to connect us. Before expounding on caustic social media behavior, it’s worth a look back at how news was delivered and processed just a generation ago.

News Delivery Back in the Day

TV News Hour

Print newspapers and televised broadcasts narrated most of the news in the latter half of the 20th century. It was one-way communication, delivered to the eyes and ears of passive receivers. Perhaps that’s an oversimplification, as certain households may have engaged in healthy dialogue in response to the nightly broadcast. Still yet, those conversations were generally limited to roommates and family members. Everything changed with the advent of social media.

The paperboy of yesteryear has been replaced by a labyrinth of fiber optic, intercontinental cables delivering news at warp speed. In response to shrinking revenues, news agencies started charging online subscriptions for full access to their digital newspapers. Cost-conscious consumers learned to hop from one free article to another, bypassing expensive subscription fees. As such, we’ve exposed ourselves to a plethora of news agencies and stories from around the globe. In a 15-minute coffee break, one can scan a New York Times editorial piece on President Trump, jump to the New Zealand Herald to get a breakdown on why the All Blacks rugby team lost tomorrow’s match (just having fun with time zones), and take a glance at the Cape Times to read about the city’s severe water shortage. This process of information intake has undoubtedly led to higher rates of attention deficiency. Be honest. Have you ever closed out one website intending to search for new information, only to find yourself befuddled by where you were headed? Point being, it’s become more difficult to process and assess the important information found online when doing so at such a rapid pace. In years past, if we grew weary with what we were hearing or reading, we just changed the channel or read another section in the newspaper.

The paperboy of yesteryear has been replaced by a labyrinth of fiber optic, intercontinental cables delivering news at warp speed.

The dissemination of news has transformed significantly over the past decade. We’re no longer passive recipients. Social media is being leveraged to react and dispense news we discover online. Placed beneath an article’s headline are social media icons that enable us to share the article with friends, family and followers. Facebook is the primary social media platform I reside in, so I’d like to offer my perspective on the sharing of news in this medium. Quite often, the sharer of an article inserts a brief statement in the accompanying post. These added words typically reveal an opinion about the article, perhaps even a half-hearted attempt to be witty. Facebook friends may take a stance in support of or opposition to the sharer’s opinion. In certain instances, it’s clear that sharers didn’t thoroughly read the article. They may have only read the headline. It seems that social media has become this safe harbor of rapid-fire opinions. This is more than problematic when the topics range from nuclear deals with North Korea and appointments of Supreme Court justices.

It’s disconcerting that such divisive dialogue among “friends” is often based on critically important issues that we often don’t fully comprehend. The 2016 election had a polarizing effect on America, with some of our worst behavior aggressively displayed on social media. I’m no erudite proclaiming to read all 2,500 words in an exposé found online. However, I am cautious about what I share, and one article does not formulate my opinion about geopolitical affairs nor the qualifications of a nominee to the Supreme Court. Since the 2016 Presidential election, the ongoing political and social angst impacted my decision to write Agitators, my first novel.

Mike Van Lear Holding His Book Agitators - C2

Mike Van Lear Holding His Book Agitators

Writing over a two-year period required considerable introspection, and it helped me better formulate and articulate my own opinions about our current state of affairs. Agitators projects an America in 2024 that wrestles with the consequences of intolerance and a divided society. It’s a cautionary story about populism and the embrace of xenophobia among citizenry.

 

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